Monday, August 31, 2009

Ever been claimed?

I’m not a love-me-love-my-pets crazy cat lady. But judging by the photo above, it’s hard to deny there isn’t some special bond between me and this petite tortoise-shell cat.

Alley Cat claimed me in 1999. Petite Poe, then two years old, and I were walking up the block to the neighborhood coffee shop. From a gangway, a collarless cat came running, meowing, dropping desperate affection at my feet. She didn’t particularly enjoy Poet’s interest but looked at me in a manner that conveyed, “I’m willing to tolerate the child.” She followed us up the block, head-bonking my ankles every time we stopped. She refused to cross the parking lot to the coffee shop preferring to hide in a bush calling to us as we went it. She waited, followed us home and stationed herself on the front steps for five days. We worked with shelters and placed ads in the paper. No one answered. The vet, who gave free exams on strays, estimated her to be two or three and noted she’d been spayed. This sweet little cat obvious claimed us so we accepted her. At first she was exceptionally timid with Mr. Golightly (who loves cats) but eventually claimed him too.

I was raised without pets so I don’t have a lot of experience with them, but I believe it is an exception when a cat claims a person. Alley is different than any other cat I've met. She’s gracious and loyal and seems to transcend the standard definition of what is Cat; she doesn't push any boundaries.Her purr, which she is always quick to offer, is very loud and comforting. For such a small cat, she could purr down a 100-year Cottonwood tree if we let her too close. She is the only cat I've ever met that says "Wow" instead of meow.

It feels great, "Alley, how do I look in this dress?"
Do you think Mr. Golightly's cute? Is he handsome?"
Are my daughters amazing or what?"

This 4th of July weekend found my family camping outside of Crested Butte, CO in the Elk Range. Mountain weather is fickle and I thought I’d brought enough clothing to keep warm. I’m an exceptionally chilled person, and by that I mean I'm often physically cold. I’ve had many a nurse look at me, stunned after they take my blood pressure and temp. They’re thinking they might just be staring into the face of the living dead and my head might just suddenly take a spin on my shoulders.

We’d gone into town to watch the fireworks. I was freezing and checked into the community thrift store. This was a very small store with items piled upon items in stacks taller than my daughter Little Pie. But it immediately caught my eye, a plaid mohair wrap for $3. It claimed me! This vintage Neiman Marcus wrap needed a new user who would treasure it just as the last had done and it knew I would hold to that promise. (I also purchased the earrings in the photos for $6. The brass beads are antique.)

We spent some time walking about Elk Avenue window shopping, passing time until nightfall. Crested Butte has several boutiques that cater to a wealthier crowd. More people than I have fingers complimented my $3 wrap, which is an odd thing to happen while standing in a store where sweaters can sell $300. This was an original like I encourage in the previous post Faux is foe.

When I came home an unpacked, Alley immediately said, "Wow!" and rested herself upon the wrap. Seemed like each knew the other. There's something special about being claimed and I don’t believe it happens in a mall or superstore. It happens in out of the way places when you least expect it.

If you thrift, many of you already know this. What has claimed you?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Faux is foe!

I encounter it all the time. Say it’s a dainty teacup with elaborate crazing and a blurred emblem with letters that look like they might be from a French restaurant long past. I think, “Why, that’s darling!” I am so enraptured by the prospect I fail to note the finish is a bit too shiny, the style too modern. I turn the teacup over to see that cursed Made in China sticker stuck to the object like a canker sore devaluing it and my confidence that I can sniff out a fake. I feel infected.

Why do we have an entire retail movement dedicated to presenting a vintage appearance to NEW products? Isn’t vintage earned? Fading and crazing often accompany use. Add a slight chip to represent honest use. Now that’s a real treasure, a piece of history. With age, don’t we chip and craze? Many cultures place a high value on scuffs and tears; signs of wisdom and experience.

