Getting and Spending: Season of secondhand

Last summer, a few items joined my closet. Can you guess which of the items below were bought secondhand (thrift or consignment) and which retail? 

Answers: All are secondhand except the white tee.

Top left: Coral block-print cotton scarf: Sandwich, thrift

Bottom left: Fine cotton red and cream striped sweater: MaxMara Weekend, thrift

Centre: Black Asian-print washable silk skirt: Citron Santa Monica, eBay. The lowest tier is sheer, the other two are lined; nice touch.

Top right: Printed linen tee: No label, consignment

Bottom right: White cotton tee: De Stiil (formerly État de Style); retail

Because I wish to circumvent the apparel-industry's worst practices, and am not presently a sewer, I'm left with two options: buying secondhand, which extends the wear, or retail for well-made pieces that hold up for many years. That knocks out at least 85% of chain stores, and except for the rare exception, fast fashion. I also practice the one in/one out rule.

I posted tips for thrifting here, but like the "You've got to kiss a lot of frogs..." saying, you've got to pet a lot of poly before you find anything good. 

Confronting my own advice

One of my tips is to bypass anything one would not choose if shopping retail, and a July moment tested that credo. I have circled the handsome, classic Gloverall duffle coat for at least thirty-five years, always wondering if I had to have it.

I've bought other duffles (Lorne's, the much-loved Toronto manufacturer, made a smart one), but the tartan-lined Gloverall would be the the ultimate.

Over the summer, I found my Holy Grail, a woman's navy Gloverall in great condition—it needed only a precautionary dry-cleaning—for $20. There in front of me were the buffalo-horn and leather toggles, button-on hood, impeccable tartan lining, everything intact. 

I had considered that very style during their post-holiday sale, but when I slipped it on in the store, crouched behind a rack because you weren't supposed to, the weight was literally staggering. For five minutes, I thought, So what if I only wear it a few times? 

At minute six I let go of the find; turns out that I no longer want to haul the equivalent of a kindergartener on my torso.

Over three-quarters of secondhand-store visits result in no purchase, and it is this search-to-score ratio that discourages many friends. But I view it as a sociological sortie. What's with women's endless tendency to overbuy black trousers? And who donates broken umbrellas... really?

Photo: Ruse

Since the spring, several hip, curated vintage stores in my neighbourhood have closed, but high-end consignment boutiques offer breath-catching treats if you're longing for, say, a sky blue Prada Saffiano leather bag—and you are not finding that in a thrift. 

At Ruse (whose online site is a tantalizing browse), this is $CDN 675. The shoulder strap is missing, but so are a couple of thousand dollars from the price tag.

But that Prada bag isn't for me; my remaining Holy Grail find is a particular out of print book. Thrifters and pickers, have you found yours, or is it still out there on a rack or table awaiting your caught breath and exclamation of delight?




CK said…
The question isn't "who donates broken umbrellas" but "what secondhand store puts them out for sale"?

Most of ours here in the Boston, Mass. area are very careful about what they sell, although it does irk me when I see a sugar bowl without a lid and then two aisles away, there is the lid. I consider it my personal responsibility to reunite them, but no guarantee they stay that way.

As far as the broken umbrellas, I do think there are people for whom deaccessioning is so traumatic that they just throw things in a bag in order to get them out while they have the fortitude.
LauraH said…
Although I lack the patience to thrift, I enjoy your finds. That skirt is just lovely. I hope is swishes a little!

Really warm cloth coats and jackets are not on my radar any longer, no matter how handsome. Same reason as you - the weight. This also applies to leather bags - I just don't want those extra oz. walking with me all over town.

Thanks for the one in, one out reminder. I need to apply that today.
Bunny said…
My name is Bunny and I am a thriftaholic. I've been one since my teens and the search continues decades later. Right now I am enjoying the search for vintage Vogue Designer Patterns. These are the likes of Issey Miyake, Byron Lars, Donna Karan, Geoffrey Beene and more. There are groupings marketed as "Vogue French Boutique" or "Vogue Attitudes" and other intriguing nomenclature. These envelopes get me every time. Couture patterns are envelopes full of dreams. I do know how to sew them and occasionally do. But sometimes, like your Gloverall duffle coat, the dream is best left in the envelope or on the hangar to enjoy.
Duchesse said…
C: Yes,I have wondered that too. One thrift chain is a retraining centre for people who have not worked (or have been out of the workforce) so that may explain some of their inability to sort diligently. Maybe some donors find divestment distressing but I suspect others just want to get rid of the stuff no matter the condition, so drop a bag into a donation box and it's done.

