Monday, March 3, 2014

The rambunctiously rich rewards of the "Thrift Shop" lifestyle

The thrill of the hunt is part of the Thrift Shop experience.
Macklemore bagged a luxurious beauty, if you don't mind animal slaughter.
    Watching the video for the Grammy-winning "Thrift Shop" was like viewing a rousing, witty tribute to my 95-year-old mother, and to the values she instilled in me in the 1950s. I have been plowing through stuff that others have discarded all my life. I have found countless treasures amid the trash. I left plenty for you.
    In today's frantic, acquisitive consumer culture, my Mama's motto is more relevant than ever: Living well, on almost no money, is the best revenge. Looking hip and strikingly original in an outfit that you "curated," using items that cost you between 49 cents and five dollars, is very rewarding.
    Just as the Grammys were being handed out, New York was gearing up for Fashion Week. Did anyone else notice how many of those designer geniuses flagrantly plagiarized Thrift Shop chic in their collections?

Grand prize winner at a Thrift Shop fashion show spent $17.50, including shoes, earrings.
 Yuka Yoneda calls her thrift-shop outings "Goodwill Hunting."
She could be on a N.Y. runway, but it's a thrift-shop show. Cost: $16.50.
   It's such a shining affirmation of ordinary people -- the fact that all those famous haute-couture artistes relied upon YOU for their inspiration. Macklemore is right: "This is fucking awesome!"
   The Masters of the Fashion Universe "stole" from street kids, who have the audacity to throw together their own in-your-face looks. How bizarre, how bizarre!  I love it.
    And I love thrift shops -- both donating to them and shopping in them. It's the "cycle of life" chugging along vibrantly. It's all very communal, and it's so touching to know that things we don't need any more don't have to die! Someone else will be thrilled to discover them and adopt them. Sweet! All this "love amid the ruins" makes "designer fashions" and department stores seem like dinosaur dioramas by comparison.
A mini-masterpiece of  frugal grace.
    Thrift shoppers have defied the beast that is mindless materialism, by steppin' out to display their own Personal Fabulousity. Implicit is the notion that we can be real saboteurs, driving the One Percent crazy by buying clothes, and lots of other things, that don't generate any profit for them. Cool! When we buy "used," they can't "use" us.
    So to all you clever "junk store" kids, with your total hipness, I say: Baby, take a bow. You have transformed exorbitantly priced apparel into a moronic anachronism. Screw that stuff!

Rambunctious young people made the big shots look silly. Well done!
    UPDATE May 22, 2014: Now the New York Times is calling it a "new trend," dubbing it "the mixed-and-mashed style of the model Cara Delevingne." Why should she be getting the credit for what millions of hip chicks have been doing for years: wearing "‘90s street wear, eclectic prints, oversize sunglasses and idiosyncratic baseball caps"? Her outfits have a "cheerful, nonchalant punch," the Times says.
You "ordinary" girls have so much more flair than Cara!

I don't want to leave the impression that the fashion world isn't doing anything original, gorgeous, stunningly tasteful or totally crazy anymore. They're still doing all of that. They are doing some great work. I am dazzled by much of it.
    But the influence of the thrift-shop aesthetic is unmistakable. The major couturiers are exploiting the energy, raunch, edginess, slouch, eclecticism and sheer exuberance of thrift shop denizens to shape their creations. This calls into question, more than ever, the assumption that you need to follow anyone's lead, or spend a lot of money, to look smashing.

COMING SOON: A Kronstantinople expose about how thrift shops with reputations for helping the poor, the disabled, and nonprofit organizations are taking in billions of dollars -- and paying their executives six- and seven-figure salaries -- thanks to all that donated merchandise.

