Updated on 08.31.15

Hot Tips On Thrifty Shopping From… The New Yorker?!

Trent Hamm

The New YorkerI 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, 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.

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  1. David says:

    Oh, good ole thrift store shopping. Just last week I landed a sweet pair of Diesel shoes…for $20 bucks. Normally I dont really care about what brand my clothes are, and think that Diesel is just ridiculous…but I couldnt pass up a $120 pair of shoes for $20!

  2. Bellen says:

    Behind a Goodwill store on the Gulf Coast of FL is their Bargain Barn – set up sounds like the store you mentioned. Parking lot is full of old compact cars, pickup trucks and BMWs, Jaguars, Cadillacs, and other high end cars. Maybe that’s how they afford those cars??

  3. Having been to the Guy’s Frenchy’s in Digby, Nova Scotia, I can attest to the spartan accommodations and amazing deals. Many of the clothes I found were clearly new and clearly meant for the U.S. market.
    I think I touched more of the clothes because they were in the bin that I would have it they’d been hanging on a rack.
    While we didn’t find my sister’s wedding dress there (she got married in Digby, in a dress I made for her) we did find three light coats for use back in Florida, several pairs of shoes and more shirts than I’ll ever admit! And I don’t think any one item was more than five dollars (Canadian).

  4. Jason says:

    Goodwill (the thrift store chain) has outlet stores. I found one in Seattle, they have wheeled bins and all clothes go for I think $1.25 a pound. They keep the merchandise moving I think this is the last stop before being baled up and sent overseas. They change the whole stock twice a day, so you can go in the morning and find new stuff in the afternoon. I like those cargo pants that aren’t so much in style anymore and it’s easy to find a years supply there.

  5. cheri says:

    There is nothing wrong with Thrift shopping. I am a teacher in the public school system, plus an adjunct college professor. I only buy name brand clothes on sale, then on Mondays I can shop at Beal’s Outlet, where I earn 15% off of already reduced prices. I earn that since I am 54, If you are under 50 you get the same type of discount on Fridays. Ross stores are good for bargains too.
    A wonerful thrift store is in Orlando, Florida on Orange Ave. It is called the Community Thrift store. I found it by accident. I haven’t been there in a while. But I can always find a great deal there.
    I am amazed at the markup on clothes, and jewelry. I refuse to pay full price. My husband and I always look nice, and people complement us on our dress. So, go forth and be thrifty.

  6. Stephanie says:

    There’s a store called “The Garment District” in Cambridge, MA that has this similar, rummage through piles feel. I think you actually buy clothes by the pound!

  7. PiFreak says:

    I have different thrift stores for all my shopping
    Goodwill – I refuse to go to, they’re ridiculously high priced compared to most
    Value Village – I go here for casual, lounge around store, and look for 1/2 price tag items. Often walk out with 3 giant bags of shirts and jeans for under $20
    Finders Keepers – It’s a little local one, but it is great for formal wear. I got my prom dress there this year for 7.50 – Saturdays, everything is half price. The crazy thing is, some of the things there still have the original tags
    Deseret industries – often overpriced, but great for semi-formal/business wear. I do speech competitions, and need “nice” clothes, so this is where I go.

  8. Debbie says:

    I’ve gotten some fabulous Corp America clothes at thrift stores. Even found donated clothes with their tags still on.

  9. Louise says:

    I’ve found the prices at different Goodwill stores will vary widely. For example, the Goodwill stores I have visited in southern Oklahoma and northern Texas were embarrassingly priced (as in, they ought to be embarrassed to charge that and still call themselves a thrift store), but the one I’ve been to in Iowa has spectacular prices.

  10. Pam Munro says:

    Ha! all my DESIGNER clothes came (& have come) from thrift shops! I get a higher quality of clothes that way than if I went shopping retail. I had a windfall & thought I would shop discount retail for a change – & you know – I had the same frustrations about fit & I spent MORE $ – so I went back to my frugal ways. You really don’t have to TELL anyone where you got all that great stuff – altho it’s becoming chic and green to do so…

  11. savvyshopper67 says:

    I am a huge fan of this store called Susie’s Deals!

    They carry clothes for everyone, men’s, women’s, and kids too. I always know that I can walk in to one of their stores a come out with a big bag of really cute stylish stuff for $25! Everything in the store is sold for $5.99 or less and you can even find things that are 2 for $5.99!

    I have bought some really nice name brand things at this store and given them to friends and family for Christmas. People have NO idea that these nice items only cost me $5.99 each .. It’s Awesome!

    I urge you to check them out, because you only have one store on your site that carries clothing and this store appeals to everyone! And they have a web site where you can also shop online or snatch an e-coupon to use at the store, and if you spend $50 the shipping is FREE which is a definite plus!

    Their web site is http://www.susiesdeals.com they have store in California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah too.

  12. Sandy says:

    I just got a sweet deal at our local Goodwill store in Ohio…
    My 9th grade daughter is in the orchestra at her school. Unlike in earlier years, when she could wear black pants or skirt and a white shirt for orchestra, high school orchestra requires a formal black floor length gown. Well, as I have in many other times in my life…the first place we headed was the Goodwill!
    We went to the women’s dress aisle, and I skillfully and swiftly went through the entire section looking for black and long, and threw them in the cart. We ended up with about 10 dresses that fit those requirements.
    Now off to the fitting room: I told my daughter (who HATES to try on clothes) that she HAD to try on each dress, as even if it doesn’t look so great on the hanger, it might look fab on you. So, 30 minutes later, she had 3 dresses that fit the bill. We ended up with the 2 best ones (one still had the $129.99 tag on it from Kaufman’s!)and it actually is perfect, as she plays the cello, and the dresshas a little lift in the front which is perfect for how the cello is held.
    The other dress is a gorgeous sparkle black dress which could also work beautifully.
    Best part was the price. We had taken a few bags of older clothes in, and they gave us a 20% coupon, so, for the 2 dresses, we paid only $17. Last night we went to Kohl’s and got her heels for $18 on sale. So she is set this year and for several years (unless she keeps growing taller!)for her orchestra uniform. YEA!!!
    While teens can be a bit fussier about their clothes, sometimes the good, old Goodwill really pulls through!

  13. Karen says:

    *sigh* Frenchy’s…. We moved from Nova Scotia to Alberta and by far Frenchy’s is one of the things we miss the most!! Our town had three Frenchy’s stores within the town limits, and it is a given that we would go “Frenchying” at least a couple of times a month. Now we pack extra suitcases with us when we go home, so we can shop for a season’s worth of clothes for the kids!!

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