Thank God the stuff I dig doesn't cost a lot. Everybody loves a bargain. But, frankly, the things I wear and use to clutter my crib just aren't made any more.
I'll find myself elbow deep in piles of crap nobody wants in order to score some retro gem. Whether it's a blue sharkskin suit, a Hawaiian shirt, or an ashtray with a naked lady on it, just about everything I own has been pre-enjoyed, certainly with its own story to tell: This statue of the Virgin Mary was precious to some old lady; he always went fishing in this lucky hat; they're still best friends even though she made her wear this orange bridesmaid's dress; somebody died in these shoes.
Thrift shopping is a keen study in urban anthropology, whimsically illustrating fashion faux pas and passing technological trends. Things like 8-track cassette players, console TVs, Members Only jackets, and girdles are all remnants of our reluctantly revisited past. Wading through it all is basically a scavenger hunt with a nominal toll at the end, and a thrill when hitting the "it fits," "it's cool," and "it's only 50 cents" trifecta. "People give away cool stuff they don't know is cool but I do," says thrift shopper Meghan Taylor. And thrift shopping is not just retro-cool. It's practical. "Fifty percent of my wardrobe is from thrift stores," says thrifter Katie Rogers.
It would seem that the basic approach to thrift shopping is similar to that of the Hail Mary pass --- browse while hoping for the best. "It's cheap and you usually find more unique stuff than you will at regular stores," says Amy Burdett. She needed a teapot and scored one shaped like an eggplant for two bucks at the Vietnam Veteran's New Image Thrift Store. Her pal, Cayla Cascini, unfortunately struck out in her quest for "one of those cool skateboards with R2-D2 on the bottom."
They may specialize in unique bargains with maximum kitsch appeal, but the primary intent of thrift stores is to provide savings. These stores offer inexpensive items to those less fortunate in order to raise money for various charities.
The majority of thrift shoppers is not just there for fun. Citing welfare inadequacies, a 37-year-old mother of four outfits her children at these stores. "Kids don't wear stuff out so quick when they're young, 'cause they're growing so fast," she says while shopping the West Avenue Salvation Army. "Some of it's like new." The sad reality, after the flash and glamour of the kitsch and cool, is that I'm poor too. But thanks to thrift stores, I'm well-dressed.