    The high-spirited, triple-platinum tune by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis describes the "awesomeness" of what you can put together with twenty dollars and your own special flair for blending eras, colors, patterns and aesthetics. It is awesome! 
A stunning coat for those sagebrushy days -- just $10 at the flea market.
     "Thrift Shop" is a rallying cry -- a call for a massively crowdsourced shunning of traditional buying habits. It is a nudge to " 'Don't Occupy Nordstrom' or any of the other multinational purveyors of overpriced mass apparel made by underpaid young girls in Third World countries. Don't give these dudes your money. Defy them, and look totally amazing while doing so. 
    "Thrift Shop" is saying "don't be stupid" (as in paying 50 bucks for a T-shirt or $250 for a pair of jeans). But Macklemore was a bit off on his numbers. The prices are actually about double what his scathing rap tune ridicules:
This Hugo Boss T-shirt costs $95. Why? How?

And Ralph Lauren wants $75 for this thing.
Dolce & Gabanna's Steve McQueen T-shirts somehow sell for $375.

But for just three dollars more, you can have this Marc Jacobs hoodie.
And these D&G jeans have been marked down from $675 to $472. It's your lucky day!
The San Pietro combat boot is $657, regularly $1095.
    Macklemore is pretty harsh about these prices, but how can you argue with his logic?

Fifty dollars for a T-shirt - that's just some ignorant bitch (shit)
I call that getting swindled and pimped (shit)
I call that getting tricked by a business
That shirt's hella dough
And having the same one as six other people in this club is a hella don't.

    I couldn't agree more! I would feel swindled and pimped (shit) if I were crazy enough even to consider buying anything in this price range. They are screwing with us, pushing the limits to see how imbecilic and manipulable we really are. 
   Luckily for us, we have an elite in our "egalitarian' nation that is somehow affirmed and puffed-up by spending almost unbelievable prices for everything. They love hundred-dollar T-shirts!

It's fun to find a $497 Marc Jacobs dress for $12.00.
    We are the ultimate winners, when they get bored with that same old-same old high-class blah, and have it hauled away to the thrift store. Thanks a billion, you trillion-dollar airheads!
    I used to be embarrassed that I shopped at thrift stores. Now I'd be embarrassed if I didn't. God! 

I like maxis for summer, instead of shorts or trousers. Thrift shops have loads of them.
    My many designer clothes cost me a fraction of one percent of their original price. It's a kick to reel in these pieces of "ultimate luxury," but I enjoy my thrift-shop stuff from the Gap and Banana Republic and American Outfitters just as much.
I enjoy all the Gap items I've found at thrift shops. They've held up for years.
     Don't you ever have days when Banana is just irresistible? Luckily, the thrift shops offer a wide range of their styles, all gently used, if at all. I think about 25 percent of what I get at "secondhand" stores still has the price tag on it:
This Banana Republic ad looks as if its stuff is already from a thrift store.
Cool, classic, comfortable.
    As for my many T-shirts, they cost two dollars or less, and they are "neato," as we used to say, and they are collectibles: My favorites are a never-worn (until I wore it) Clash shirt from the band's 1980s "North American Campaign" tour ($1.00), a menacing MegaDeth T-shirt from the '90s, T-shirts glorifying "Shock and Awe" and the Stealth bomber (worn with irony, of course) and (OMG!) one featuring the Mormon Temple. I hate bombs, but I love my old bomber jacket, made in Paris but designed by the German Karl Lagerfeld. It looks heartless yet elegant. What a combination! I love feeling heartless yet elegant sometimes. The next day, I may want to feel heartwarming yet grungy, or girly yet buff, and I have just the right clothes for those moods as well:
When an old broad wear these, people are puzzled. I like that.
I am so immature that I totally love this freaky thing.
A treasured souvenir from a Haight-Ashbury junk shop.

It had some German coins in the pocket, which I gave to my Nazi Mormon neighbors.

      Consider the advantages of the Thrift Shop Adventure:
  • The thrill of the hunt
  • That warm feeling in your tummy when you engage in "recycling"
  • The gratification of bringing your full creativity to bear in putting one-of-a-kind outfits together
  • The interesting sensation of wearing clothing that has a history, instead of something that's right off the boat from China. Who wore this? Where did they go in it? What will they give away next?
  • The excellent victory of saving TONS of money and defying the marketers who use every psychological trick in the book to seduce you into conformity. 
You darling, thrifty kids must have a ball, just being yourselves. Bravo!
    This is freedom! This is empowerment! This is flipping the bird at the insatiable, cynical corporate behemoth that regards us as easily seduced pawns. This is a way to learn about "timeless" fashion -- the classic pieces that never go out of style.

