When I was young and innocent and aspirational, I saw myself as having the thighs of Suzanne Somers and the intellect of Jane Goodall, with all of the virtues of Mother Teresa to garnish the image. As I’ve grown older and the rough cuticles of life have scratched away the sheen on my ideologies, I now admit to having several vices. The first of which is Bing, a delicious carbonated and caffeinated beverage with no high-fructose corn syrup that’s made right here in Denver, Colorado with natural fruit juice and containing only 40 calories per can. No, Bing doesn’t pay me for that endorsement; I’m just a happy addict. I’ve tried several times to quit, but, let’s face it, I don’t really want to. Another of my vices is what I’m going to talk about today: thrift store shopping!!
When I started performing as a burlesque character, my thrift store trips, which had once been an occasional foray with no real purpose, turned into a lifestyle. Thrift stores are sources of delight and costumes for many a performing artist. You can find things that lend authenticity to any stage persona, no matter how far from your “real” self. And let us not forget that, even in our non-performance lives, a good thrift store gives you all the satisfaction of retail therapy without permanently damaging your financial stability. It also gives you the opportunity to disguise consumerism as altruism when you spend money not to support ever-more resource and human exploitation, but to reuse things that are already manufactured and offer employment and funds to vulnerable people. Also, you get to find some really cool stuff. I currently purchase all of my clothing, except some outerwear and my undies, at thrift stores. Sure, there’s a ton of just plain junk, the sundry detritus of a consumer society, but you can definitely find high-quality, one-of-a-kind pieces if you’re willing to take the time and know where to look.
Here’s a few rules to abide by when thrifting
- It has to fit…the first time. If that silk blouse is amaze-balls, but the sleeves are just a smidge too short–you don’t get to buy it. If that wiggle dress loves your boobs, but drowns your hips in a half-yard of excess fabric–it goes back on the rack. Sure, you could pay someone to do alterations, but those will turn your $5.99 thrift-store treasure into a $75 piece that you can’t ever part with because you’ve invested six weeks of disposable income and two trips to the seamstress into it. Maybe you’re a sewing savant with crackerjack dressmaking skills and can do the alteration yourself, but it’ll take you several hours of dedicated work. And after $75 or seven hours of labor, where’s the triumph of a thrifty victory?
- Know your prices. Thrift stores offer rock-bottom pricing, but even those prices can be lower. Goodwill and ARC both offer regular half-off days and certain categories of goods are on sale on any particular day. You know you’re really becoming a thrifting when you look at a pair of stunning GAP corduroy pants in perfect condition with an MSRP of $79 and you say to yourself, “Meh, $6.99 is a little pricey. I’ll take my chances on half-off Saturday.” If you happen to have an old lady around, this is a perfect time to trot her out. Seniors get discounts every single day. Have a day date with your mom and make both her and your wallet happy! (Old men get discounts, too, but are rarely as much fun to shop with. They mostly just wait in chairs by the door and get grumpy.)
- Be honest. Are you ever really going to wear that satin cocktail dress? Your brother’s never going to get married; just admit it and stop buying rehearsal-dinner dresses. You don’t need a set of 70’s-era ceramic canisters in the shape of mushrooms, no matter how adorable they are. There’s a fine line between thrifting and hoarding. Stay on the right side of it.
- Hold out for quality. I’m a sucker for natural fibers like wool, silk, and leather. If something is not made from high-quality materials, I pass it over. I love a bargain, but it’s not a bargain if it’s cheap in both price and quality.
- Walk away. Sometimes you peruse a thrift store and find nothing at all. And that’s ok. Don’t let the retail-therapy benefits tempt you into buying something you don’t really need or even want. Pack up your achievement-oriented mindset and come back next week.
- Have fun! Thrift stores’ low prices mean that you can take a chance on that thing. Buy the open-back bandage dress and wear it out this weekend. Maybe you’ll find that it’s not your style, but, at $4.99, it cost less than a happy-hour margarita and so you can afford to have a tiny, sartorial adventure and still hand it back to the virtuous cycle of thrifting on Monday. The only caveat here is that you have to actually wear it! No stuffing it in the closet for some special occasion that never comes to pass (see point 3).
Denver has some great thrifting opportunities and they vary widely. It’s important to hit up the stores that have the stuff you want. If you thrift regularly, you’ll find stores that seem to have things that work for you. Others almost never will. I think of this as the “watershed.” You have to find the watershed where the goods that flow into the reservoir meet your needs. There are too many thrift stores on the Front Range for me to review them all, but here are a few that I frequent.
Goodwill on Broadway: This store has one person in its watershed who is my butt-doppelganger. Whoever she is buys GAP corduroys and then donates them to Goodwill so that I can buy them at 90% off retail and have perfectly-tailored pants. This has happened multiple times. Whoever you are, I offer you my thanks. I’ve also found, among other things, a gorgeous silk dress that’s totally wearable and some groovy shoes. I stop in here whenever I’m in the neighborhood.
Goodwill Lakeside: For some reason, this is the place where shoes come to me. I’ve purchased several pairs of performance and daily-wear shoes at this place. I have enormous feet that are hard to fit, so this is quite an anomaly. I’ve also purchased some high-quality stainless-steel cookware here, including a kettle for my boyfriend to make popcorn in, which delighted him endlessly. Also, silk blouses seem to appear here at regular intervals.
ARC on Iliff For the past two years, I’ve wandered around this store in a stupor after intense cognitive behavioral therapy sessions. After draining out my emotions, pawing through racks of stuff I don’t need, but could maybe find delightful is soothing and restorative. This is when and where I’ve found a couple of genuine vintage dress-and-jacket sets, which is a style I really like. It’s taken me years of therapy to be able to make a definitive statement about what brings me pleasure and there it is. It’s small, but still significant. I accept your applause.
Peak Thrift is a non-chain (which I always admire) serving the same market as the larger Goodwill and ARC stores. I have a special pursuit, a white whale, that I am continually searching for in thrift store: a curved, slotted spatula. I love this kitchen utensil and have never seen it in store or found it in any of my extensive online searches. It only comes to me through thrift stores. I have found not one, but TWO, of these unicorns at Peak Thrift. Beat that, Goodwill!
This has been an abbreviated list of both my vices and the thrifting possibilities in Denver. If you attend one of my performances, you’ll likely see more of both of these things. In the meantime, keep an eye out for me. I’m the person in line for the dressing room with way more than three items. Sorry, not sorry.