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Thrift Store Chic Amongst the Fleece
Sarah Sluis

In an economic downturn or an economic upturn, what better way to obscure your financial situation than to dress entirely retro? Dressing thrift store chic, an art perfected by high school and college students and glorified by hipster culture, demands discipline and an incredible eye. Faced with mounds of junk and adverse shopping conditions, many shirk from thrift stores after an experience being surrounded by a sea of disorganized, out-of-fashion clothing, an auditory symphony of babbling babies being tssked (or smacked) by their mamas, creaky climate control, and monotone intercom announcements by the cashier. For true thrift store lovers, however, these nuisances are the traps Indiana Jones must evade before he finds his treasure. As a dedicated Seattle thrift store shopper, I will reveal the inside of the retail lairs, and how you, too, can buy a battered brown leather jacket that could have come straight from Indy's closet for a mere ninety-nine cents. Plus tax.

Value Village
Most people in Seattle are familiar with Value Village, the chain-thrift-department store. Good for beginners, the store has the aesthetic value of a department store hand-me-down retailer like TJ Maxx. Non-thrifters piece together Halloween costumes here, and in high school, the store was a hot spot to stock up on tongue-in-cheek T-shirts with weird slogans and a snugness that comes from shopping in the little boy's section. The impeccable, well-organized sections make the store a good stop for housewares (who can ever have enough wine glasses or cute Pyrex bowls). A friend of mine shopping for low-tech entertainment for her family's cabin found a huge selection of board games with carefully zip-locked bags one could inspect for a visual inventory of missing pieces. Like all thrift stores I've encountered, the staff is friendly and always asks if you have a coupon (I never have one). However, the prices are a bit steep for clothing, especially when you have a gem like Salvation Army just down the block.

St. Vincent de Paul
Salvation Army is the king of religious thrift stores, all of which tend to be cheaper than Value Village, and, of course the upscale resale shops dotting University Way in U Village and Broadway in Capitol Hill (more on those later). The clothing is cheap, cheap, cheap, and when you walk in there's always a sign alerting you of the day's deals. Unlike Value Village, which has specials that require intensive sifting, like "25% off purple tags," Salvation Army keeps it simple, with weekly "50% off all clothing" sales that will make you rearrange your schedule. St. Vincent de Paul, its Catholic thrift store competitor, celebrates the Holy Day with "99 cents for all clothing items" on Sunday--during which I found said leather jacket. Despite its $20 price tag, and location in the "special items" section not covered under the sale, the cashier gave me the jacket for 99 cents, conceding that the leather was a bit "beat-up." Of course, for me, the artful tattering was the whole appeal. Score!

Leather furs.
Deals like the 99 cent leather jacket are best found when shopping at thrift stores where there is minimal competition for your clothing taste. A Salvation Army by a college campus or a hipster-leaning neighborhood will be picked clean of vintage dresses, for example, leaving a wall of muumuus, jumpers, and churchy florals. In terms of quality goods, the best location for a thrift store is on an economic border. This ensures that the better-off will feed the store with their cast-offs, and a robust customer base that will demand cheap goods, ensuring the store is well-run and the prices low.

My favorite Salvation Army, adjacent to $30/night hotels on Highway 99 (and home of the kindest, extra discount-giving staff ever), means my biggest competition are ravers and meth addicts. I once found myself sharing a jewelry mirror with a forty-something woman wearing neon bracelets, glitter, and a black motorcycle jacket. As we exchanged advice about what earrings suited us, and I asked her if she found one pair too showy, our bonding was tempered by my realization that she might not be the best person to ask for advice, as much for her different taste in accessorizing as the slightly skewed way her black eyeliner-rimmed eyes framed her pupils.

Designer label.
If shopping alongside drug addicts isn't your style, look to those whose biggest dose is coming from Lipitor: the elderly. The absolutely cheapest, rock-bottom clothes and vintage finds come from old people thrift stores. Run by senior centers, these people remember when milk was thirty cents and are inclined to think the prices at their store are just too darn high. More than once, I've been given an impromptu discount at one of those stores--my favorite, Rosehill, shut down last year, but Edmonds has Sound Thrift Store adjacent to its Oceanside park and the ferry, making it a great daytime jaunt. At these stores, a sweet volunteer will invariably ring my items up for under their worth. Once, a discount came accompanied by a frank explanation, the volunteer telling me "I'll just give this to you for free. I really don't think anyone else will buy it." Not sure whether to be grateful or insulted, I happily took the free blouse. Because they're smaller operations, they often run specials like "All the items you can fit in a brown paper bag for $5." Come in at the end of such a sale, however, and you'll be hard-pressed to find enough vintage wondrousness to get your five dollars worth.

Polka dot shoes
Extreme-discount shopping, involving a superhuman tolerance for musty smells, stained linoleum, and the piles and piles of weird clothing you must rake through, can occasionally get tiring. To shop alongside incredibly hip people, pick up some year-old designer jeans, and get new style tips, turn to the Broadway stretch of Capitol Hill and University Way just north and south of 45th street. For pre-selected vintage clothing, Buffalo ExchangeRed Light Clothing Exchange, and Atlas Clothing sort the wheat from the chaff for you.  Vintage clothing is racked by decade, and sup-par brands aren't accepted. While I've found LaCoste polos at Value Village, for example, these thrift stores have a rack of them in every size and every color. My amazing 99 cent leather jacket would turn up here (along with a rack to choose from), but it might cost me $50, or more.

Value Village jeans
Many of these stores hit up their customer base for new inventory, making the whole experience like shopping in your best friend's closet, only with more selection. Buffalo Exchange, in particular, encourages its shoppers to bring in their old clothes and exchange them for store credit. Since the store is acting as a middleman, the prices go up, meaning that reselling a shirt (if it's even accepted) will give you enough funds for, say, half a shirt. With careful looking many of these items can be found for much less at a Goodwill, Value Village, or Salvation Army. Knowing that a similar item can be found for 75% less somewhere else can be a little bit of a turn off, and sends me right back to my stained linoleum stomping grounds.

Seattle's laid-back vibe and granola-hipster contingent makes it the perfect place to show off your vintage goods. While the boutique thrift stores on Capitol and in U Village offer pre-selected goods for hard-to-find vintage must-haves, and are of an uncompromising quality (or price), the friendly thrift store chains make the search for clothing more of a hunt. With the exception of Value Village, which has "nonprofit alliances," lower-end thrift stores support local charities. When you're done with the item, you can donate it right back (it was only two dollars anyway…) and earn a tax deduction, at least I tell myself in theory, as I find taxes terribly confusing. As I hang up my 99 cent leather jacket, two dollar turquoise Ann Klein skirt, and four-dollar Diane Von Furstenberg dress in my closet, I'll don my dollar aviators and see you at the next Salvation Army sale.

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