Why not become a fashion icon like Audrey Hepburn? It's a nice feeling.
Coco Chanel's 1920s "little black dress" -- still in vogue,
and still readily available in various styles at thrift shops everywhere.
    But it goes deeper, I think, because there is an integrity to it. It is a declaration of independence.  It is the reality of cheerful thrift, charming modesty and confident self-expression. It is the reality of living within your means, saving for the future, and shunning excess and extravagance. It is the reality of comporting oneself with authentic class, not flaunting your pathetically high-priced "stuff."  It is not "keeping up with the Joneses" -- it is keeping your eyes on the real prize: Total cuteness, plus an emotionally and intellectually satisfying life.
Dang cute, darn cheap.
    More and more people are learning this simple fact, and it is a beautiful thing to see: You can truly get more pleasure out of saving money than by spending money. It's so much more fun to screw the system -- to circumvent, sabotage and defy the system -- than to "buy into it." 
Turning throwaway culture into rock-it-again culture.
     Thanks to our One Percent economy, a lot of people have been forced into this lifestyle. After they got through all those stages of grief and the anguish of deprivation, many began to acquire the skills of smart shopping. Coupons were clipped, strategies were shared, and these newly energized folks began shunning even sale prices until the items were marked down again and again. Yard sales and thrift shops were packed with people hunting for bargains -- grudgingly at first, and then enthusiastically. They learned what previous generations knew all along: Being thrifty is rewarding. It can actually make you feel quite triumphant.

Rachel Saldana shares some of her thrift-shop ensembles. Pretty cool.
A collection inspired by the "Thrift Shop" song.

    As much as I love the wardrobe I've assembled over the past 50 years -- which includes items that were made between a century ago and a couple of years ago -- my favorite finds have been artworks. These are what I would rush to save if a natural disaster were imminent. They are irreplaceable, and each has a place in my heart.
     I have collection of original oil paintings and watercolors, numbered lithographs, and good quality prints from thrift shops that fill every room of my home. They range from the Renaissance period, through Picasso and Matisse, and into the raw, abstract era.
My framed Matisse print covers almost an entire bathroom wall. It was five dollars.
   One of my large watercolors has, on its backing, the Grand Prize seal for a university art-student competition in the 1970s. About 30 years ago, I got a fanciful batik creation for two dollars that complements perfectly the colors and patterns of my private bathroom's decor. A striking, Salvador Dali-esque painting has been one of my treasures since the '80s, but it was only last year -- and purely by accident -- that I learned the artist is highly sought after, particularly in the Southwest.
I got this Frank Lloyd Wright lithograph, beautifully framed, for five dollars.
   My favorite is a huge, dynamic oil painting of a jazz quartet that I got for $10 at a yard sale. I've also had hours of fun at thrift shops,  poring through vast collections of baskets, vases, very colorful and beautiful kitchenware, pottery, wall hangings, lamps, burnished wood desks and tables, decorative pillows, and many other irresistible items.

    I treasure the old books I've found -- one is inscribed by a man to his granddaughter in 1913 -- and I've even found fitness equipment in excellent condition (for example, a seated rower for five dollars, and free weights for fifty cents per pair).
    It's a great way to live.

    A psychologist recently said that how we dress can actually affect our behavior. So dress radically! Dress with ferocity and conviction. Dress with in-your-face wit and independence. That will totally mess with the oligopoly. Ha, ha, you heartless profiteers.  

    The fun has spread like wildfire, and ovations resound across the country as "thrift shop fashion shows" are presented. The exuberant sense of triumph and creative achievement is overwhelming at these events. They are joyful. They are like, "We did it -- we mastered cool without being taken for a fool" by mainstream marketers.

