I recently read a fascinating article about the art of thrift shopping for clothes in, of all places, The New Yorker. In their style issue, no less – an issue that regularly talks about buying $3,000 handbags and five digit shopping sprees as though they were an everyday occurrence.
The article, entitled Rag Time (and available for full reading online, conveniently enough), focuses on a chain of discount clothing stores in Nova Scotia called Guy’s Frenchy’s. The store is about as laid back as you can imagine, where huge piles of bulk clothes are dumped into bins for people to rummage through. Some of it is damaged, some of it simply didn’t sell, but all of it is dirt cheap. To wit:
As I later discovered, a number of American companies sell huge bales of clothing— mostly used clothing that may have been dropped into a charity donation box at the mall or forgotten at the dry cleaner’s, but also some new clothing. The buyers of such bales tend to sort out some of the contents for markets in Third World countries and sell the rest as what the trade refers to as “wipers.” What Frenchy’s began doing with its baled clothing was to sort out some garments suitable for Maritime customers and offer great unruly piles of them in bins labelled “PANTS” or “BLOUSES” or “MEN’S SHIRTS.” Among the bins at the Liverpool Frenchy’s, we found [the scarecrow] a green dress, a hat, a purse, and a pair of boots—not the floppy sort of boots that the fishermen wore but swanky patent-leather boots, with high heels. The cost of this makeover was five or six dollars.
The article goes on to detail how the author began to dress himself in clothes purchased at Guy’s Frenchy’s because the bargains were so incredible.
For me, thrift shopping is an incredibly fun thing to do. I love to dress well, and when I can dress well without hurting my pocketbook at all, I’m always in. For example, as I write this, I’m wearing a gorgeous dark brown wool sweater (cost: $1), a pair of comfortable blue jeans (cost: $4.50), and a pair of insanely comfortable Nike crosstraining sneakers (cost: $8). I remember those prices because I’m able to wear a casual but highly presentable clothing ensemble for less than the price of a compact disc.
So what did I learn from the article? First, Guy’s Frenchy’s sounds like a “must stop” if I’m ever in Nova Scotia (this is actually an area we’ve discussed visiting as a family vacation). Rummaging through bins full of clothes of questionable repute to find a wonderful overcoat that fits me well for a few bucks is a very fun and thrifty way to spend an afternoon.
Second, there is no shame in thrift shopping. Many people seem to believe that only “poor people” would shop at such a store, but it’s simply not the case. The people that shop at such a store are people who care about their financial well-being, and that includes both you and me.
Third, even if you don’t have a Frenchy’s-like store near you, factory outlet stores are everywhere and are still a solid bargain. I don’t have access to any stores like Guy’s Frenchy’s where I live, but I do live fairly close to an outlet center, where I can find most of my clothing needs for huge discounts over other retail outlets. In fact, when I do any clothes shopping, I almost exclusively go there, with only one exception that I can recall in the past few years.
Oh, and the article had one other bromide that I strongly believe in: the only comment a gentleman’s outfit should generate is that he is properly dressed for the occasion. But that’s more a matter of personal taste, I guess.