Ban Week 5: $20 Spent on …

That’s right, kittens, twenty whole American dollars were mine to spend. I managed my first rollover in anticipation of a 50% off event at ARC’s Value Village, and boy am I glad I did. You’ll soon see why.

I roped Trinknitty into accompanying me, and she was THE BEST thrifting partner evar. For starters, she brought me these delicious frosted pumpkin cookies for breakfast. ROCK!

For seconds, she agreed to pose for this goofy shot of us with my $20 bill. See how ready to shop I am? It’s just coming off me in waves.

We pulled into the parking lot about 15 minutes before the shop opened, and there were already at least a dozen people in line. It was a brisk morning, so we sat in the car and chatted until my anxiety got the better of me and I insisted we get in line, too.

I think we shopped for about two hours before we both felt we’d had a go of it. The checkout lines were loooong and slow-moving, so Trin doesn’t look too pleased in this photo … but believe me, she was stoked about her purchases.

We grabbed some lunch, and then went to ANOTHER Value Village outlet to see if we could score some more goods. I had only spent $16 of my $20 and simply couldn’t let my remaining $4 go. Trin nabbed some more great gear at the second shop, but I struck out. And neither of us bought this enormous framed photo, but I felt compelled to immortalize it. Crying baby in denim hat + baby goat in MATCHING denim hat = masterpiece.

Before parting ways, we did our best-ofs. Mine is this mysterious piece, which you’ll learn more about shortly.

And Trinknitty‘s is this painting of monks giving mead to a beggar … or similar. It’s appeal eluded me, but she was enamored.

So, wanna see the loot? OK here we go.

Long, lightweight black hoodie
$5.99 to $2.99
Fulfills: Things to wear with my leggings/Fryes, and slightly more interesting casualwear

This looks a little formless here, but I assure you, it’s comfy and chic in person. Husband Mike loved it, which surprised the hell out of me as he generally prefers me in form-fitting-to-skintight clothing.

Handmade red poly tunic
$1.99 to $0.99
Fulfills: Layering pieces for winter

Hi. THIS WAS A DOLLAR. It’s my best red, has a fantastic neckline, and looks great both on its own, and layered. Schweet.

Indescribable cowl neck vest thingy
$3.99 to $1.99
Fulfills: Being the coolest thing ever made

Yet again, the fantasticalness of this item is not properly conveyed by the photo. This is a slightly cowl-necked vest with a kangaroo pocket. It’s made of some polyfill fabric with a sheer, charcoal-gray filmy netting layer over the top. It’s a tad spaceman, I realize, but still cool beyond words. No identifiable brand, but a tiny black tag with size number only on it makes me think someone brought this bad boy back from Europe.

Black real leather cropped bomber
$12.99 to $6.50
Fulfills: Black leather cropped bomber (!)

I generally refuse to buy items from Target at thrift stores, as I mentioned earlier this week. Target clothing is cheap and cheaply made. Thrifted Target just means items are slightly cheaper, used, and will last for an even shorter amount of time than bought new. This piece was an exception. An item I’d eyed at full price, which I think was in the $90-$100 range originally, this adorable cropped bomber had never been worn for a single day. It fit, it was real leather, and it was $6.50. SOLD. This is a headless group of photos, but since HM made me do a Fonzie shot in my bomber, I had to share:


Grossgrain ribbon belt
$0.69 to $0.35
Fulfills: Yeah. Nothing. But it was $0.35 and so cute!

I’ve been drawn to these ribbon belts in J.Crew catalogs for ages, but totally unwilling to lay down $40 for one … especially as I’m not sure how I’d wear it. But for $0.35, I’m happy to start experimenting. Experiment number one has told me NOT to wear it with my taupe sheath dress, as pictured here.

Black pleather wide buckle belt
$1.69 to $0.85
Fulfills: My misguided need to continually buy wide black belts that are ALMOST obis. Which ends here.