Ready for the runway at a San Diego show.
The sheer joy of colorful inventiveness.

How good can you look for $3.00?

A moment of triumphant beauty and class. Brava!

She be killin' it, as they say in the 'hood.
 I'm so pumped about some shit from the thrift shop
Ice on the fringe, it's so damn frosty
That people like, "Damn! That's a cold ass honkey."
Rollin' in, hella deep, headin' to the mezzanine,
Dressed in all pink, 'cept my gator shoes, those are green
Draped in a leopard mink, girls standin' next to me
Shit, it was ninety-nine cents!
 Coppin' it, washin' it, 'bout to go and get some compliments
I am stuntin' and flossin' and
Savin' my money and I'm hella happy that's a bargain, bitch
I'ma take your grandpa's style, I'ma take your grandma's style,
I be rockin it.
    You've come a long way, baby. Keep it up. You be you!
Become a fashion terrorist, invading dumpsters and liberating tossed-aside coolness!
This outfit was put together  from various flea-market vendors in Greenwich Village.
"Organize your heart and start your own unique collection," this site urges.
It specializes in plumbing the depths of castoff bins, to find some funky fun..
This hot mama got her harem-pants outfit for $7.00 at Goodwill,
 necklace included. No wonder she is struttin with that sassy smile.
Feeling outrageous for $3.99. Shoes: $2.00
The Goodwill store in Denver is amazing.
Even the "ladylike" ladies can plunge into the messy fray and emerge victorious.
      One charming skill the thrifties have achieved is the art of looking "thrown together," when in fact it takes considerable aesthetic insight and judgment and effort to look so offhandedly -- almost accidentally -- fabulous.
    That "thrown together" aesthetic is one of the many facets of thrift-shop culture that High Fashion has shamelessly plagiarized and then marketed up by about 1,000 percent. 

Artfully "thrown together" by a thrifty hottie.
     Of course, it's nothing new for High Fashion to take inspiration from outcasts, renegades, subcultures, and other social strata. In past decades, we've seen the Beat influence, and variations upon the aesthetics of hippies, metal bands, grunge, punk, goth and surfer/skater culture. But it's only recently that those who were the "inspirations" have taken things full-circle, reclaiming their fashion autonomy and using the high-falutin' copycats, for a change, instead of letting them use us without retaliating.

    The photo below is is how haute couture was depicted at the Ami debut show on a Paris runway last month, amid fake snow and streetlights.
    “I don’t pretend to revolutionize fashion,” designer Mattiussi said. “My goal is to get my clothes into reality.”

    That's a deft rationalize for copying what's already out there, and then raking in the dough of some rich, dim people.

Each article of clothing is several hundred dollars.
His T-shirt is $140, shorts $269,  duffel $838.

 Famed designer Michael Bastian can make you look fiscally prudent for $4,400.
His ultra-pricey "urban chic" rips off the aesthetic of street kids.
Fashion Week's big-name outfits, above, clearly show how "high style"
 is merely imitating "the lowdown." Isn't that kind of pathetic? And funny?
Ottavio Missoni's doing the same thing. Cost: $1,465.
Pharrell, left, with his pal Diddy, wears a $5.00 T-shirt with a $5,536
Lanvin coat. That's the kind of coat you can get for $7.50 at Goodwill!
Don't they look like thrift divas? They're wearing 2014 Armani at a Paris show.
The thrown-together, misshapen, poorly fitting, badly color-coordinated look is Missoni's new take on thrift chic.


    You can get the Marc Jacob high-tops, shown below, for $685 at, or pay $2.89 for a nearly new Converse pair, also navy leather, at the Salvation Army store.
The Salvation Army  has dozens of colors and kick-up-your-heels prints. Fun!
The Olsen twins tweak street fashion and say they are the "designers."
   Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, shown above promoting Balenciaga boots ($500-$1,495), made a big splash at Fashion Week. Their upscale MKA brand is obviously a shameless ripoff of "trash" fashion. 

