I am not unfashionable.
My wardrobe contains all 10 of Tim Gunn's Essential Items
, and far more than one "indulgent" trendy piece. To my knowledge, my friends haven't captured any secret footage that can be used against me in the court of "What Not to Wear."
My glasses are of the so-dorky-they're-cool variety. My hair is what you might call "thoughtfully disheveled." I write about shopping for a living. I live in Brooklyn. I own a pair of Louboutins.
But all this meant nothing the day a thrift store shop girl made me feel like the frumpiest person in the world.
You know the drill -- the closet has become so overstuffed with things you can't remotely remember wearing that you throw everything in a big garbage bag and A) drop it off at the nearest Salvation Army for a conscience-reinforcing tax deduction, or B) try to turn it into scratch at the local vintage store.
For option (B), you must hand over your goods to an underpaid, over-styled "buyer," who goes through them a piece at a time, giving you about 30 percent cash or 50 percent store credit for what they'd bring in at resale. What they don't buy you can take back or leave to be donated to charity.
Yeah, easy choice.
I filled three big bags with clothes, shoes and other apparel I didn't want anymore and marched into one of Brooklyn's most reputable thrift store chains -- and anticipated a fat payday. In reality, I was marching into a self-confidence vacuum.
That day my buyer was tall, thin, in her early 20s, resplendent in leggings and a sequin beret. I didn't hand her my clothes. Another girl, short, sweet smile, hair red in the most literal sense of the word, did the intake. She told me it'd be 20 minutes, would I like to shop around? No, I said. I'm just going to run to the market across the street, I'll be back.
When I returned, they still hadn't looked at my stuff, so I parked on a nearby couch, whipped out a magazine, and waited. I overhear Leggings tell Red, "This one should be easy." The sound of bags rustling, shuffling, boots being laid out on a counter. Not five minutes pass. Maybe two, three. The rustling has stopped. Then.
"Are you waiting for something?" Leggings barks at me, wearing her best stank face.
Well, yes, you're evaluating my clothes there. I nod toward my bags, some of which haven't been opened.
"Uh, unfortunately, we're not able to purchase anything at this time."
But what do you mean? Not even the cowboy boots? The heels I wore once?
She huffs, snorts under her breath. "Uh yeah, we don't buy them in that condition" -- New? -- "and there were some dirty panties in there and I just don't ..." The disgust rising in the back of her throat makes it impossible to finish the sentence. She turns her back to me, walks away.
I had not prepared for this. I thought I'd be immune to a hipster snark attack -- after all, I wear the uniform. I may be guilty of wearing skinny jeans and Converse, but what I'm not guilty of is dirty panties.
Shock, confusion, self-doubt takes me over in one big wave. What was happening? In three big garbage bags there wasn't anything
would ever wear again?
I look over at another customer waiting at the counter with goods to be evaluated. She's grinning to herself, then at Leggings. They're laughing at me, delighting in some shared sense of superiority. I'm suddenly the ugliest person in the world.
I leave everything there for alleged "charitable donation." As soon as I step onto the pavement, the cold air smacks the self-pity out of me. Cue the anger -- and this rant:
Listen up, all you holier-than-thou retail jockeys: Fashion IS a luxury that many people can't afford -- especially right now. Long before you were anointed with the holy task of picking through other people's old laundry, people were doing what you're doing all over the country. Only they didn't have to call it "thrifting" to feel good about their lives. Nor did they wield so brutally the modicum of power they have in this world to make others feel bad. No, the thrift store was borne of necessity, out of charity. It was to help the less fortunate. It was not to turn away a perfectly good winter jacket, or shoes, or jeans because well, 7 for All Mankinds just haven't been as hot this season.
The lesson is a simple one. Walk the extra block and donate your clothes directly to charity. The emotional boost you'll get from helping someone out, instead of helping yourself, is worth more than 50 percent credit at a used-clothing store. Take it from me, I paid in pride for my selfish sins.
And if some time you step foot in one of these stores expecting someone to make treasure out of your trash, keep a stiff upper lip. Remind yourself that these were your clothes, your prized possessions, and no one -- not some silly shopgirl, not even Anna Frickin' Wintour -- can put a dollar value on your personal style.
Nicole Sia is a frequent Lemondrop contributor and resident shopping expert. She lives, bargain hunts and blogs in New York City.
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