I like to imagine that these items, products, have little souls. Take that fake vintage teacup I referred to and serve it at high tea. THAT teacup, with no experience, would shout, “Help! I’ve never done this before! Quick, I need Valium! Oh, I’m starting to shake and hyperventilate!” Who wants a shaking teacup? While, an old, experienced teacup would lovingly say, “How many lumps of sugar, dear? Milk? Lemon?” The aged, experienced teacup provides comfort.

The fact that manufacturers attempt to create vintage in factories in China is a complete head-scratcher. Add in that people actually buy this stuff and it gets troubling. Now, think about the prices people pay for these new, old-looking items! Is having something that looks old in pristine, new condition a sign of a refined style? I don’t think so. I've fallen prey to this before but those days are gone thanks to the thrift store.

In many ways, thrift stores are a mere reflection of the new product market but with a wonderful dash of estate goods. The fakes run out onto the field but at least there is competition from the originals. In thrift stores we have level playing field and the shopper is referee. I blew an “Out of bounds!” whistle at that fake teacup.

I’m not writing about furniture found in alleys and thrift stores brought back to life by painting and refinishing and sold in boutique home stores. That’s reuse or repurposing. It’s imaginative; art. I’m talking about massed produced furniture that is made to look like its distressed and 100 years old. Good gracious!

I guess it’s somewhat parallel to the American ideals of preserving physical youth. We can’t fight off age. So we suck in Botox and attempt to surround ourselves with objects that look old (like we are) but are new in origin (like we are not). Perhaps we are trying dictate what is agreeable and stylish when it comes to signs of age in both plastic surgery and product manufacturing. Perplexing, no?

If I could wave a magic wand on women and I'd convert crow's feet to peacock feathers. Frown lines would become endeared frauleins to keep your spirit young. Frolicking frauleins to accompany you wherever you go making you laugh and smile, getting richer with age.

How a woman ages is not based in plastic surgery, it is based on her ancestry (genetics), her choice of her lifestyle, the scars from mistakes…In the end shouldn’t our bodies be a part of the book of our lives? I agree that trauma deserves help, but everyday living should be celebrated.

Put an end to this madness! Celebrate age! Say, “No to faux! It's off to the thrift store I go!" Acquire originals and be an original.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Absolving Thrift Stores

The previous post, Standing Naked in a Thrift Store, discusses the crap that lands in such stores, but it also notes that thrift stores are a mirror of sorts reflecting the new market. It’s only fitting to follow up with a post touting the recent treasure I’ve found by shopping thrift.

My daughter, Petite Poe and I, are pictured in our recent double Anthropologie score from Goodwill. Each dress cost us $7.99. Petite Poe’s can be currently found on the racks at Anthropologie for $178. My velvet dress will be lovely for the holidays.

Today and yesterday found me at three stores where I purchased:

1. A beautiful 11” Le Creuset Oval Au Gratin for $2.99. It retails new for $90. My Francophile friend will love me, unless I decide to keep it.

2. An in the box, Cross Tech Pencil; chrome without the slightest scratch for $3.99. It retails new for $50 on the Cross website. Mr. Golightly needs to maintain his professional image.

3. A B Rogers silver footed ice bucket with attached lid for $3.99. It’s requiring a load of elbow grease but is polishing up nicely. I’ve been waiting for the right ice bucket for years. Now, I feel so refined with such an elegant one. I’ve yet to find one like it on the Internet.

4. Two Merino wool turtlenecks, both high-end brands for $5 each and a cashmere turtleneck for $7. I was shocked to learn that the Vince sweater sells at Barney's and Sax! (My old black turtleneck mistakenly flew into the dryer. No worries, I paid $5 and it now looks darling on Little Pie.) As Thriftfully Modern Mommie writes in A Solid Foundation, the black wool turtleneck is a fundamental piece to the classic wardrobe.

5. Five recent edition hardback books donated to my daughter’s school along with several staplers and hole punchers all for $1 a piece. As in Back to School Thrift, we learn these stores are excellent sources for classroom needs; especially as education keeps getting hit with serious budget cuts across the nation and schools turn to parents.
Off with the crappy vision and on with the Snake Eyes to find the treasure and be rewarded.