      The casually spectacular young man below proves that if you've got some panache, you can have a much "richer" attractiveness by ignoring the style police and being a discerning bargain hunter:

 See how much more cool Real thrift chic is, than "designer" chic? Total cost: $28.
    Thrifty guys and girls rule! They boldly venture where the fancy-pants people wouldn't be caught dead ("Aren't secondhand stores for homeless people?"), and they get their revenge: Fancier pants! And fancier everything else! 
    I feel very gratified by the varied, high-quality wardrobe I've had most of my life, thanks to the willingness of others to dump perfectly good clothing, presumably so they can run out and buy more perfectly good clothing. I appreciate their insatiable lust for new stuff. My lust for cheap, old stuff makes the whole process morally acceptable rather than shamefully wasteful.

A hot chick who is hotly chic, and coolly saving money for college.
     Imagine this (from one of my secondhand-store adventures): A tweedy, meticulously constructed Lord & Taylor suit jacket from the '30s. It has padded shoulders and leather buttons: $3.99. Tommy Hilfiger jeans, nicely softened with age: $2.00. Old gray fedora: $1.00. Cashmere vest: $3.00. Men's Burberry pinstripe shirt from the '60s: $2.00. Stomp-around workboots: $3.00.  Deep lavender wool scarf, to toss over one's shoulders: $1.00.

    Look at these hip thrift-chicks, who would spend thousands of dollars more each year to dress like this if they didn't "follow their passion" in those so-called "junk shops." They have cultivated a talent for coming up with their own "recipes" for yummy outfits. It is a radiant achievement, and it is heart-warming for me to see how  ordinary people can create real, bold, this-is-ME beauty. It is bringing out parts of ourselves that we didn't know were there -- and now we're extending it to home decor and every other aspect of our lives ("I Did it My Way"):

Bohemian flair meets hippie joy, combined with superb tailoring.
Relaxed, modest, comfortable and cool.
A winsome work of art -- gorgeous!

Being outrageously chic can be more fun than fun.

You saucy young lady -- so totally cute!
    I haven't been into a conventional clothing outlet in decades, but I see pictures of them in the media: racks containing the same item in a range of sizes and colors as far as the eye can see. Whatever you pick out, there are hundreds more just like it. Most of it is either boring or hideous. The quality gets worse every year, as garment-makers cut every corner to increase profits.
    There is something almost totalitarian about these places, with their mass-market uniformity and their "dictatorship" over what it's OK to wear this season. They've made the decision for you. Your implicit duty is to join the pack and buy. It makes me sleepy.

Does Nordstrom seem sterile and joyless to you? Give me a flea market!
    The atmosphere of these places reminds me of Pink Floyd's iconic 1979 album, "The Wall," which depicts the chilling angst of being regarded by the market not as an individual, but as "just another brick in the wall." 

     In the film adaptation, young people -- identically dressed -- are portrayed being sternly indoctrinated into a life of conformity. They "sit down and shut up" as they are harangued by a quasi-Nazi leader. Then they are marched, faceless and without protest, to a meat grinder, into which each of them obediently plunges. Presumably, they will be transformed into identical "patties," just like you get at McDonalds. 
    These scenes from "The Wall" remind me painfully of what our consumer culture has become ("There is no pain -- you are receding," the lyrics explain):

"There must be some mistake
I didn't mean to let them
Take away my soul.
Am I too old, is it too late?"
"You better make your face up in
Your favorite disguise.
With your button down lips and your
Roller blind eyes.
With your empty smile
And your hungry heart.
Feel the bile rising from your guilty past.
With your nerves in tatters
When the cockleshell shatters
And the hammers batter
Down the door.
You'd better run."

Ooooh, you cannot reach me now
Ooooh, no matter how you try
Goodbye, cruel world, it's over
Walk on by.
    Pink Floyd's vision may seem melodramatic, but to me it is an accurate representation of the ambiance in which I believe contemporary retail shopping is conducted. Do you appreciate being told what to wear, like when you were in elementary school? They might as well post signs stating: "Your adherence to our style choices is appreciated. Deviance is punishable by shunning, ridicule, banishment and possibly the meat grinder."

