Articles from October 2015

How I Thrift: Patrice J. Williams

looking-fly-on-a-dime-thrifty-threads-midi-skirt-with-a-split-606x1024I was thrilled to get an interview with today’s subject, Patrice J. Williams, whose thrifting advice book, Looking Fly on A Dime, is available from Amazon. I found her through her blog of the same name, which features thrifty fashion tips as well as pics of great outfits she’s thrifted in her home base, New York City. She always looks great, so you know she knows what she’s talking about. If you want to start thrifting but aren’t sure how, pick up a copy of her book!

1. When did you first start thrifting, and why?

My mom tells me I loved thrifting as a child, but I don’t remember that. My first recollection of thrift shopping was my sophomore year of college at Temple University. I needed an outfit for an induction ceremony but had nothing to wear and I was too broke to buy something at a department store. I stumbled across a thrift shop and immediately found a brown top and faux suede pencil skirt that was perfect. Since then, I’ve been hooked.

2. Where do you thrift shop? Specific recommendations in your area would be great!

photo-7-1024x969I love thrifting throughout NYC, including at the Salvation Army on 46th street, which is super organized and a place I always find cute dresses and vintage blouses. My go-to for serious bang for my buck is Housing Works’ Buy the Bag in Brooklyn, which sells an entire bag of clothing for $25 per bag. I also recommend Udelco’s vintage warehouse in New Jersey where the clothes are organized in bins based on decades and styles.

3. What are some of your best finds?

photo-5-1024x892One of my favorite finds is an emerald pleated vintage dress. It was less than $10 and I found it in a small town in Ohio, which proves you don’t need to live in a big city to find amazing secondhand goods. My all time favorite piece is a Christian Dior vintage double breasted coat I bought for $23 last year. It’s a statement making piece that’s perfect for cold New York winters.

4. What kinds of things do you try to buy used?

looking-fly-on-a-dime-christian-dior-red-coat-682x1024I try to buy most things thrifted, besides underwear, of course!  Some of my favorite pieces include dresses, vintage blouses and jumpsuits. Also, if there’s a trend I’m on the fence about, I try to find it at a thrift shop and play around with making it work before investing too much in a trend I might not love or wear for years to come.

5. Are there any items that are a particularly good deal in your area?

thrift-shop-style-what-i-wore-vintage-dior-1024x945I’ve always found a mixture of everything in the New York tri-state area. But I’ve always found amazing deals on vintage secretary and pussybow blouses.

6. Do you have any general tips for anyone without much thrifting experience? Any warnings?

My best tip for new thrifters would be to have realistic expectations. You’re most likely not going to find the garment of your dreams during the first 10 minutes of your first thrifting trip. But with a bit of patience and repeat visits, you’ll find what you want and need. The only warning would be to avoid buying something just because it’s quirky and/or cheap. You’ll come across a lot of stuff like that but if you don’t really love it, leave it behind because you’ll end up with a closet full of garments you don’t really want and it’s easy to overspend.

7. Anything else you’d like to add?

I love thrifting so much I wrote the book on it. Looking Fly on a Dime: How to Find Fabulous Fashion at Any Thrift Shop & Make the Cheap Look Chic breaks down the do’s and don’ts of secondhand style. I really wanted to debunk the myth that thrift shopping is dirty or hard to do. Anyone can thrift!

Thanks so much, Patrice, and happy thrifting!


Get Schooled: Donating School Supplies

11329_10151273967446883_567756184_nIt is fairly widely known that public school teachers, who are seriously underpaid in many regions of the U.S., often incur the additional expense of buying school supplies for their classroom. These supplies can include everything from maps on the wall, to pens and pencils, to backpacks. Thankfully, a number of organizations have sprung up in recent years to collect school necessities and 11755891_10153073562145698_7240958482096150632_ndistribute them free to teachers. I talked with a few of them — Sinead Chilton from Schools on Wheels (SOW) in Los Angeles, California, Alice Forbes from Schoolhouse Supplies (SS) in Portland, Oregon — to get the full scoop on their donation process. They have fairly similar wish lists, though Schools on Wheels takes fewer used items than most such organizations.

1. Who uses your program?

12036409_10153189456450698_2892901302398421420_n(SS) Schoolhouse Supplies’ Free Store for Teachers is open to every teacher in the Portland Public Schools (PPS) district, and to a broader network through our Volunteer Voucher program. As of June 2015, Schoolhouse Supplies has provided school supplies valued at $23.4 million to help students succeed, over $4 million in pencils alone.
(SOW) Our program is open to homeless youth living in shelters, motels, cars, on the street and in group foster homes.