Oh, and I’m lamenting the one purchase I did not make today. It was a beautiful antique bamboo stationary rocking chair. It was beautiful! Priced at just $30 it was $25 over my Flinch Point but would have been worth it. I just don’t have room for it. Ah well, I’m certain it’s already purchased because it’s Thrift or Miss.

I almost forgot to mention these Old Navy jeans. I bought them half-off for $2.49.

What have you found that you wish to brag about?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Standing naked in a thrift store

Advance Warning: This post is a bit cheeky and heavy on the word “crap”. It's a harsh word but I could not find another. Junk came to mind, but there have been many times I found value in junk. (Junk food being the exception.) Unless it’s a nitrogen-based soil amendment, crap has no value. I’m writing about pointless retail crap that will sit in a landfill for the next 250-500 years. This post felt sluggish in writing, but Anonymous Reader, living in the self-proclaimed land of the newly-wed and nearly-dead, this post is for you.

Unknowingly, we attach too much value, monetary value, to the packaging of new products. In this case, "new" simply means never-used and is not an indicator of quality. Shoppers remain unaware they are paying extra for packaging they will trash. Rarely do I purchase a new product that comes home in a container I could reuse. Given that new is not an indicator of quality and neither is the packaging, I offer up Observance #1: New crap is often packaged heavily in crap to hide crap.

There’s been a discussion weaving through recent posts about the quality of items in thrift stores. We agree that treasure passes through thrift stores. We also agree that one must wade through a lot of crap to get to that treasure; using a backhoe even came to mind. I believe this discussion was first raised in June 2nd post The Harbingers of Decline.

Most items resting on the shelves of thrift stores have long been stripped of their original packaging. Observance #2: Thrift store items stand humble on shelves; naked with only a price sticker pasty. The packaging that once glorified and hid the item is now scuttled deep in the bowels of some landfill.

The crap that rests in thrift stores came from somewhere. I believe, it came from discount retailers hiding crap in packaging, neatly stacked on shelves, or hung on hooks with an “As seen on TV” sunburst in the container corner. Put on a pair of x-ray goggles to see past the packaging and you’ll see a lot of crap in these stores. Observance #3: Many items in new retail stores, discount retailers in particular, are indeed organized, spiffed up crap.

Observance #4: Just like thrift stores, shoppers wade through a lot of crap in discount retail chains. Thrift stores are, in many ways, a mere reflection of the new product market with a wonderful dash of estate sale goods.

In my opinion, many retail chains that dot the malls of America only sell crap. The stores that specifically target young tweens and teens particularly disturb me as they greedily rake in allowance money. Once left unattended for 10 minutes my daughter spent close to $30 in one of those stores. Upon hearing this, I crumpled to my knees with arms raised to the heavens crying, "Noooooo!" Fortune would have it that most of the items broke in the first week of possession and a lesson was learned.

Remove the packaging and possibilities come to life or maybe not. Either way, the shopper knows what they’re in for at the thrift store. Observance #5: At the thrift store, the little product's soul is looking right up into your eyes, awaiting judgment. If it's crap, at least it's honest about it.

Conclusion: We need to learn the difference between cheap and cheap crap. Thrift stores will not be free of this noxious crap until the new product market is free of it.

Perhaps crap is in the eye of the beholder. If that is the case, we have a lot of people out there with bad taste and it's creating a lot of waste.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thrift Stores. Do you shop where you drop?

I recently conducted an end of summer clean out and gathered clothes that no longer fit my youngest daughter, a bicycle she outgrew, and a few of those hideous folding camping chairs that take up too much valuable packing space; especially when it’s better to find a log and settle it next to the campfire. Gone are the days when I had girlfriends to pass on Little Pie’s clothes. There was a set of twins that received volumes of Pie’s clothes until the twins outgrew Little Pie.