Promise. No more almost-obis. This belt is a very convincing fake leather, and so fun to play around with. I know it will get a lot of use.

Metal belt
$1.69 to $0.85
Fulfills: My look-before-you-leap purchase of the day

Yeah. I love this belt. And it’s WAAAAAY too small for me, which I would’ve found out if I’d bothered to try it on before purchasing. Sure, it’s fastened in this photo, but I can’t actually breathe while wearing it. I might be able to chop it up and transform it into bracelets … or, maybe one of you crafty vixens has another suggestion?

Black leather BRAND FREAKIN’ NEW crossbody bag
$2.99 to $1.50
Fulfills: Crossbody bag (!)

Hi again. This bag still had the little bits of paper in all the slots. That’s how new it is. Just look:

Told ya. Plus it’s Hobo International, a fave handbag brand of mine that employs female designers exclusively, and churns out quality classics season after season. This was SUCH a score, my peeps.

OK, so all that totaled to $16. And I went to a bunch more thrifties over the course of the weekend before dispensing with another $3. Here’s that story:

I bought this unbelievably adorable Soda Blu dress 8 years ago. Didn’t fit me then, doesn’t fit me now. (It’s layered over a l/s v-neck tee here – not part of the dress, which is short-sleeved.)

See? Wubba galore! Plus, I love that print, but it IS a bit loud. And bright. And insane. So, taking a page out of gorgeous E‘s book, I started looking for a black shirt dress to wear – belted and open – on top of it.

Black shirt dress
Fulfills: Black shirt dress (!)

Voila. I prefer the belted look, but HM says the buttoned look is more flattering. Opinions?

So have you been doing the math? I got all this stuff AND I STILL HAD A DOLLAR LEFT OVER!!!!1!(*!&!!!?!?!!! I had such a blast shopping with Trinknitty that I would’ve been content with half this haul … but believe me, I’m super grateful for landing such an amazing batch of goodies.

Next week, I’ll show you what $11 can do. Oh yes I will.

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Useless Desires

What makes us covet items that do not fit into our personal styles?

Most of us are somewhat susceptible to the trend-mongers, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about items that are not even remotely trendy and not even remotely … us. Garments and accessories that spring into our brains unannounced and refuse to leave until we’ve either acquired them, been talked out of them by helpful friends/spouses, or constructed meticulous arguments for why we’d never in a million years make good use of them.

Case in point: I have been lusting after an oversized locket on a long chain for MONTHS.

My style is much more graphic and bold than romantic and feminine, so such a necklace would have very limited application. Yet whenever I decide to kill some time trolling Etsy for favorites, I end up throwing this search into the mix. Here are my current faves:

$19.11 from iheartmies

$19 from cbonifati
This last one is utterly PERFECT and makes my heart hurt a bit with the coveting.

What with the ban, there’s no chance I could purchase any of these tempting trinkets. So that, plus the whole I’d-wear-it-rarely thing constitute two HUGE strikes against this piece making it into my wardrobe. And yet, I long. Bizarrely, but steadfastly.

What are you inappropriately longing to own?

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Reader Request: Thrift Tips

Lovely reader N. sent me this question a while back:

I love the idea of thrift store shopping … But I need to know how to do it successfully. I like the stuff I see at thrift stores, but most of them don’t have a place to try things on and I have been burned on fit with no refunds/exchanges. Can you suggest ways to analyze an item without trying it on to see if it’s going to work? Are there ways to tell what items would be easier to alter (and therefore less costly to alter)?

I’ve shopped thrift since … well, since forever. I’ve never been squeamish about buying used garments, and the bargain hunter in me loves pulling treasure from other people’s trash. What with the ban, thrifting has become my sole spending outlet and I’m definitely honing my skillz. I wouldn’t deem myself an expert just yet – I leave that to Skye and Sharon Rose, among others – but I’m getting there. So I’ll take a stab at this to get the ball rolling, and ask that any Mistresses of Thrift out there chime in with comments!

Very few of us can successfully shop unknown brands, items from eras long past, or garments meant for our quirkyest body parts without trying them on. Although many thrift stores have cottoned on and offer shoppers a handful of dressing rooms, some expect you to make decisions sans privacy. For instance, here in the Twin Cities, the Unique Thrift chain typically offers one broom-closet-sized fitting room and many full-length mirrors scattered throughout the aisles. On any given trip, you’ll find folks in various states of undress squeezing themselves into potential purchases while scrutinizing themselves in narrow mirrors clamped to fixture ends.

Since very few thrift stores accept returns or exchanges, you need to be sure. If not sure that whatever it is will actually fit you, at least sure that you’re not going to have a major coronary if you get it home and it doesn’t. But there are a few things you can do to prepare for shopping in a dressing room free-zone:

  • Layer: Wear a white or neutral cami under your blouse or sweater so you can try on cardigans, jackets, and anything that buttons or zips up easily and quickly.
  • Skirt: You can slip a pair of pants or another skirt underneath the skirt you wore in and no one will glimpse your bits. You can also slip a dress on overhead and get a good idea if it fits, even plastered over a skirt. If you’re in pants, which are typically bulky around the waist, gauging fit is much trickier.
  • Leggings: I will never concede that leggings can pass for pants, but since they are made from actual cloth and are completely opaque, they can serve as MAKESHIFT pants in a trying-crap-on-in-the-aisles situaton. If you’re really worried about anyone getting a peek at your ladyparts, slap on some leggings underneath your skirt and you’ll be a paragon of modesty. Kinda.
  • Slip-on shoes: If you’re hunting for footwear, you’ll want easy access to your tootsies.


If you simply can’t stomach getting quasi-nekkid in the middle of a thrift store aisle, you can train yourself to eyeball items for decent fit. You’ll never be 100%, but a little practice can help hone your visual judgement. Pick out five perfectly-fitting tops from your own closet. Try to select from several categories of top, such as blouse, sweater, tee, cardigan, and/or jacket. Then pick out a top that is either very fitted or actually too small. Pick out a top that is either very boxy or actually too large. Set perfectly-fitting top number one on your bed, and place the too-small top next to it. Swap in perfectly-fitting top number two, three, etc. Then do the same thing with the perfectly-fitting tops and the too-large top. By the end of this drill, you should have a vague idea what a top that would fit you looks like. Repeat with skirts and pants. And just to reiterate: This ain’t foolproof, but it should help.

Hauling a tape measure through a thrift emporium may make you feel like a prize-winning doofus, but at least you’ll be a prize-winning doofus who saunters out with fantastic finds that fit. Measure your shoulder width, actual boobs, below boobs, narrowest part of waist, widest part of hips, and inseam. You can also measure garments that fit you perfectly – which is especially helpful if you prefer that your skirts and dresses hit your leg at a specific spot. Write your stats on a cheat sheet, bring your handy dandy tape measure shopping with you, and measure garments in the corresponding spots. If measuring flat, be sure to multiply by two. Now this method may seem like it should be foolproof, but it ain’t. You are unlikely to get completely accurate measurements with your tape, and factors such as garment age and spandex content may confound. Truly, the only foolproof method is to actually try the dang thing ON. But checking the numbers will get you in the ballpark, and is somewhat more accurate than eyeballing.


