I’m generally unimpressed by the prices at Manhattan-based charity thrifts a la Salvation Army and Goodwill: Both chains tend to use their upper crust locations as grounds for ripping people off. There is, however, one exception to the marked-up donations trend, and it happens once a week at Salvation Army’s Hell’s Kitchen location.
For six days a week, one color tag gets highlighted on the 2nd floor’s big red board. Everything tagged in that color is 50% off. But every Wednesday without fail, something magical happens: Salvation Army pulls a switcheroo. On Wednesdays, the merch tagged in the color highlighted is the only merch that isn’t on sale. Everything else – i.e. over 75% of the store – is 50% off. Happy hump day to us all!
A few dresses from my latest haul, snagged at 50% off their original Salvation Army price:
For shirt dresses like the above, Banana Republic charges around $120 a pop, and that is a travesty of epic proportions. Paying $3.49 for one isn’t reasonable: It’s robbery.
DAMN it feels good to be a GANGSTA. Bah!
An uber versatile, 90s era Candies trench dress for $2.99?! Can’t beat that shiznat.
Today’s shopping lesson starts with a zen-tastic mantra, courtesy of the gurus at Om Yoga Center. What the eff do sun salutations have to do with thrift? So glad you asked.
Yoga increases one’s capacity for patience. Patience tips the secondhand shopping scales in or out of your favor. Yoga is, heretofore, an excellent tool for developing your secondhand shopping prowess.
Onto the mantra:
If it’s comfortable, you’re probably not doing it right.
If you’re ego-centric and stubborn a la moi, instructional nuggets of this ilk tend not to prompt any revelations upon first hearing: I was in triangle pose, and I still managed to roll my eyes. It was only when the instructor glided over and re-tweaked my body into the proper position that I realized I’d been doing it wrong all along. I’d been too consumed by how it looked to make it work.
Triangle is a deceptively simple posture, as it turns out – the side-bending, twisting and stretching involved don’t amount to a pleasant experience. It’s not physically painful, but it’s uncomfortable and unsettling, particularly when you don’t have the flexibility to mimic the statuesque curve of more devoted yogis.
Then you move out of the pose, feel the rewarding rush prompted by your efforts – by your ability to embrace what it is in lieu of what it’s supposed to be – and you stop rolling your eyes at the mantra.
Comfortable doesn’t prompt growth or achievement. Uncomfortable does.
On that note, let’s talk about the uncomfortable experience of thrifting the Hell’s Kitchen Salvation Army.
My last visit to this particular SA location was four months ago, i.e. enough time for me to forget how disgusting it is. Time and time again, I block out the grime on the floor, the stains on the clothes, the screaming babies accompanying the shoppers, the musty, mothball-esque odor of the place. It’s an unconscious survival tactic – insurance against my being too icked out to shop.
It takes about fifteen minutes to re-acquaint myself with my surroundings. I calm myself with the knowledge that I’ve come prepared (plastic bag, Purell, hands-free bag), and meditate on scores of the past bestowed on me by the HK SA (Rich and Skinny jeans, $7.99). I embrace the ick. I summon the patience. I do an internal spin, Tazmanian Devil style. Then I tear through the place like a possessed flying rodent, brand-focused radar leading the way.
Velvet tops, as we know, retail for around $80 – $100 a pop. I found this versatile tunic approximately eighteen minutes into my browse. And it’s striped! I effing love stripes.
I don’t usually buy pants months in advance of when I can wear them: Rock & Republic jeans priced at $4.99 are obvs grounds for an exception.
I didn’t leave the Hell’s Kitchen Salvation Army scarred by fugly wares and subpar sanitation standards. I left buoyed by a mantra as true of thrift as it is of yoga.
Sifting through the donated muck isn’t comfortable.
It’s the uncomfortable that makes the price of whatever you find so effing right.
Is the Hell’s Kitchen Salvation Army a bitch and a half to thrift? Yes.
Can a thorough browse at the Hell’s Kitchen Salvation Army result in a pair of legit Rich & Skinny Jeans? Also yes.
So. What do you do when you snag $220 jeans for $7.99?
Sidebar: I accidentally chucked the hard evidence. My bad. BUT – I have an alibi!
Those audacious enough to doubt my thrifting skillz are advised to swing by the amazing AuH20 and ask the even-more-amazing Kate Goldwater for confirmation re: all the above.
The inner monologue goes something like this:
Resale’s an easy sell, but what about thrift? The notion of patience as the only thing needed to uncover hidden gems amidst tons of donated crap sounds like a warm and fuzzy crock of shit. Can I honestly endorse tackling a Goodwill if doing so means you might come up empty handed? Is that really fair?