    Maybe most people prefer to have "the merchandising experts" define appropriate attire for "the new fashion season." All you have to do is march from one department to the next, feeling "comfortably numb," credit card in hand. A bit robotic, don't you think?, but at least, you get to pick out your color scheme."That will give the little people the illusion of being free," the style mafia are reasoning.

    Department stores are BORING and EXHAUSTING and INSULTING -- the visual overload of thousands upon thousands of "the latest trends in American apparel." Talk about "mass marketing" -- what a drag! It all seems very tame, regimented and sanitized -- kind of like Maoist China. Isn't that ironic, in our hyper-capitalist economy?:

    Thrift shops, on the other hand, are friends with benefits. They're a cheap date. You hardly have to "put out" at all, to get what you're lusting after. And you wind up feeling more moral than you did before your hookup.
    When you elude the corporate gargantuans, which seek to impose style -- and debt -- on you, you are committing an act of sabotage. That's sexy. You're a renegade! You're a loose cannon, messing with the machinery of our snooty, condescending overlords, who have absolute confidence that they can dictate your taste, and your buying decisions. 
Designer stuff is outrageously priced, unless you 'go slumming' to find it.
    You're an evildoer, which is a great feeling. You engage in what almost rises to the level of civil disobedience as you sneak past Nordstrom and Macy's, and slip into the thrift store instead. Ha, ha, you slick pricks, with your psychological testing of "consumer behavior," and your market-tested, focus-grouped techniques for luring in the clueless hordes.

One proud woman's weekly thrift-store "haul."
She designs herself, on her own terms. Bad girl!
    There are no downsides, only upsides, as you enter the glorious world of the "second-hand." 
    Look at what these scandalous girls have done. They are brilliant. They're killin' it! They are rocking out on practically no money, just by liberating the goddess of creativity within. It's such a joy to see that I never get tired of looking through the thrift-shop photos.
    Aren't these ladies stunning in their el cheapo stuff?:

Don't these "frugalistas"  blow your mind?

    I must admit that as an adolescent in the 1960s, I was embarrassed by my mother's bargain-hunting approach to life. The prospect of being regarded as cheap or poor shook me up, despite her enthusiasm. She was proud! I was terrified of being seen rummaging through the thrown-away detritus of other people's lives. Why couldn't we go to the Sorority Shop or The Paris, like all my friends did?      
   "I don't care what 'everyone else' is wearing," my mother said. "We're not going to pay those ridiculous prices, when we can find perfectly serviceable clothes at the thrift store. Some day you'll be glad you aren't a conformist, and that you learned to find your own personal style. Besides, it's fun."

It's true: You can look incredible in grandpa's clothes. And grandma's.
    Macklemore is having the time of his life, and his relish is contagious:

Your grammy, your aunty, your momma, your mammy
I'll take those flannel zebra jammies, second-hand, I rock that motherfucker
The built-in onesie with the socks on that motherfucker
I hit the party and they stop in that motherfucker
They be like, "Oh, that Gucci - that's hella tight."

Macklemore loves that rockin' old Batman onesie from the golden era of comic strips.
You can have one too - they're in thrift stores everywhere.

And so can your baby!
    (Speaking of Gucci, this bag is currently available on the Italian designer's site for $1180.

       I got mine, barely used, for under $5.00 at the Goodwill Store in Denver, although you can buy a fake one for $225 online. It is known as a "replica.")

The "replica." It costs less, but it's still overpriced.

But there's always Mulberry, for $1320.00.

    Or you can just drop into the thrift store, where there are THOUSANDS of cute handbags, many of them by famous designers. Lots of the cutest ones aren't by anybody!
The "unused" Burberry is $850 at Nordstrom. Barely used: $1.75.

Kate Spade originals, slightly different in size, hugely different in cost.

The cuter, higher quality vintage basket purse is $1.75.

These Diemme canvas slip-ons are featured on Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop site for $495.