Everyone has their own rules about what should be avoided and embraced at thrift outlets. Some are more squeamish, or more crafty, or thrift for different purposes … but I think these guidelines will be helpful to a thrifting novice who is shopping for 100% wearable items:

  • Don’t buy anything damaged that you can’t mend yourself: Exceptions are gorgeous designer finds that can be salvaged with the help of a tailor … but these are few and far between.
  • Don’t buy anything stained: If it’s truly stained, that means permanent. So what’s the point?
  • Don’t buy anything from Target, Wal-Mart, or other mega-retailers: It’s only going to be a buck or two cheaper than new, and someone else has already worn it for much of its short life. I’m no brand snob, but I AM a quality snob. Something that has been made cheaply and worn for a while isn’t going to fare well in your wardrobe. Exceptions happen – especially for things like coats, accessories, and other more durable goods. But generally speaking, there’s no reason to thrift Merona and Xhiliration.
  • Don’t buy anything remotely intimate: Undies, socks, tights … even slips and mufflers are suspect. I am one of the least germophobic people I know, but even I have limits! Dry cleaning can help, but dry cleaning is expensive, so just be sure to weigh that in.


I am not a huge fan of purchasing used clothes and then laying down to have them tailored, as the collective cost approaches buying new … but sometimes it’s worth it. Occasionally a nearly-perfect item presents itself, and if it’s super high-quality, enlisting a professional’s help to make it completely perfect is a good investment. I’m hoping that sewing experts like Ambika, Tricia, and Casey can help me out with this one, but here are my thoughts on features that make an item costly or difficult to alter:

  • Avoid pleats: I hate pleats anyway, but if you’re a fan, just be aware that these make tailoring tricky, regardless of garment type.
  • Skirts over pants: Skirts are fairly simple constructions, generally speaking, and will be simpler to shorten, take in, or let out a skirt than a pair of pants.
  • Avoid embellishments: Anything that sports a patterned fabric, embroidery, or embellishment of any kind near a seam is going to cause probs.
  • Dresses are costly: A good dress is hard to find and the right one will be worth the dough, but unless you merely want a hem taken up, getting a dress altered is going to be laborious and expensive.
  • Avoid coats: Tailoring a coat is VERY expensive. If it doesn’t fit in the shop, don’t bother.


Used clothing is sold at several levels, and you can adjust your price-range and quality-range by limiting yourself to stores that fit your personal parameters. Most large metro areas will offer thrifting at all of these levels, but you’ll have to do some legwork to discover which are which on your home turf.

No-frills: The bottom of the thrifting heap – sometimes literally – will put you in an unadorned space stocked with unsorted racks or bins of clothing, shoes, and accessories. You are left to your own devices to hunt and peck. Here in the Twin Cities, this means G-Too/Values By the Pound, a Goodwill outlet also affectionately referred to as “Diggers.” A dimly-lit warehouse where rejects and unsold merch from regular Goodwill stores goes to meet its final fate, Diggers features several person-high piles of stuff brought in by dumptruck. Clothing is sold by the pound. Not for the faint of heart, but fantastic for the scarce of money.

Slightly better: Racks are roughly organized by item type, but rarely by size or color. Stores at this level don’t typically feature fitting rooms, and the offerings are in any state from broken-in to ruined. Twin Citians, think Salvation Army on Central Ave.

Good: Slightly more accurate and helpful organization of merch and a possibility of fitting rooms, these stores offer slightly higher price points alongside their improved facilities and services. Fitting rooms are still a hit-or-miss by location, but you’ll find some brand new items sprinkled in among the oldies, and some bona-fide bargains … so it’s worth a trip. TC folks, I put Goodwill and Unique in this category.

Even Better: With guaranteed fitting rooms and stock organized by size and color, this is the level at which I thrift most comfortably and successfully. A few stained and torn items are mixed in, but merch is generally in great condition. Locals will find that ARC’s Value Village and Savers outlets fit this bill.

Best: Now, “best” in this context means no flaws or damage to speak of, reputable labels, and helpful staff … but it also means much higher prices. Consignment boutiques and upscale vintage stores fit into this category, and if you’re hunting for true bargains, you should aim a few levels down. But if you’re seeking covetable vintage (Via’s) or upscale labels at slightly lower prices (Turn Style), this is the level for you.

What other tips would you offer to N.? Other thrift-expert blogs or resources we should all know about? Pipe up, my pretties!

(Image courtesy empracht)

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