Let me just preface this by saying no one in San Diego says “thrift shop.” It’s thrift store, Macklemore. Another thing wrong with that song: you won’t get leopard mink for 99 cents unless it truly is drenched in urine. But I gotta love that he’s singing about popping tags instead of bottles. It’s true, one of the joys of coming home with a haul is popping off the tags and getting a second look at those low-low prices.
I tap a yardstick against the wall. The vase is almost as big around as the circle I can make with my arms, but we had just measured its narrow opening. The hole is the right diameter, maybe too snug. But at $20, it’s too much to spend on something used and scratched. I’m annoyed with the pricing. I can tell Katelyn really wants the thing.
Erratic pricing is common in almost every thrift store I encounter in San Diego. A lovely peacock-patterned dress sat in St. Vincent de Paul’s for at least a month under a $50 tag because someone saw the original price. It might still be there. Meanwhile I snagged a pristine Betsey Johnson frock for less than $5. I guess it’s difficult to properly value trash that may be treasure. Or, just maybe, the volunteers / minimum wagers who sit in the back room and staple tags directly to garments (and to nylon thigh highs!!) just guesstimate with no supervision.
Weighing price against value is the primary skill to develop when thrifting. Do I like this shirt? Yes? Do I like it 7 dollars worth and knowing I have to find a replacement button? No. I used to go home with a pile of rubbish, or at least clothing that is difficult to absorb into my existing wardrobe. Now my collection is so large I can find a way to wear a pair of tights with tigers on the calves.
I still thrift primarily to impress people at parties. I try to be selective, but having a conversation starter is more valuable to me than closet and floor space. I have a silver sequined skater dress (Ross, $20, a gift) and a gold sequined skater dress (McAllister’s, $3). And if I found a black one for under $10 I’d buy that too.
I’ve sort of developed a strategy for getting through thrift stores quickly and without “splurging” too much. If my thrifting partner is easily bored, I’ll want to have at least examined the necessities — so first I beeline for the shoes. I stalk down every aisle, scanning with a jittery gaze. Pumps are easy to score because I wear size 8s. For a $3 pair of skyscrapers, I’ll jam my toes into a size 7.5 and drink until I can’t feel them. Looser heels can be made to fit with gel inserts; one is placed in the ball of the foot, and one is cut into strips to adhere to the inside of the counter (see diagram).
Next, lately, I hunt for leather in the outwear section. I’m looking for something amazing, something I’m willing to drop $30 or even $40 to own. Recently I acquired a black plether member’s-only jacket for $5. It will tide me over, but is already missing buttons.
If you really want attention for pennies, look for a ridiculous t-shirt. Since I’m lucky enough to fit into a Juniors medium or small, I shop in the boy’s section. Items of that size are misplaced there and/or boys have cool shirts. I scored both Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus concert tees on the same day, for less than 50 cents each after discounts. I thought maybe I could turn little boy shirts into crop tops, but I ruined one with sloppy scissor work. For 70 cents it was worth the experiment. Maybe I’ll find a way to save Mr. Kitty with Laser Beams Coming out of his Eyes.
Finally, I weave through the rest of the store before heading to checkout. By now I’m too eager to move on to the next store to waste my money on anything else unless it is extraordinary, like wheels I can attach to my shoes... Old Sami would have bought the Coach leather satchel for $17. New Sami didn’t because the bronze fittings don’t match her larger Coach messenger bag of the same style, the stitching on the handle seemed less than perfect, and she was thirsty and too impatient to make a $17 decision.
We’re at the large purple vase again. Katelyn is on her haunches, deciding. I want to tell her to buy it. I see the defeated look start to creep into her eyes. But $20 is not justifiable. “Manager Special” we hear come over the PA, “now all tags are half off. All colors of tags are half off, except furniture.” $10? Sold.
We get an opportunity to use the vase at a party that same week. One of Katelyn’s many hookah stems fits snug in the vase. She already had a matching purple hose. Filled with water, large as it is, the vase is heavy and stable. It looks like the caterpillar’s pipe and I’m Alice in Wonderland.