 (Or just be a pathetic bum, and buy these for $19.99 at Payless.)
     Before too long, after my insecurities faded, I began warming up to the "thrifting" experience. We didn't go shopping. We went on spirited treasure hunts. We went exploring. We hacked our way through jungles of garbage, we dove into the gaudy waters of yesterday's favorites, we threw one messed up housedress and hideous party dress after another out of the way to find the hidden gems. 
    Eureka -- another mind-blowingly cheap piece of radical chic. "Mama, look what I found!" 
    I think it was a Saturday morning in the '60s, when I happened upon a navy wool beret imported from France, a navy pea coat from Saks Fifth Avenue, old LL Bean boots, and matching argyle socks, still in the wrapper, that I was finally a convert. I was ecstatic over what I had achieved. And, as my mother noted, "They were practically free."
    It was my thrift-shopping breakthrough moment. I went from being a somewhat resentful tag-along to a wholehearted instigator. 
    As a typically insecure adolescent, I was ambivalent about my shopping victories, even after I came to enjoy them. I never told even my best friends that I wore used clothes to school every day. I still had a bit of that "dumpster diving" unsavory feeling about it, as everyone else waltzed off to those perfumed, refined department stores downtown, although I believed what I was doing was politically correct (even then) and a blast to boot (how often does that happen: fun morality?). It really became a kind of sport for me. And this is one sport in which we can all emerge as winners, holding our "trophies" high.
     It wasn't until I was in college that I could reveal (and even brag), that my Hermes scarves cost 39 cents each, my vintage pastel Dior trouser suit was less than $10 (it's online now for $901.68 -- it's even the same color as mine) and my Lanvin sweater was $3.50. I had read about New York socialites who glided around in these stratospherically costly brands. I never dreamed they'd wind up in a jumbled-up Salt Lake City box labeled "assorted/uncategorized." 
    Hermes began making the collector scarves in 1937 from raw Chinese silk.

I wasn't in love with this suit, but I loved owning a Dior suit.
    One day during my college years, I found a tweed suit from Morton-Digby, London, circa 1954. 
    "How unusual, to see a Chesterfield collar," my ever-surprising mother observed. She was referring, I later learned, to the black velvet collar detailing.

    It was my first imported suit, but I would find many more over the next several decades, and I never paid more than $12 for any of them. I got rid of the skirt before long, and I wore the jacket with black velvet trousers for many years when I was in New York. These beautifully crafted old clothes always feel so right and fit so comfortably. They give you a real sense of self-assurance, even when you're a young Salt Lake City hick, surrounded by the rich and famous. Your glass of champagne is constantly being refreshed by waiters who assume you must be somebody in that timelessly elegant ensemble.

    My closet is essentially "the march of time" in fashion, which displays my decades in the "thrift-shop lifestyle." It's also a museum, because so many things in there practically belong in the Smithsonian: They are representative of the great eras of American fashion.
    I do have a few things from the "75 percent off" racks at various mass-market outlets -- like ShopKo and Kmart -- but I don't treasure any of them. They surely don't make clothes like they used to. Quality and class have gone straight down the tubes.
    What I do treasure are the great "finds" and bargains I've acquired from secondhand stores, yard sales, flea markets and swap meets, because each one represents a "feat" to me -- and I am proud of how cool they are, how cheap they were, and how lucky I was to find them. 
    My very favorite pieces -- and not just for sentimental reasons -- are from my mother's days as a "working girl" in 1930s Boston. I have been wearing her smartly tailored, beautifully detailed suit jackets since I was in college in the late '60s. They have antique buttons, bound buttonholes, silk lining and padded shoulders -- just the sort that Lauren Bacall and Katharine Hepburn boldly wore with pants and "sensible shoes." They feel so effortlessly stylish -- casual but with an air of understated authority. When I was a young working girl myself, in New York, I found that these handsome articles of clothing boosted my confidence considerably.   
You feel so smashingly well appointed...............
.....that you want to put your lips together and kiss yourself.
    It gave me a feeling of honor to move to the big city and wear these same clothes that my mother wore when she left the rural south and moved to her own big city. It was a lovely bond I felt, to her and to history. I was always conscious that it was she I was "wearing." Because I was just 21 years old, and my Mama was 2,000 miles away, this was a comfort.
    My mother was too much of a Southern Belle to go so far as to wear pants, even though she liked tailored suits better than girly dresses, but other women in the 1930s were grappling with the agonizing question, as reported on February 1,1933, in Women’s Wear Daily "Will women wear trousers?" There was much gnashing of teeth, much vitriol between men and women, and among women themselves, and predictions of a total moral breakdown in society.
    The ones who did defy convention, hold their heads up, and stride out onto Lexington Avenue, perhaps to buy some bagels and a newspaper, wore trousers of greater quality,and with greater panache, than we have seen ever since. These items are waiting for you by the bazillions in the thrift emporiums of the nation. Just dig way down, and there they will be. I love the fit, the detailing and the hand-sewn lining.
A provocative cover from 1939. Were pantsy girls tramps?
Some daring ladies threw out their skirts long ago. Now we can get into their pants.

