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Chop Style: Guide to Thrift Store Shopping: Part II

Okay! so now that you know your size, what you need, and everything else we talked about yesterday, we’re finally ready to hit the shops. But don’t run out the door just yet. You can still go very wrong, very quickly if you’re not careful.

The goal here is to go for classic style. We could drink Pikesville manhattans all night and try to talk about what classic style means, but a picture is worth a thousand words. We suggest you stop taking Mad Men as your primary frame of reference, and once again strongly urge you all to check out the impossible cool.

This is how grown-ups dress. Jean Shrimpton and bystanders. (Image courtesy the impossible cool.)

When walking into a thrift shop, there are three ways you can go. One of them is to make a beeline for the racks of your sex and size, which is highly recommended. The goal here is efficiency, and since you already know what you’re looking for, why not go find it?

You can also head toward the “boutique” section that some stores feature near the front. These sections are typically made up of designer clothes in good condition, which are priced higher than the rest of the stock (though sometimes still a bargain). Here’s a dirty little secret though… what ends up in the boutique section is mostly arbitrary. It’s all according to the tastes and knowledge of hourly thrift store employees, who aren’t exactly fashionistas themselves. You’ll see a lot of labels you recognize, but big name designers are sometimes also fuck-ups. There’s really no difference in quality between the boutique rack and the general stock.

You can also stray into the sections that contain furniture, housewares, books and records, etc. Don’t do this! You’re here to shop for clothes today. Come back another time for all the other stuff. It’s entirely possible you’ll piss away an hour combing through Perry Como records while someone else walks away with that Fred Perry cardigan that would have looked better on you.

Not everyone looked dumb in the 70's. (Chet Baker. Image courtesy the impossible cool.

Now let’s get down to the straight dope. You’re standing in front of the rack and looking at a row of about 30 white shirts. How the hell do you know which one to buy? Aren’t they all the same? No. On with the tips:

>>> Fit. We know we already said that you have to know your size and try everything on, but you’re not just seeing if you can get it on, you want it to fit perfectly. Not all clothes are cut to what the tag says, and not all people fit patterns. There are plenty of articles online describing how things should fit, but basically if you’re trying it on and think it’s imperfect, it is. Sleeve length, neckroom, waist, shoulders; it’s hard to get every measurement to fall into place. It takes a lot of patience to find a piece that fits perfectly, but once you do you’ll find yourself reaching for it often, and thinking everything else in your closet doesn’t quite fit correctly.

>>> Material. Natural. No polyester. No rayon. No bullshit. Do you want to look like a cheap set of K-mart draperies, or like this? You should be looking for cotton and wool primarily, and the best quality of it you can find. These clothes will last you a lifetime. How do you think that herringbone jacket ended up here? It’s very possible that it out-lived it’s owner.

>>>Damage. Don’t buy damaged clothing. Ever. Don’t. Don’t try to convince yourself that that stain is too small to notice or that that hole will be hidden by your outerwear. It won’t, and you’ll look ridiculous. The only exception to this is damage that you are absolutely certain you can fix yourself. A missing button isn’t a problem. An off-the-seam tear is.

>>> Alteration. Going hand in hand with fit and damage is alteration. If you can alter your own clothes you’re way ahead of the game. The Chop has successfully altered jacket sleeves and added custom shirt buttons, but we’d fear to try anything more advanced. If you find that perfect outfit that doesn’t quite fit, you can have it altered (also altering the total price) but it’s important to understand what a tailor (read: dry-cleaner) can and can’t do.

>>> Look for tags and labels. Not that you should shop on tags and labels exclusively, but they can tell you a lot about a garment’s history. You’d be surprised how much never-worn clothing hits thrift stores with store tags still on it. Not that store tags make one garment inherently better than another, but they are nice to have. Labels are important to watch also. Most stores (Target, Macy’s, etc) have their own in-house brands. Tons of this shite ends up in thrift stores, and while it’s not all bad, it’s important to know that “Faded Glory” means you’re holding a pair of Wal-Mart jeans. Without resorting to being a label-whore, there’s no denying that big-name fashion houses do hire the best designers in the world, and make clothes that aren’t meant to be disposable.

