Dear Cheap JAP,
I’m going to be getting married in a few months. Everything about it is completely non-traditional – a justice of the peace sorta thing. I need your advice on good websites to find cute dresses. It doesn’t have to be white – I’m looking for an amazing dress under $300 that I wouldn’t have an excuse to wear otherwise (I live in the particularly unglamorous hills of Western Pennsylvania). I’ve tried bluefly.com, Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, J. Crew etc. I’m looking for something slightly dressy – but not prom dress territory – something you would wear to a holiday party. Any suggestions?
Thanks, love the site!
Firstly, a big fat Mazel Tov to you and your beau! I’m uber impressed by your low-key approach to the whole wedding thang, and seriously honored to help. Based on the stores you mentioned, I’m guessing you want something in the under $500 range, yes? I’m also guessing said stores’ cocktail dresses were missing that attention-grabbing, special occasion-esque quality; I don’t care how big or small the wedding is, EVERY bride deserves to feel like the star of the show whilst tying the knot. What you need is a retailer that specializes in stunning, one-of-a-kind pieces at decent price points.
One word: Etsy.com. The “formal dress” category is chock full of unique, beautifully crafted pieces. Here’s six to get you started.
Both the Cream Couture Dress and the Key Lime Couture Dress are by Julia Lovan Designs ($350 each). I think it’s totally badass that you’re not tied to wearing white, hence the inclusion of the lime number. A fantastic alternative to the standard color scheme, methinks.
The Ruffle Dress ($290) is a bit more casual, but I think the stunning cut and ruffle details make for a glorious fusion of cocktail wear and bridal attire. The pearl and lace dotted neckline on the Silk Taffeta Wedding Dress ($265) scream Victorian mini. Awesome. I’m skeptical of whether or not said neckline can accommodate a bust above a B-cup, but it’s a stellar option if you’re on the small side.
The gathering on the Peaceful Afternoon Dress ($515) is TO DIE. And I know you said nothing long, but I had to include the Eco Chameleon Wedding Gown ($360) anyway. Why? Because it can be tied into three different styles! Amaaaaazing!
The obvious question here is Do They Have Your Size? Yes. How do I know this, in spite of the fact that I don’t have this information? Because EVERY SINGLE DRESS pictured is MADE-TO-ORDER, i.e. you send them your measurements, they send you the dress. The exact turnaround time varies for each designer; most dresses are finished within three to five weeks.
Do keep us posted on your final decision. That I’ll be needing pics of you in your custom-made dress should go without saying. ;)
Last week, I decided to finish up my homemade distressed jeans whilst vegging on my parents’ couch, and made the mistake of using Mom’s precious leather ottoman for leverage. Note to self: A Stanley Utility knife is sharp enough to cut through two layers of denim AND whatever’s on the other side. It probs goes without saying that my level of common sense is subpar at best.
The following ensued:
Mom: What are you DOING?!!!
Me: Exacting my knifing skills on a pair of jeans. Why?
Mom: Jesus CHRIST Alexandra – you’re destroying my furniture!
I lifted the denim to confirm, and there it was: A small slit in Mom’s pricey leather ottoman. Fuck.
I apologized profusely, she handed me a cutting board and exited in a huff, understandably so.
Riddled with guilt, I offered to buy her a new ottoman.
Mom: I don’t WANT a new OTTOMAN. I want those JEANS.
Giving up the jeans was a more than fair price to pay for effing up Mom’s furniture. I was shocked that she was even remotely interested in them, but I wasn’t about to question an easy, cost-free means of absolving my guilt.
She wore them out that very evening, received a slew of compliments, and hasn’t taken them off since.
Lesson learned; problem solved. Phew!
Mmkay, so, when I make bold claims like “This is how Buff Ex prices their stuff,” I should probs note that said claims are, ultimately, subjective at best. The only peeps who really know what’s up are those on the other side of the register: The employees. Lucky for us, a former Buff Exchange Staffer commented on the Price Point Phenomenon, and was kind enough to give us the full scoop. Make that two scoops with hot fudge and nuts. If you ever wondered how to sell your old stuff, wonder no more. This girl’s got it covered.
Bullet points, numbers, bolds and italics my additions, FYI. Am totally incapable of not adding my two cents.
1. Most important is the LOOK or cut. Is the piece cute, current, desirable, in good condition? This has nothing to do with brand or era, simply: will someone today, August 3, 2009, look at this and want it as is? (An excellent question, methinks.)
2. The next factor of consideration is the brand and approximate year, which can skew the price up or down based mostly on the quality.
*If you have a 2008 GAP t-shirt, Buffalo really can’t price that for any higher than it went on sale for (probably $3.99 if you’ve ever experienced a GAP clearance rack). GAP (and brands like it) turn their inventory quickly so a basic piece from a mass retailer gets stale quickly. (Another reason not to buy corporate mass produced junk – you can’t re-sell it for anything substantial.)