Off to the thrift store I go carting my bags of truly gently used clothing. Really nice stuff. I donate because, once again, in the words of my family’s matriarch, “Somone’s gotta do it!” [Psst! Those words really come in handy.] I figure if I take from the system, I should give back to maintain the system’s health.

Confession number one: I do have clothes, nice ones, that I have not worn in at least two years. My latest drop included some of these clothes. Maybe they were gifts. Maybe it’s because I turned 40 over a year ago and wonder if those clothes are still appropriate. Maybe I was a bit too hopeful when I saw it hanging on the rack. Or maybe I was shopping to fill the void that will never be filled. Yes, I’ve been guilty of that but am diligently working on stopping that behavior. Having a $5 Flinch Point really helps.

Confession number two: I do not shop where I drop. I have one store near my home and I drop goods there, but dare not go in.

Last year, my daughter’s school had a massive tag sale fundraiser. I ruthlessly excavated the entire house for items to raise funds for my daughter’s school. I gave up unfinished antique tables in the garage that I probably wouldn’t touch until 2020. Granted, they were gorgeous tables found in the alley but they were tremendous space hogs. I did not attend that fundraiser.

I have a hang up with seeing SOME of my stuff on the racks or shelves; a donation remorse of sorts. The same thing that initially attracted me to it is somehow reawakened. It hypnotizes me and, with swirls in place of pupils, I am tempted to buy it back. “Wow, maybe I do have time to finish that table that I have no room for in my home.” Or, "Hm, maybe I can tailor those pants even though I don't know how to sew." Crazy, no? Fortunately I've never encountered a situation where I see someone wearing one of my donated items. Oh, that would be a disaster. I'd probably tackle the poor woman screaming, "It was a mistake! Those little red Kenneth Cole clogs looked better on me! Give 'em up! Now!" I guess that means if you ever see me stalking you with swirls in my eyes, you better run. The shoes that I write of are pictured at the footer of this blog.

I try to donate seasonally. This works well because sometimes it takes me a season or two to accept that I no longer need a certain thing. This is especially the case with my daughters. I’d love to store everything they’ve ever played with but, I don’t have the space and what would I do with it? Yes, I have some toys set aside in hopes of grandchildren. But these are high quality items and are timeless, not some featured Hollywood toy of the season that would probably terrify future generations without the context that Shrek is a nice ogre. Add to that the rate Hollywood is pumping out children's movies, who can keep up?

So please, if you take from the thrift store system, be certain to donate. I’ve had this specific post in mind for months and was inspired to finally write it after reading a comment from Anna of the Harvey Street blog to the lengthy discussion from the July 31st post, What’s Inside. Anna wrote:

“This discussion reminded me of an important part of the "robust repurposing market" in the headline of this blog -the donating part of the thrift market. I try to make sure what I donate is stuff that is worth someone buying. I totally agree with the discussion about the marketplace being pumped full of junk that no one wants. I'm always disappointed to see cheap, crappy stuff at the thrift store.

So, instead of using up an entire Saturday just to try to make a few bucks off my stuff, I just toted it all to the thrift shop. Sure, I could have made a little pocket money but this discussion made me want to put my stuff directly into the thrift stream. It's not all name brand designer stuff but I hope someone is happy to find the nearly new (and freshly cleaned) Nordstrom's women's suit or the Venetian glass bottle stopper or the 2 table lamps with shades (and bulbs).”

Thank you Anna, for giving me that added nudge. And, thank you for keeping the system healthy.

As thrifters, the vast majority of us are best to follow the unwritten code to give back to the system. I believe this is a basic economic principal that the higher ups in the American economy have abused in efforts to make more money with cheap labor abroad. We bought from them, but they stopped returning the favor by donating jobs to the market. Now look where we stand. Practically penniless on piles of junk.

Someone out there is thinking, “Damn! She’s being hard on the American retail system.” The response? All together now, “Someone’s gotta do it!”