>>> Shoes and accessories. You need to be very careful about walking a mile in another man’s shoes. You should never look to find boots, casual shoes, or athletic shoes used. You might, however, find a good pair of occasional shoes. Women have it much better than men in this respect, but even the men can find a good pair of brogues or something if you look long enough. The same rules as clothing apply, and don’t forget to look around at accessories. We got our Christian Dior bi-fold wallet at an area Goodwill, and get complimented on it all the time.

>>> Finally, take chances, but manage risks. The best part of shopping in a thrift store is that stuff is cheap. Buying white pants this Spring doesn’t have to mean pissing away half a day’s pay. If you get them home and realize that they actually don’t work on you, you can donate them right back. Always think about the places and events to which you could wear something, and the clothes you can match it to. Buy something you might not normally, but always, always, for Christ’s sake always resist the temptation to buy anything ironic.

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Chop Style: Guide to Thrift Store Shopping

As you may have noticed Baltimore, Spring is here. Like for real. Like actually happening out the window right now! We know you’ve noticed, because we watched you walk around all weekend having weathergasms all over the place; cameraphones in hand, flip flops and the whole nine.

And as such it’s high time the Chop got our wardrobe together for the season. So today we’re making the big circuit, hitting up most of the area Goodwill stores, Salvation Army shops, and even Value Village. We may not be the best dressed man in Baltimore, but we’re always the best dressed in our price range.

We didn’t get there easily though. It takes a lot of work, patience and knowledge to wade through other people’s crap in search of something of quality. There’s also the risk of coming out of the store looking like you shop exclusively at a thrift store. Even if you do, you shouldn’t look the part. Save that for the Hampden Hipster Welfare Queens and MICA sophomores. No, you want to look good this spring, and the Chop is here to help with our two part guide to thrift store shopping.

Shopping at Goodwill doesn't mean you have to look like this. (Image courtesy LATFH)

Half the battle is waged before you even get into the store. If you just dive headfirst into a sea of textiles, you’re probably going to drown. finding quality vintage clothing isn’t like finding a needle in a haystack; its much harder than that. It’s like finding one particular needle in a stack of needles. People who run higher-priced vintage clothing boutiques know this, and they’re skilled at it, and it’s a dirty little open secret that many of them pull stock from the sales floors of the big three. So today we’re going to focus on what you need to know before you go:

>>> Know Your Sizes. This is the single biggest way to save yourself time and hassle when shopping anywhere. It will kill you to find the perfect jeans in your size only to find out that your size isn’t actually your size. It’s the size you were in high school, or the size you wish you were, or the size you guessed at. If you haven’t shopped for clothes in a while, you might not be the size you think you are. Before you bring those jeans to the fitting room, make sure there’s a decent chance that they will actually fit. If you really have no idea what your sizes are, have someone measure you. Failing that, go to Macy’s and have them measure you. Seriously, it’s that important.

>>> Take Stock of Your Wardrobe. The general rule of thumb is that if you haven’t worn it in 12 months, you shouldn’t have it in your closet. There are plenty of articles online about how to clean out your closet. Once you’ve done that you should have a good idea of what you need the most, so that when you get into the store you already have priorities. You’ll also have a bag full of clothes to donate and a good deal of extra space in your closet.

>>> What to Wear on a Shopping Trip. A little thinking ahead about what you’re wearing to the store can save you significant time if you’re trying on more than one or two items. The Chop always makes a point to shop in a v-neck tee, our everyday jeans, and slip-on loafers. This way we can try on shirts right in the aisles, shoes come on and off easily when trying pants, and we know what does or doesn’t work with our favorite jeans.

>>> Watch the Sales. A little clicking around on the links above will tell you when the sales are going on, or you can be sure to ask a clerk when you get there. The last Saturday of every month is Goodwill’s Super Saturday, when everything is half price. the only thing better than a $4 shirt is two shirts for $4, but beware; little old ladies come out of the woodwork. Super Saturdays and midnight madness can spawn hour-long lines, trashed sales floors, and ugly fights over crappy garments. Our advice is to shop just before the sale starts, or right at the tail end of it. A YSL necktie isn’t worth civil unrest.

>>> Go back often. Thrift stores rotate stock much more quickly than department stores or even discount stores. It’s worth your while to ask the clerks when stocking days are, and to check the stores closest to you as often as once a week. If you follow the advice here it will only take a few moments to scan the entire store.

Tomorrow: How to tell trash from treasure. The Chop talks Labels, material, tailoring, accessories and more!

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