When questions like these periodically threaten my entire approach to sartorial fulfillment, I hightail it to the dirtiest thrift within walking distance: The Salvation Army in Chelsea.
I’d never recommend this store to a novice thrifter – the place hasn’t been dusted in decades, the racks are riddled with heinousness – it’s enough to turn off even a pro like me. But every few months, I suck it up and go. Why?
Because if I can find something I love in decent condition HERE, in the underbelly of the secondhand universe, it rejuvenates my belief that anyone can thrift.
What happens whenever I perform the above exercise? I ALWAYS FIND SOMETHING – and by that I mean something so good, I might consider purchasing it retail.
The something in this case was a C&C California extra-long sleeve turtleneck in navy (my fave color to boot).
The garment was originally priced at $58.00, and is currently on sale for $14.90 online. What’d I pay?
The numbers don’t lie: $3.99.
“Just so you know, none of the white-tagged clothes are on sale,” said an apologetic staffer at the register. I smiled and reassured her paying full price was okay by me.
It took me about twenty-five minutes of digging before I found my gem. And if twenty-five minutes and four bucks nets a brandtastic turtle AND a renewed sense of purpose, it’s time and money well-spent, methinks.
The below Tresics top has the following pros: burnt orange/red color (always a plus for olive-skinned brunettes); thin, cozy material (great for layering); butt-covering length (plays well with leggings); a crazy-low price ($3.99 at Salvation Army, Chelsea. Word.)
There is, of course, one glaring con. The keyhole neckline.
The keyhole neckline is the least flattering of all necklines in existence – it ruins the fit of a top entirely, making one’s boobage lumpy and asymmetrical in the process (unless your chest is flat to the point of pre-pubescence, in which case, you should probably start eating). Who came up with this asinine styling detail? We have v-necks, crew-necks, turtlenecks, scoop-necks, boat-necks and cowl-necks. There’s already too much to choose from, so if you’re going to throw something else into the mix, it better be good. The keyhole neckline isn’t just bad – it’s an insult to breasts everywhere. It’s even more offensive than the mock-turtle (another piss-poor attempt at neckline diversification).
I bought this top for the explicit purpose of exorcising my rage re: the keyhole neckline. The battle involved scissors, hem tape, and a scalding hot iron. Here’s how I emerged victorious:
Step 1: Plug in iron; turn heat to STEAM function. While it warms up, scissor the front of the top into a wide V or U shape. Chalk a line from the shoulder to the center, or eyeball it if you’re a badass like me. (In order to remove the keyhole entirely, you must cut into the hem of the top’s neckline. Don’t worry about it. It deserves it.)
Step 2: Trim the neckline hem off the shoulder and back portions of the top, staying as close to the original line as possible. Bust out the hem tape (I prefer Heat ‘n’ Bond. (Note: Any no-sew hem tape that claims it works sans heat application is lying.) Cut two strips (length should roughly mirror the back-neck portion. Cut those in half down the middle. You now have four thin pieces of hem tape and a hot iron. You are READY.
Step 3: Turn the keyhole-free top inside-out. Hem tape is a bitch and a half, btdubs, but if you work on the inside of the garment, errors are virtually invisible. Anything’s better than sewing. Peel the paper off one of the pieces of tape and apply sticky-side down, about a centimeter from the edge of the neckline. Fold the part of the neckline you’re working with over onto the hem tape. Ready the iron in one hand; use a finger of the other to keep the fold in place. Remove it just before you get the iron down on the material, and try not to burn yourself. I can’t have that on my conscience. Hold the iron down for a few seconds before moving it back and forth. I highly recommend hitting the STEAM button periodically, in addition to ironing on high heat.
Note: My iron reads that synthetic materials should not be subjected to the STEAM function. It is lying to cover its ass in case I damage something and get mad at it. Cotton poly-blends are not synthetics in my book – if it’s got cotton in it, it can handle the cotton heat setting, and that means it gets the STEAM. Your hem tape might not set properly otherwise. (All of this is off the record – I don’t want you effing up your clothes on my account. Use your head. That’s that lump that’s three feet above your ass!)
Repeat Step 3 until you’ve worked your way around the re-vamped neckline of the top. Flip top right-side out; iron out front to smooth. Un-plug iron, let top rest for approximately twenty minutes, and go do something else.
Once heat-tape is fully set, put top on… BACKWARDS! You cut the tag out when you trimmed the neckline hem anyway – why not? (You can wear it with the wide V/U in front too obvs – I just dig the high-neck/low-back thang).
When you’re done, you’ll have successfully obliterated that unsightly keyhole into something like this: