October 12, 2012

Penniless Aristocrat: In Praise of Thrifting

Once upon a time, shopping wasn't a recreational sport.

Actually according to various etiquette books written prior to the fifties, it was considered bad manners to enter a shop just to browse. The phrase 'I'm just looking' was incomprehensible; you went out shopping list of goods and stores in hand, intending to purchase something.

As an ex-sales girl, I bemoan the death of this custom. It would have made my job so much easier and more satisfying, but I realize a return to this mindset is impossible. Shopping is now recreational. The urge to buy and consume is now an epidemic in most of the Western world. There are many other, better blogs, articles, studies and philosophies to explain this problem. You've all read them before, so I won't waste our time. Needless to say: more stuff does not equal more happiness. Clutter damages the serenity of our homes, our pocketbooks, and, potentially, the environment.

The logical solution would be to stop buying so many things. With the extra money, you can invest in one high quality item that brings delight and charm to your life- rather than a houseful of items that are only 'maybes.' So why don't we do it?

The fault lies with our increased desire for la nouveau- the new. There are so many novelties in modern life: new products, new ideas, new fashions, and new entertainments. Every time we fire up our computers or turn on our televisions, our brains are bombarded with the new, the different, the exciting. Our capacity for boredom has diminished with our attention spans. Why force yourself through "Vanity Fair" when you can flip to facebook or netflix in a second?

This desire for novelty extends  not only to our mental landscape but to our possessions as well. The thrill of a new pair of shoes, a new accessory or a knicknack is still delightful, if diminished, even if we are constantly buying new things. It will take a change far more than my willpower to keep me from wanting to acquire and consume.

So the Neo-Aristocrat faces a dilemma. Financial independence, ecological consciousness, and a desire for unique and high quality items directly compete with the drive for the new. This is where thrifting plays a role.

Again, countless other alternative fashion blogs rightly laud thrift shops for their unique and cheap clothing and accessory options. It's true. Especially if you live near a rich city, the pickings of thrift stores are a superb  place to build your wardrobe  But they also are a superb place to scratch the itch for the new. You can pick up a new mirror or skirt- have all the excitement of buying something new- while still maintaining the values of an Neo-Aristocrat. As second hand stores, the items of thrift shops do not pull more resources from the environment, are no expensive, often support a local charity, and can contain surprisingly wonderful items.

In short, Thrifting is a responsible and fun way to deal with a modern neurosis while maintaining some of the values of a Neo-Aristocrat.

Grace Notes:

~ A closet packed full of thrifted items is just as bad as a closet of items from designer brands or other clothing stores. Buy responsibly and purge your closet twice a year when switching out wardrobes.

~ Learn your fabrics, brands and cuts of clothes. Something from the Banana Republic will be of higher quality than something from Forever21. 100% pure silk or wool is generally higher quality than polyester or spandex.

~ If you can sew or alter clothing, the value of the thrift store expands exponentially. Same if you are learning to sew. Some thrift stores carry craft supplies or material. But if you want practice drafting patterns or making a mock up of a pattern, I recommend buying a bed sheet or table cloth to experiment with.

~ Wash everything before wearing it. Dry clean if necessary.

What about you? How does shopping at a thift store compare to a mall? Do you tend to value your thifted items more or less? What do you look for when you go into a Thrift store?


  1. I'm at the point where I don't really like going into stores unless I think I might buy something- it's easier to browse online these days anyways. I find that with thrifting it helps to have a list of things I'm looking for- a certain type of jacket or skirt so I don't get distracted buying things too close to what I already have or that I'll never wear.

    1. It is much easier to browse clothes online, but I wonder if this feeds or sooths our desire for new things.

      I envy your will power in a thrift store. All too often, I convince myself that I really will have the time to hem, alter or recreate all these different pieces and end up with a pile of ill fitting garments. My one rule is that I'm not allowed to buy anything else in black.

  2. note: Drycleaning is often not necessary if you use a 'cold water' wash product and hand-wash the item, then air-dry it (no dryer). An aristocratic secret is to hand-wash more expensive garments; they last longer that way.

    1. I have discovered the power of handwashing very delicate items or items made of a natural fiber, like wool. But if the clothing is a little sturdier it is psychologically reassuring for me to know that it went though the wash. It feels cleaner and- after having been in a thriftstore for who knows how long being pawed at by who knows how many hands- I sometimes need that reassurance.

      But please read my post on "Why Wash Wool (and Other Natural Fibers)" for my take on handwashing garments.

      Thanks for commenting!