2. What are some unusual items that people might be surprised to know you accept?

12039718_10153189456630698_1090389635268598420_n(SS) We accept toys and prizes such as small games, novelty pens, etc., that teachers can use for  incentives to motivate students.
(SOW) Every year one of our longtime donors knits beanie hats for our students using leftover wool that come in all colors. The kids love them! We also accept gently used books and textbooks, including reference books, history and geography books, and children’s classics. We also take used calculators, scissors, office furniture and supplies.

3. What do you get offered a lot that you can’t use?
(SS) Old textbooks and romance novels.
(SOW) Used school supplies and backpacks. We only give our students new school supplies. It is especially meaningful for homeless kids to get new items because they don’t have the luxury to go shopping for new school supplies. Being able to give a student a choice between brands and designs really makes them feel empowered and start the school year on the right foot.

4. What would be an example of a dream donation?
(SS) Our need for art supplies is always high. Bank of America is generously matching the value of any cash or product donations made to the art aisle between now and then end of the school year, so those would be especially appreciated!
(SOW) Everything a student needs for the whole school year. We also accept used laptops (2009 or newer). It’s very hard for students without access to technology to complete their assignments.

Thanks so much! I hope you will keep organizations like these in mind throughout the school year. If you have a potential donation that you think might be useful to teachers near you, contact the closest such organization near you and ask!

Thrift Store Review: Treasure Island in Canoga Park

treasureisland_smallI had high hopes for Treasure Island, which appears to have taken the former spot of Rummage Rat on Sherman Way in Canoga Park, based on its name. Unfortunately, Treasure Island failed to deliver on its implied promise of parrots, adventure, and, most critically, treasure. While ‘treasure’ might be a high standard, perhaps that term might be more suited to a store that did not think it appropriate to charge up to five dollars for a used DVD or sell a used fax machine at all. I found it particularly annoying that almost no prices were marked, forcing you to ask whenever you wanted to know how much something was. Their combination of messy thrift store vibe and antique store prices was a serious mismatch.

Overall rating: C-

santasmarchingband_smallThe coolest thing I saw in there was this Santa’s Marching Band, which, when plugged in, played songs by ringing the bells in turn on each individual marcher. However, they wanted $120.00 for it, and a quick search of ebay shows that it is not that rare and many sets are available for half that or less. I got the distinct impression that Treasure Island was run as if in some pre-Internet reality when shoppers could not always easily find a comparable vintage item, so pricing was often skewed.

Normally I recommend categories of items to buy at stores I review, but I can’t wholeheartedly recommend anything here. Here are two possible categories to consider under very specific circumstances.

green_phone_smaller1. Phones. Hey, maybe you’re actually looking for a landline phone. The thing is, you can get a pretty generic new one from AT&T for $15, and a full-size one with caller ID and everything for $20. Theirs ran from $5 – $20. The green one shown here was $20! (It is pretty cute, but whatever.) Because the technology has not changed, it’s conceivable that you want a super cheap phone for infrequent use for $5, and, if so, you might want to stop by.

controllers2. Videogames and consoles. Based on the rest of their pricing, I doubt anything was an especially great deal, but if you happen to be looking for something specific and find it easier to shop in person, it might be worth stopping in.

What to avoid:

lamps_smallerLamps. The guy at the store quoted me a range of prices for lamps between $65 and $100, and there wasn’t a single lamp in there worth that. Most didn’t even have shades. I was told these two gold-toned ones with shades in the back row were $100 each, which is a pretty absurd price for a used lamp that has no particular vintage appeal. You could get a ton of modern lamps that are comparable or even better new from Lamps Plus. This is especially galling when Council Thrift next door had many nicer lamps which were all a lot cheaper. You can generally count on getting a usable lamp with a shade at Council Thrift for $25.

butter_dish_smallDishes. They didn’t have a lot of dishes, but this butter dish which is not of particularly good quality was $5.00, which is way too much. Again, this is bad pricing is especially conspicuous since you can simply go next door and have a much wider variety of dishes available to you at a much better price point.

And almost everything else.

IMG_20151011_133408241DVDs were between $2 and $5, especially galling since the next day I saw new DVDs at Target for $4.75 apiece (obviously they might not be the movies you want, but the point stands.) Vinyl records were between $2 and $5 each. Since none were marked, it was too much trouble to figure out what they thought was worth $5, but I truly hope it didn’t include the Flashdance album I saw. Given that the collection was clearly a random selection and not curated at all, that is well above the standard thrift store price of $1 each.

treasure_Island_smaller2In short, Treasure Island would have to really step up their game to justify their prices, should do a better job of curating their items, and should stop trying to charge Etsy-high prices on the few unusual vintage items they have. Until then, do your thrifting elsewhere.