Thrifting Around

Here’s a secret: I was raised in thrift stores. Everything I ever owned for the first twenty or so years of my life once belonged to someone else. I got my first new clothes when I was eighteen. Green cargos and a blue plaid shirt from the clearance rack at Marshalls. I found it odd when I first met people who shopped at thrift stores when they didn’t have to. For my family it was a necessity. For them it’s fashion or some sort of cultural statement. I could wax poetic on my feeling towards people from affluent backgrounds who slum to pretend to be like people from my actual background, but that’s for another rant that will probably never get written. Fun fact: most of my rants never get written. I just don’t like being negative, not to mention judgmental. And now that I’ve followed my usual habit of digressing from the point in the first paragraph, let’s talk about thrift stores.

Even now that I don’t have to, I still love going back into thrift stores. It’s a blend of reasons, from the personal pride in no longer having to dig through racks of corporate picnic t-shirts to find something vaguely wearable, defined in my adolescence as not being something that my classmates, most of whom were the more affluent sort, to the fond memories of the little treasures dotted around that I’d spend hours with. While my siblings looked for clothes I’d browse the thousands of old and strange books that only thrift stores seem to have or dig through old electronics and computer systems from the eighties.  There’s a line from an Oasis song “my body is young, but my mind is very old”. It resonates with me because my experience of things is from a timeline inconsistent with my age. My first computer was state of the art in 1980, with its green and black screen, dot matrix printer and no hard drive. I was using it in the days when my friends had Windows 95. I read books that were given as Christmas gifts in 1975, when other people were lining up for the latest Goosebumps release. The age of my clothes was a given. I apparently rocked out at Seths bar mitzvah, even though I was only seven at the time.

Thrift stores contain all the little treasures of the past that society has discarded. I’ve never owned a record player but I did own LP’s, because I couldn’t think of anything cooler than owning the original Star Wars soundtrack.  Those cassettes came in handy when I turned seventeen and owned my first car, which in true thrift life aesthetic, was older than I was. A 1984 Pontiac 6000. Originally baby blue, it was involuntarily brown by the time it passed into my hands. And while my classmates got new cars with fuel injection (oooh, how fancy!) I was rocking a carburetor in a rust colored piece of Detroit vintage. In retrospect, I may have unintentionally been an ironic hipster, except there was nothing ironic about it and I wasn’t very hip.

I went back into a thrift store today in a whim. I took in the sights and smells. Appreciated the fact I can now afford to wear clothes that weren’t previously sweated in, and headed to the one part that I’ll never leave. The book racks. After a gut wrenching decision, I left with three new reads I’d never have heard of otherwise. But when I got home I discovered I literally can’t fit any more books on my shelf. I hadn’t realized I was at that point yet. Maybe I should donate some to a thrift store?

6 Responses to “Thrifting Around”

  1. nice; thanks for sharing.

  2. Awww – it’s so refreshing to read about a Jewish shopping story that doesn’t take place in Saks.
    Although I have yet to ever step foot in a thriftshop (does that make me a jap?) – I do donate as often as I can. I have friends who manage to pull really creative looks out of other people’s castoffs.
    Also – where I live there are ‘posh’ thriftshops – where they sell vintage designer duds that were ‘lightly’ worn.

  3. Very nice story, You’re pretty lucky that you’re more able to afford nicer clothes now, and that hand-me-down days are in the past.

    Unfortunately for me, I’m in pretty much the opposite boat. I’d love to buy some nice clothes, used to several years ago, but now groceries/gas/other expenses have to come first. Can’t wait to finish college.

  4. Thrift shop?! Ha! When we came to America where the roads are paved with cheese, we went dumpster diving! Now that’s hardcore!

    First computer we bought new, except it had no mouse or soundcard and the monitor was monochrome orange. TV, furniture, bikes, electronics, everything was from the garbage. I still prefer garbage bikes, nobody ever stole any of my bikes. Neighbor had her bike next to mine near the back of the house, her’s stolen, mine still there. Oh, and not only did we have, my dad still does, LPs, I found an 8 track with tapes and one of them was Star Wars soundtrack!

    Are there thrift stores in New York? They sound interesting to browse, especially the electronics and books part, but I’ve never seen any. As for clothes, Syms all the way. $40~$60 Italian leather shoes baby!

  5. Moshe, tons of awesome second-hand bookstores around; there are definitely furniture and clothing thriftstores – the specific ones I know of are all in the Bronx.

  6. B”H

    My father would take me and my sister to thrift stores, Army Surplus stores, garage sales and flea markets, where he would show how to discover buried treasure, sturdy, cheap, and good quality. {My father’s an artist.}

    My sister and I continued this “adventure” he began with us.

    Later in life, I would also find a name brand which looked like new, but for half the price. I’ve gone through both stages, of needing to and wanting to shop at thrift stores. This was especially helpful in LA, when all of a sudden I had to where a suit and tie. I found good quality jackets and ties at thrift stores w/o going broke, and w/o having to wear the same ones to work everyday.

    My step mother insists on “reusing” clothing, to reduce waste, so she shops only at thrift stores or garage sales. So, there you have the environmental aspect.

    There’s also the aspect of supporting charity by shopping at certain thrift stores.

    All in all, I’d have to say that thrift stores are underrated.

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