THE HIDDEN ARTIST
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A “THRIFTY” WARDROBE STYLIST
I know a woman with an amazing theatre background from the east coast. You’d automatically think, “Ah—she must be so cool and stylish,” but to see her at first glance, you’d think she never shopped at any place but WalMart—and I mean the sale rack at WalMart. I’ve stood next to women dressed in Prada jackets all the way down to Gucci shoes. Most of them set off their outfits with some version of the same stupid brown leather bag stamped with someone’s (but I won’t say who’s) initials all over it because they believe their image can only be dictated by the small percentage of fashion designers who sell them their identity. Be it WalMart or Barneyss, there are a lot of women (yes, and men too) who lack something called style.
Style, according to Merriam-Webster, is a distinctive manner of expression, or custom of behaving, or a manner in which something is done, created, performed or worn.
I don’t know about you, but that screams uniqueness to me, not cookie-cut, regardless of whose name is on the label and no matter what the current fashion trend is. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not down on fashion, the trend, or the designers who produce it. I just can’t, nor will I, pay top dollar for something I most likely can create on my own. That’s where thrift shops come in. Without getting into whether they are for profit or not, I personally want to thank God for Goodwill, Out of the Closet, NCJW Council Thrift, Valley Thrift, and Salvation Army to name just a few.
Perhaps, you’re muttering under your breath, that people like me are blessed with something often referred to as “a sense of style.” Granted, my background experience is heavy with retail fashion work (both high and low) and I’ve spent most of my life here in Los Angeles working in the TV industry as a costumer. But my so-called sense began with these words, “I don’t give a shit what you think.” Of course, that mindset can be pretty dangerous when used out of context—like blurting out insults at your supervisor during a morning meeting. Although, I never did that, I haven’t cared much for following the herd, especially when it came to how I dressed.
Hypothetically, I’d like to take you through my day at the thrift store.
To begin with, we must start with the attitude “I don’t give a shit what you think.” That means not caring what your friends think of you for exposing yourself to such degradation or you minding who you might be shopping next to in that aisle of moth-holed sweaters because you WILL most likely run into some woman who is having a small episode with Tourette’s Syndrome. Basically, you create a bubble around yourself and begin your hunt. For me, the hunt is in the kill. The kill, to be specific of me only, is a designer item or something of great quality that is in good condition in my size and is under $15. Back in the day, I could bring home bags and bags of clothing being the size 8 I was. Naturally that made me broke, but “KILL! KILL! KILL!” was my motto. Now that I’m older, menopause does not a thrift store junkie change—only her body. Thus the kill means A LOT more to me if I find something in a large/extra-large or size 14.
Now, that we have your new attitude in check, there a few basic guidelines to help you find your kill, or kills (given you are lucky enough to be smaller than myself).
Know what neckline looks best on you. Deep U-shapes and V’s look great on me. Round looks nicer on other women. I don’t buy tailored collars, but mandarin style. For one, a tailored collar is way too conservative for someone who doesn’t give a shit what other people think. A mandarin style is—well, different. Next, know what it is you want to show off and what you want to hide…like those muffin tops. Something blouson and gathered into a hip band is a perfect camouflage for that. Have a general idea of what your flattering colors are. Are you Spring—bright, sunny, turquoise, salmon, watermelon, or Summer—pastel rose, periwinkle, sage, or Autumn—earthy, natural moss, terra cotta, rust, or Winter—crisp, distinctive jewel tones, black, and white? Learn a little bit about fabric. It used to be we only had purity to contend with—wools, silks, and cottons, then came polyesters and rayons. Today there is so much crap out there that it makes me want to scream. Basically, they will be found in Chinese manufactured labels from cheaper department stores like WalMart, Kohl’s, Target, Sears, etc., but they’ve made their way to H&M, Forever 21, and even Chico’s. Basically, I still go for the pure—cashmere, wool, cotton, and silk, which is finally making its way back to replace those hideous polyesters. As far as brands go, Banana Republic, J. Crew, Gap, some Target items, and Ann Taylor are pretty good mid-range labels to buy. If you are familiar with the designers carried at Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Ave., Barneys, specialty boutiques, or even some of those at Macy’s, you’ve pretty much made a score.
For some women, classic styles are best. Let’s face it, how many different ways can one fashion a button-down cardigan?
You might as well hold on to those for half a century. For people like me, a little quirk is better—a zipper at the shoulder or an asymmetrical body. My only advice is to steer away from trends that thankfully left the current market. Like those oversized butterfly sleeves or the irregular printing technique on pressed-in wrinkles that found its way to every high and low-end department store a few years back, or worse, those God-forsaken cardigan sweaters with all that stupid front-flowing lapel work. What? Three years of that shit wasn’t enough? Jeez. But do use some fashion faux pas to your benefit. Those extremely oversized XS tops from two years ago will fit a larger woman today and have her in the current style trend at the same time.
And here are some thrift store hints.
The more organized the store, the quicker the shop. Places like Valley Thrift, some Goodwill stores, and NCJW Council Thrift Stores itemize by colors and length of sleeves. Sometimes you might even find a plus-size section set apart from everything else. Keep in mind that places like Out of the Closet and Salvation Army aren’t as organized, but they tend to have “designer” sections and, with a little bit more patience, you might still find a treasure in the mill.
In closing, I want to say the best part of thrift shopping is recycling it back in—and it’s guilt free because you didn’t spend hundreds of dollars. Fashion trends are so short-lived now. It used to be our country’s world status and economics dictated womenswear—hemlines, shoulder pads, and hats. But today, anything goes. And if anything goes, you might as well have a little fun creating something yourself. As for me—I’m gonna leave this world when I’m done dressed like little ol’ me…or better yet, Iris Apfel.
“COURTESY OF VANITY FAIR MAGAZINE”