LET ME START with a confession: I’m a diehard thrifter whose first great score four decades ago was a 1930s peach silk robe that cost two bucks and made me feel like a Hollywood vamp.
That gateway garment from a long-gone Adams Morgan charity shop hooked me for life on fabulous vintage fashions and costume jewelry. Much of what has filled my closets and drawers since has come from thrift and consignment shops, flea markets, estate and yard sales. Hundreds of other objects of sartorial desire have been passed along to my nearest and dearest, including a $1 Hermès scarf and a $10 Hermès jacket, Cartier gold-and-diamond cufflinks for 85 cents, countless cashmere sweaters and scarves costing under $5 and several alligator purses, none topping $20.
So when I saw ThriftStyle: The Ultimate Bargain Shopper’s Guide to Smart Fashion, I didn’t
think I’d read much that I didn’t already know, having thrift-shopped on six of the seven continents (I’m not sure there is any resale merch on Antarctica).
But I was delightedly wrong about not needing ThriftStyle. It is both heavily researched and wittily written by Margaret Engel of Bethesda, her twin sister, Allison Engel, and Reise Moore, who both live in California. All three women are seasoned writers with extensive video production experience. More to the point, they are passionate thrifters eager to teach women and men how, where and why to acquire other people’s used clothing and fashion accessories.
It turns out that U.S. thrift shops are a $12 billion industry, and that one in six American adults now buys previously owned stuff. In fact, much of today’s clothing is so cheap and disposable that global textile waste is measured in millions of tons. By contrast, thrifting is eco-friendly, keeping old clothes, shoes, jewelry, purses, hats, gloves, scarves and coats out of landfills.
Some people frequent thrift stores because funds are very tight, of course. But even the well-heeled sometimes want to dress like a Bergdorf regular on a Goodwill budget.
Thrifting is the great equalizer. It’s also the perfect way to scratch the creative itch. Why not have a man’s high-quality, low-cost tux expertly transformed into a woman’s bespoke evening suit? Why not craft a quilt out of last century’s rock-star T-shirts, or channel your inner jeweler by combining multiple bracelets, necklaces, brooches and earbobs into eye-popping statement pieces?
The book is a valuable tool for old pros and newbies alike. You might already know to bring along a magnifying glass or jeweler’s loupe, a cloth tape measure, your own vital stats and images of hot fashion trends when you’re thrifting. But make sure you’ve also got a very good dry cleaner, tailor, shoemaker and maybe even a textile dye wizard to rescue or revive your new-old acquisitions.
ThriftStyle contains lots of useful websites, the names of second-hand shops that now offer personal shoppers, and fact-packed interviews with store owners, costumers, fashion designers, collectors and estate liquidators. There are also tips for selling or consigning things you’re done with, to make room for that must-have ballgown, riding habit or Halloween get-up.
The 214-page book is larded with photos, ranging from dozens of great all-thrift ensembles, multi-shaped handbags and the construction details of men’s jackets to shots of fabric and trim stores for tarting up otherwise plain duds. My favorite chart gives the length of laces needed for shoes and boots based on the number of eyelet pairs (36 inches per four or five sets of holes up to 72 inches for nine or 10 pairs).
At $15.99, the book costs as much as a couple of cashmere sweaters and a knock-out silk scarf or two at any Salvation Army (especially on a half-price Wacky Wednesday). But knowledge is power, so I gladly paid full retail for ThriftStyle. So should you.
Washington journalist Annie Groer writes widely about design, culture and politics.