The Gift of the Thrift
by Victoria Kussman
“Not today, honey.”
“Pleeeeease? I’ll only be five minutes!”
A pause. “Five minutes?”
“Okay, fine. But no more than that; I mean it this time!”
Giggling excitedly, I darted off into the racks of Second Time Around, a popular consignment store in the sprawling suburb I called home, Newton, MA. I pulled out a couple pairs of jeans—the first dark and straight-legged, the second bright red and distressed—and an array of blouses, their silky collars gleaming in the overhead light. Then, before my mother could turn around, I was off to the fitting rooms, ready to assemble an outfit that would rival the best of Tavi Gevinson. The eventual founder of Rookie Magazine, Tavi initially captured the public’s attention through a wacky fashion blog, Style Rookie, on which the then pre-teen discussed the latest trends and shared pictures of herself wearing thrifted outfits. Her love of secondhand shopping bolstered my interest in thrifting, which I had casually begun doing at the age of eight: thrifting allowed Tavi to create a style unlike anyone else’s, and that was something I’d wanted ever since the word “fashion” had first entered my vocabulary. Here at Second Time Around, surrounded by more secondhand clothing than I could try on in a week, it was as though the spirit of Tavi were hovering beside me, eager to bestow upon me the gift of the thrift. I welcomed her with clothing-laden arms.
This episode took place when I was ten—currently, I am nineteen and reside in New York City’s East Village, and thus I no longer need to ask my mother’s permission to peruse whatever thrift store strikes my fancy—but I now embrace the art of secondhand shopping more intensely than ever before. Thrifting allows me to carve out my own fashionable niche while staying within my weekly budget. I know most of the thrift and vintage stores near my dorm like the back of my hand: Buffalo Exchange, L Train, East Village Thrift Shop—you name it. I also frequently venture into Williamsburg, where there are at least two thrift shops on every street, in search of the kinds of oddities that might not make it onto the Manhattan scene. As someone who has thrifted for more than half her life, I feel I can safely say that New York City is a secondhand shopper’s paradise. Here are some of the best pieces I’ve thrifted since I moved here.
Sixties Wool Sport Coat
I purchased this jacket from Stella Dallas Vintage, which is probably my favorite vintage store in Lower Manhattan. The jacket is made of Scottish wool, meaning I’ll be able to wear it for a while, and dates back to the early 1960s, when Jackie Kennedy was First Lady, World War II was less than twenty years in the past, and The Beatles were beginning to emerge as a musical tour-de-force.
If a vintage enthusiast were to comb through my wardrobe, it would quickly become clear to them that most of the vintage clothing I own is from the sixties. I’m fond of numerous mid- and late-sixties fashion trends—the pleated miniskirt, go-go boots, and of course bellbottoms, which became increasingly popular as the hippie movement gained traction—but in particular I love the bold and colorful prints of the early sixties. When I put together an outfit, I want it to be eye-catching—for people to see it in their periphery while they’re hurrying off to work or class and to stop for a second to take it in. Stella Dallas has numerous vibrant pieces from the early sixties, so I go there at least twice a week. Each time, I walk out with a gem!
My next stop is Monk Vintage Thrift Shop, a store I often visit when I’m in Williamsburg. The shop is small and a bit chaotic, but I’ve stumbled upon some great bargains here, including a pair of white go-go boots dating back to the mid-60s, a fringed motorcycle jacket covered in rhinestones, and an oversized, orange Kate Spade purse that has served me well in carrying books from class to class. At Monk, I found these flared pants from the early 1970s, when my parents were about half as old as I am now. I was drawn to them not only for their color— mustard is one of my favorite shades of yellow—but also for their condition, which was near-mint. In fact, these flares were deadstock. Stapled onto one of their front pockets was a giant tag printed on red, white, and blue cardstock that declared “HIPPERS: LOW-RISE WIDE BELLS”; this clearly would have been removed had someone decided to wear the pants.
Adding onto the thrill of finding deadstock, which can be quite expensive in some instances, I learned from looking at a tag on the back of the flares that they were sewn for Madewell, a popular denim brand whose products I splurge on when I can because they always fit me beautifully. In fact, these pants, despite being more than forty years old, are figure-flattering in a way that modern-day flares often aren’t on someone of my relatively short stature, making them an even more awesome find.
Eighties Business-Style Pants
These pinstriped, business-style pants were not something I intended to buy when I first saw them on the rack at Awoke Vintage, a Williamsburg locale where items don’t tend to stick around for more than a day or two, but I was struck by the embroidered watch on the left pocket, so I decided to try them on and go from there. Much to my surprise, the pants were a perfect fit, and the watch detailing elevated them from simple yet elegant to intriguingly unusual.
Although these pants were a little more expensive than is typical for Awoke, there apparently was a good justification for their price. As one saleswoman explained to me, the pants came from a special collection that had been sent to the store by a vintage collector in Italy. Since I have found in my twelve years of thrifting that Italian products are often exceptionally well made, I was super excited that these pants—which date back to the early to mid-1980s, judging by the way they flare out below the waist but taper in just above the ankle—had made it to the States. After buying the pants, I was curious to see if I’d be able to find a similar pair online—perhaps from someone on Etsy—but unfortunately I had no luck in my search. The pants are, at least to my knowledge, a one-of-a-kind item!
Nineties-Influenced UNIF Platform Boots
I found these platform boots at Crossroads Trading Co., a thrift shop in Williamsburg (which actually is part of a chain—there’s another Crossroads storefront in lower Manhattan, for instance). The boots were made for UNIF, a brand I’ve really come to love over the past year. If I were to describe UNIF to someone who’d never heard of it before, I’d say the brand is an homage to 1990s and early 2000s fashion. The brand’s aesthetic is simultaneously soft and edgy—browsing the UNIF website, one might spot a pastel moto jacket on the first page and a pair of dark, cropped skater pants on the next. The boots pictured above are definitely in the edgy camp, for their platform is around three inches high, causing me to tower over my friends whenever I wear them.
These oxfords are perhaps my favorite of all the pieces featured in this article. I found them at Stella Dallas Vintage, which should give you a good idea of when they’re from: the mid-sixties. The shoes are marked 8 ½, which is two sizes larger than what I usually wear, but the wonderful thing about vintage is that numbers are meaningless much of the time. When I tried the shoes on, they were a perfect fit, even widthwise (I’ve got rather narrow feet). Also, they look amazing with the Scottish wool jacket I described earlier—every time I’ve paired the oxfords with the jacket, I’ve had people come up to me on the street to tell me how much they loved my outfit!
Besides the way they fit me, the best thing about the these shoes is that, like the flares I bought from Monk, they were deadstock: although they didn’t have tags affixed to the back or side, one look at the soles and I could tell that no one had ever worn them before.
I’ve taken away a number of lessons from thrifting since I started out at the tender age of eight. The first is that really, I never know what I’ll find. People drop off all kinds of items at thrift stores, and even a casual browse can yield some amazing discoveries. The second is that thrifting is definitely an economical option most of the time. Shopping at thrift stores has helped me obtain beautiful items without breaking the bank (and, in fact, a lot of those items have lasted me years). The third and final lesson is that by thrifting, I’m able to develop a style unlike anyone else’s, since thrift stores don’t tend to carry more than one of any given item. Honestly, if I hadn’t started thrifting, I don’t know where my style would be today. What I am certain of, though, is that I’m not going to stop any time soon.