**Alternatively, a t-shirt from a higher end label, say Helmut Lang, will usually be made with more interesting design details, higher quality materials, and better finishing processes (check out the seams on a cheap t-shirt and a higher end t-shirt or the hem finish on skirts of various brands). (Oooh! I WILL!)
Let’s apply what we’ve learned so far to two examples. New (ish) L.A.M.B. pumps are priced at $60 because L.A.M.B. is a current, on-trend brand. Also the holy grail of heels.
Older, more vintage-esque Bottega Veneta pumps are priced at $36, even though BV’s retail prices are even more obscene than L.A.M.B.’s. Regardless, both pairs are pretty kickass, IMHO.
A mere half size stood between me and both pairs of these glorious shoes. Can I get a TRAGIC.
Mmkay, back to our Buff Ex Staffer.
3. So after cut, condition, and label are concerned, the buyer checks out the fabric. Poly-blend is going to go for lower, 100% combed cotton is going to go for higher, you can imagine why. (Even at resale, Green is like-so-hot-right now.)
4. Additionally the current season (as in weather) will come into play. (Yes, it’s true – re-sale actually doesn’t give a shit about what’s In for Spring 2010 if it’s September 2009. Practical fashion – who knew?)
*A fabulous MJ parka (Marc Jacobs – HELLO!) WILL be bought in August, but for a much lower price than if the seller brought it in in October. (Ah HA.)
**A good condition North Face jacket will probably not be purchased in August because it will certainly come in again in colder weather, meaning some other person will be trying to sell that style later and it’s not necessary to pick it up in the dead of summer. This is because Buffalo can only afford to hold onto stuff for so long before it goes on sale.
Addendum: Items purchased for the store in August will be put on sale for 50% off in October. At the end of October, they are donated. Having undesirable or out of season stuff in the store takes up space where cute, current pieces could be hanging. (Word. To. That.)
Final Thought: Basically, if you wouldn’t give the stuff you’re selling to your sister/cousin/friend/mom to wear right now, some random girl shopping at Buffalo Exchange isn’t going to want it either. (Truer words were never spoken.)
A big shout out to our Buff Ex Staffer for disclosing what amounts to the best Sharesies EVER.
She will now obvs have good shopping karma for life.
This past Monday was a day that will go down in Cheap JAP history. As I can’t explain why without a bit of back story, a brief description of mother-daughter shopping excursions of years past is in order.
The act of shopping for material goodies with Mom seems like a grand idea in theory – you bond over your collective love of stuff and she picks up the tab. While shopping is def a means of bonding for me and my own mother, it’s also a source of stress and melodrama. This is because we both suffer from advanced cases of I-Am-Always-Right syndrome – a condition that tends to make itself known the moment we enter a store.
As a result of this mutual affliction, Mom and I have engaged in a considerable amount of dressing room battles over the years. High price points a la Bloomies and Saks only exacerbate our tendency to butt heads over all-things-material. Said head-butting plays out like this:
-Are you really going to wear that?
-Of course I am, I love it.
-Okay, but you have nine hundred other tops – do you REALLY need that one?
-I don’t know, do you really need ANOTHER pair of shoes?
-Don’t you start with me missy, these are a great deal.
-You know you won’t be able to walk in those heels.
We can’t help it. It’s the IAAR syndrome.
Mom and I haven’t shopped much together as of late, in part because I can’t stomach the price points of her stores of choice, in part because she can’t stomach the non-boutiquey atmospheres of mine. Or so I thought, until I decided to check out Buffalo Exchange’s Philadelphia branch and invited her along on a whim. When she accepted without hesitation, I was pleasantly surprised…and really effing nervous. Could someone who didn’t have to shop cheap appreciate a brand found secondhand?
I got my answer mere moments after we’d entered the store. In my experience, it usually takes thrifting newbies five minutes or so to adjust to the atmosphere before they’re ready to shop. Not Mom. She jumped right in alongside me, sifting through the dress racks with a zeal characteristic of her at the Barney’s Warehouse Sale. I wasn’t just relieved; I was uber impressed.
Mom: (holding up $15 H&M dress) How do you feel about something like this?
Me: Well, it’s cute, but the price/brand differential isn’t all that stellar. See, H&M is cheaply made to begin with, so if you’re buying it already worn, it won’t have a ton of staying power. Plus, you don’t get the thrill of the score.
Mom: I see.
I then launched into a diatribe on shopping as a game of sorts.
Mom: Sweetie, I got it. I know a thing or two about this, you know.
Of course she did. It was at this point that I realized Mom hadn’t just taught me how to shop. I’d inherited her spirit of adventure and curiosity of the unknown too – the very qualities that first enabled me to take a chance on thrift. In this environment, we weren’t on a typical mother-daughter shopping excursion. We were explorers digging for brand gems, captains navigating a sea of secondhand clothes.