LauraH: Very warm coats are necessary here, but I have learned that for the truly frigid weather I prefer down. The Gloverall: I also worried about storing it over the warm months, and keeping moths away.

Bunny: Hi, Bunny. I've seen patterns, but few of the specialized ones you hunt. My other Holy Grail items are copies of Patricia Well's "French Bistro Cookbook" (I think every cook should have it so I give as gifts) and really good leather belts.
Royleen said…
I gave away my copy of the “French Bistro Cookbook,” and sometimes regret it
Wendy said…
I used to love thrift shopping when my kids were still at home. My best deal: a prom dress for less than $5 that, with only minor alterations by her grandmother, was gorgeous on my daughter for Junior Prom.
Nowadays, with extra pounds making it impossible to find anything worthwhile in my size, I’ve ordered a simple button-up shirt pattern and hope to sew the shirts of my dreams. I love color and pattern and natural fabrics and they seem nonexistent in larger sizes, even online.
I love your finds, especially that red stripe!
I find the items tend to be better sorted at Le Chaînon, where most of the staff tend to be longstanding employees, not the women in crisis that charity supports. But of course the household goods on the top floor are much better presented than the clothing and toiletries on the ground floor; simply because shoppers paw through the latter.

Yes, I guessed the white t-shirt with the fine writing. Thanks for the reference to your thrifting guide.

Ha! Black trousers. I'm waiting for some (more) black jeans.

I've lost quite a bit of weight - recutting my too-large ones just wasn't worth it, and as they were in good shape, I was just as happy to donate them; they've made someone happy.
Fritinancy said…
I lack the patience, stamina, and positive attitude required for in-person thrifting, but I've done quite well online with The Real Real, which is fastidious about what it accepts and fair in its pricing (hardly thrift-shop cheap, but reasonable). I find the website extremely easy to navigate, and the merchandise arrives swiftly--at least here in the Bay Area--and beautifully presented in reusable cloth bags. Returns are accepted, with a reshelving fee, for all but they most heavily discounted items. I shop for mid-range labels like Vince and Equipment, but there's also always an excellent high-end selection. (One of these days I'll spring for something by Dries van Noten.)
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Duchesse said…
Royleen: I did not give the accurate title, "French Bistro Cooking". A used copy is $14 on Amazon or I'll keep an eye out for you!

Wendy: I should do a post about that but for now I will only say, that's a great idea. The Passage has long railed against designers who make extended sizes but not in the same fabric as misses'. Let us know how your project goes!

lagatta: La Chaînon is only OK IMO but I once found a good shirt there and donate. I have a theory that the closer to McGill, the more picked-over the thrif— but that could be all in my head.

Fritinancy: I look at The RealReal and Vestiare, but have not bought. High-end consignment is another world from the down-the-road thrift but can yield excellent bargains, especially if you know your size and fit in a brand. I found a van Noten sweater in a thrift for $6—t passed it up as have loads of sweaters already. Some thrifters are trophy hunters and would buy it anyway, but I thought, Let someone else score this find.

I confess that most of my finds at le Chaînon are on the top floor; housewares. Wee cutlery, Duralex ware, etc. Indeed, it is an easy walk from McGill, Cégep du Vieux-Montréal and UQAM. That's a lot of students! I donate there.

I found a copy of Claudia Roden's first cookbook, A Book of Middle Eastern Food, some years ago at the Renaissance on St-Laurent, for $2!. Printed in 1968, the year it was first published, but I don't know if it is technically a first edition. It is in decent shape, with its dust cover.
Barbara said…
Until recently we had a "for free closet" here. Not only for clothes, everyone could bring and take "stuff". I found an wonderful Jil Sander+ vintage coat, lightweight cashmere blend, color olive, in perfect condition. Winter in Bavaria is not as freezing as decades ago, so I kept the coat.
Another find was a beautiful Thierry Mugler jacket from the Eighties, very small size, which made a young woman very happy.

In most Thriftshops here you only can find very small sizes.
Beth said…
I've barely acquired a thing to wear during the pandemic, except a few pieces of Mexican jewelry and a pair of cheetah-print leggings that were gifts from J., a few basics to replace worn-out tops or underwear, and two pairs of shoes: ultra-comfortable wedge sandals from Born to replace a worn-out pair, and some Merrell sneakers. It may be boring, but I haven't missed shopping at all. Wonder how that will shake out over time - not that I was a big shopper to begin with. What I've done is to try to wear the clothes I do have in the closet, especially things I haven't worn much, and I've enjoyed doing that.
This made me look up a post by materfamilas as I have a rich-red sweater of slghtly rustic Québec wool, that my late mother had knit. One elbow is worn through...
prachi said…
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