Do you shop where you drop?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Solid Foundation

Stop! You are being forced into a box and tied up neatly with string and a tag that says SEASONAL TREND. It’s mass marketing and it has you in mind left to ponder the exact bikini you will wear next summer of 2010, now on the eve of September, 2009. It tells you the skirt length this season. It tells you chartreuse is the new black.

Confused? Well of course you are! That’s why it is good to have an idea of fundamental style; something that can be molded into one’s own. Once you have a hand on the idea of the necessary basic foundation of a wardrobe you can add elements that meet contemporary trends without compromising your own unique self, your pocket book, or your dignity.

The best part – these wardrobe essentials can be found at your local thrift store. Say no way to the department store Stepford wife keeping up with the Janets you must wear it because we said so style. The Thrifty Chick's idol, Audrey Hepburn was noted for admitting all she really needed for style was a scarf. Style is best served simple. Here’s our top 5 simple essentials to get you started:

Essential #1

The little black dress. You need one. It is the perfect transitional piece from season to season, daytime to evening and casual to black tie. Choose accessories accordingly: sandals and a floppy hat to the garden or a picnic; off with the hat, on with heels and red lipstick for dinner; add a sparkly bracelet, earrings, and pull the hair back and you're off to the opera.

Essential #2

A well fitting pair of trousers. In Colorado we wear jeans, jeans everywhere – much to my chagrin. One can however; find a trouser cut that is flattering to most if not all figures. Look for neutral colours and medium weight quality fabrics of a natural origin (wool/cotton blends, cotton, wool/silk). Again the idea of a basic is that it can be worn season to season. Check the length, better to be too long and hemmed than to be waiting for a flood.

Essential #3

A black wool turtleneck. (cotton will do, as long as it is ribbed, to maintain shape, and not faded) I believe Miss Golightly has mentioned this before. No, one cannot wear wool turtlenecks in June but the classic silhouette is a fall through early spring necessity. It can be paired with a skirt, short or long, trousers, jeans – think Audrey Hepburn with cigarette pants and ballet flats. Another day to evening sure thing.

Essential #4

A short skirt, a long skirt. Think neutral, solid, quality fabric, and a shape that flatters your figure. A-lines that flow away from the body are always a good choice for most body types considering knee length.

Essential #5

A cute jacket. Appearing in thrift stores by the thousands; they have their own rack. Not a matronly suit jacket, something with a vintage cut, or a fun pattern. This breaks up the neutrals and it can be worn with your trousers, your little black dress, your turtleneck – get the picture?

Take this knowledge to the thrift store and skinny down your wardrobe without doing major damage to your pocketbook.

Monday, August 3, 2009

To be known & understood is the true gift

I originally wrote the following in response to a kind comment from Saver Queen in the “What’s inside?” post below. The more I wrote, the more I realized it grew in a short, but poignant post.

I love it when someone gives me a gift that is something I was unaware that I needed, something that puts a little added ease into my daily grind. Or a gift that embellishes something that is important to me, like serving tea, baking, gardening, adding to a collection…

The act of taking time to truly listen to me, observe me and truly know me is, in essence the gift, not necessarily the object. That’s the part that sets tears in my eyes. To feel, in this wide world, there is someone who has taken the time to truly know me and wants me to continue on as myself and not be swayed. (Ever get those gifts when you can tell someone is trying to change you?)

I have given gifts that have turned out unintended flops. We all make mistakes. But, I’ve found that time really helps in finding something that another will value. It is flat out foolish to think we can go holiday shopping with overbooked schedules in December and give gifts that mean something or that are even worthy of giving. How can we talk of charity and good will during this season when we are just, more or less, products of retail sales and advertising? The state of retail sales is all we see in print and TV media. We’ve even been told it’s patriotic to go shopping.

The retail machine puts a lot of static in our heads and does an amazing job of confusing our wants with our needs. So, come holidays, it can be very hard to figure what it is that you even need.

But, to have a friend, take time to truly know you to the point that they can spot little treasures that make your heart leap, now that makes giving a gift worthwhile.

Best to you in these hard times Saver Queen, I share your condition, more that you might suspect.