Our giddiness over finding fab stuff for a fraction of its retail cost effectively kept the IAAR syndrome at bay.
Mom: Remember what we used to pay for Theory at Saks?!
Me: I know, right?!
Mom: This is incredible!
Case in point: A Kay Unger tube top, one of Mom’s many scores.
(Kay Unger’s merch retails from $150 to $500, FYI).
Mom and I recommended items to each other along the way, but the stubbornness and criticism of shopping excursions past was noticeably absent. And while we acquired an impressive haul of stuff, we accomplished something greater than the art of the steal that day.
We learned how to have fun shopping together.
Thank you, Mom, for being my shopping buddy (I think I’m getting a little verklempt :)).
I’m already looking forward to our next sartorial adventure.
My bag sale booty prompted a slew of thrift-related questions; questions I’ve been asked before on numerous occasions; questions that, for me, should be easy enough to answer. On June 12th @ 9:51 AM, Sarah wrote:
When I go thrifting, I am often overwhelmed by the bad smell, and by my lack of knowledge of how, physically, to find good stuff. Do you look at every single item, or what? The only designer item I have ever found in a used clothing store was a clearly FAKE (and not very nice) black plastic Prada bag with a ‘Made in Thailand’ label inside it. How in the world do you FIND a Vera Wang top amongst all the stinky, stained, cheap and nasty even when it was new and now it’s at least ten years old stuff?
Any chance you could give even MORE detail about how you physically DO this?
I mulled over this comment for the entire weekend, so much so that it started bugging the shit out of me. I can refute anti-thrift arguments like a high school debate team champ. But ask me a general question like How do you find things in a thrift store? and I can’t give you a straight answer. Shameful, I know.
I used to think happening upon coveted brands secondhand was a question of chance, that finding gently-worn clothes as fab as their retail price counterparts depended on good old-fashioned luck. Yet chance and luck alone do little in the way of explaining my stellar thrifting track record. How is it that whenever I shop secondhand, I always find something worthy of my wardrobe? What’s the one thing I’ve learned to employ whilst shopping that consistently yields me my positive results?
The culture of stuff in which we live tells us it’s okay to overspend on things we don’t need: Shopping, in the traditional sense of the term (i.e. paying retail price for new goods), requires a certain capacity for vice. We buy in spite of a lack of funds, time, necessity and/or all the above. New stuff makes us feel better, and that’s reason enough to pony up the dough impulsively. Shopping secondhand, in contrast, requires a certain capacity for virtue, one in particular. Being a closet astrology geek tends to illuminate the shortcomings of one’s sun sign, and while I can’t claim expertise in the discipline, I can attest to the fact that what’s generally true of Aquarians is particularly true of me. The virtue in question is the Achilles heel of Aquarius, one we water bearers possess zero natural capacity for, one that causes us no small amount of agony if we’re forced to learn it in spite of being really, really bad at it. It’s called Patience.
I don’t have enough space to detail the heinous extent of my own innate impatience, so I’ll just say this: I find any situation that prompts a feeling of time wasted almost unbearable. I didn’t start shopping thrift because I suddenly discovered the art of patience. I came to it as a last resort and left empty-handed on multiple occasions, disgusted at the amount of time wasted attempting to uncover brand-name gems among minefields of used shit. I don’t know why I kept at it. I just know that one day while browsing a Goodwill, I stopped letting the end dictate how I felt during the experience of pursuing that end. I stopped being pissed off that the uber-cute $7 BCBG top didn’t fit, and started appreciating the fact that a brand like BCBG could be had for so little. In lieu of forcing myself to find something I could buy, I forced myself to view the world of the gently-worn like a high-end boutique I couldn’t afford, a place where I’d tell an enthused saleswoman I was “just looking.” If I found something, great; if not, no biggie. Lowering my expectations took the pressure off, and an hour into browsing on that very same day, I found a Tahari Blazer for $12.99. Ultimately, what made the day triumphant wasn’t the sartorial score; it was my triumphing over my own nature, my discovering how to enjoy the process as much as the prize.
How do I find things in thrift stores? By letting go of the expectation that I’ll find anything at all. It’s a total mindfuck of a response, an obnoxious pseudo-philosophical answer on par with there is no spoon, but it’s all I got.
My advice to anyone struggling with the transition from shopping retail to shopping thrift? You have two choices. You can take the red pill and continue to shop in a world that makes blowing your dough on shit you don’t need all-too-convenient, one where material ends trump the means to those ends. Or you can take the blue pill, embrace the unfamiliar, and learn via the lost art of patience how to enjoy the process of finding things, regardless of whether or not you find anything at all.
Summon the gusto to choose the latter, and I’ll make it my biznass to be your Morpheus. ;)