I’ve got a lot of mail piling up in my tumblr inbox, and for that I apologize. I generally try to respond to everyone that writes to me, even if it takes me awhile to do so. But I do have several messages in there now asking for thrifting advice, and though I’ve written on it before, and despite the fact that there is tons of information out there on strategies and tips (especially over on StyleForum and PutThisOn) for thrifting, the desire for ease in the internet age makes sifting though archives and old threads seem like a chore—even though much can be gained by the work. To that end, I thought I’d share some very basic thoughts in response to the queries in my inbox.
Some people seem to think I have a ‘gift’ or a special talent for thrifting. That certainly isn’t the case. What I have had (more so in the past, less so now that I’m quite busy at work and have less time to thrift, and also because my wardrobe is excessively large) is time that I dedicated to consistent thrifting, and some knowledge of the kind of garments I was looking for.
Time (and by extension, timing—a factor over which one has little control beyond learning the days new items are put out on the floor of your local thrifts) is the most important dimension of successful thrift shopping. Setting aside time to visit thrift shops with frequency is how you guarantee that you will find at least some of the good stuff that will inevitably make its way to the racks.
Knowing what you’re looking at and for is probably a close second in importance to the time you invest in the thrifting process in terms of determining the success of the outcome. Spending hours sifting through your tumblr dash looking at pictures of dudes that have the #menswear seal of approval is not going to teach you much about thrifting. It might teach you something about how you might want to dress, but knowing how to turn that aesthetic sense into the material reality of a wardrobe that contains those items of clothing, or your local thrift stores’ best approximations of those items, requires research beyond reblogged photos.
To learn about spotting quality garments and thereby being able to eyeball the details that you know you want but don’t know how to describe (high buttoning stance, high gorge, peaked lapels, lapel roll, soft shoulder, goodyear welting, double leather soles, etc.) you’ll have to read words, and not just absorb images. The best place, in my opinion, for you to learn about these aspects of men’s clothing is on text-heavy forums like StyleForum, TheLondonLounge, the much shat-upon AskAndyAboutClothes, and in a more concentrated (and less abusive) form, over on PutThisOn. Your favorite menswear bloggers, whether they choose to admit it or not, have lurked and or participated on StyleForum (in my opinion, the biggest and best of the forums) and have learned much from the experience.
This part might not be the most fun, and you will have to wade through a lot of useless i-gent logorrhea (especially on the forums, not so much on PutThisOn which is generally very concise and snark-free), but you will come out on the other end a more knowledgeable person about men’s clothing, and that knowledge can be parlayed into successful thrift store shopping trips.
Follow these tips and gone will be the days when you buy a jacket you probably won’t ever wear just because it was $5 and had a pattern similar to one you’d seen on #menswear. It sits in your closet because it is—though of the correct pattern—unvented, double breasted but with an anachronistically low buttoning point and a 4/1 button configuration, and has shoulders that look like they could support a heavy house plant. You’ll know to leave those things behind, and patiently await another sport coat of similar pattern, but with softer shoulders, a 6/2 button configuration with a higher buttoning point, double vents, and fully canvassed construction (I’m clearly channeling my own desire here, but you get the point).
Finally, as the adage goes in real estate, so too does it go in thrifting, ‘location, location, location!’ Unfortunately, if you live in an area where the thrift stores are terrible your chances of success in shopping there are much diminished, though not absolutely without possibility. Just remember, productive thrifting is a practice anyone can hone (though where you live is a huge factor) with time and diligence, and if you know what to look for patience and perseverance will reap rewards.
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