    A necklace from Greenwich Village, that alternates carved wood leaves with real, burnished acorns -- given to my mother by a dashingly handsome suitor -- remains my most commented-upon accessory. I loved so much the jewelry my father's mother had brought with her from Poland at the turn of the century, but it -- along with many of my beloved artifacts of the past -- were stolen during a break-in in New York (one of several that occurred during my 10 years there).
Mine was more colorful, and had a black velvet cord.
    I love my mother's old hats as well. She had about 15 lovely flowered round boxes filled with them, many of which she herself bought at secondhand stores when she was a young secretary at MIT. Thrift stores have thousands of these old gems, usually in excellent condition. You might surprise yourself at how beautiful you look in these old millinery designs:


    I have found that if you wear a cool hat and some big sunglasses, people think you're glamorous -- maybe even famous -- even though you're just the same old you.

    For about 20 years, I wore the olive green wool vest my dad's mother knitted for him when he was at Georgia Tech in the late 1920s. I loved it. Then the moths loved it to death.

I loved the history, and the manly authority, of that old vest.
    But I had several backups, all of them from the men's departments at thrift shops in several cities. My favorite was an old argyle, which I wore with a structured grey suit coat. I looked quite formidable, I think. In 1970s New York, if a girl didn't look a little bit formidable, she had to fight off a lot of tiresome crap.

    There must have been a secret cabal of wealthy, fashion-conscious Mormons somewhere in town -- hidden in the secluded foothills, perhaps? --  because my mother and I regularly bought suits, coats, dresses, casual wear, robes, and evening gowns that carried labels from Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, B. Altman, Bergdorf Goodman and Henri Bendel at the Mormon-owned Deseret Industries "used clothes" warehouse. This blew our minds. We had never set foot in such prestigious stores, yet we were inheriting some wonderful items from them, all in mint condition. Nothing cost us more than five dollars, and almost everything was under three dollars. 
    Actress Gloria Swanson, below, wore the kinds of outfits in the 1920s, before the "talkies," that I found so elegant a half-century later: tailored but comfortable. When I met her (, she had been retired for years, but her sense of style was still impeccable. 

I was on a media tour with Gloria Swanson in the mid '70s. She was very kind.
    When I was in junior high school, I sorted through thousands of hideous garments and excavated charmingly simple, timeless blouses and blazers by designers I'd read about in Glamour magazine: Chanel, Pierre Cardin, Oscar de la Renta, Oleg Cassini and Givenchy. I didn't realize until years later that these were the then-First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy's coutouriers.  
    I kept my Chanel suit, as pictured below, for many years. Mine was pine green, and cost four or five dollars. At the time, I was a big fan of Chanel suits, but I never really enjoyed this one -- it was too itchy. I mainly bought it for the label. I kept it as long as I did because of its connection to history. My other connection to Mrs. Onassis is even more touching to me (
I bought this Chanel mohair suit just months before the assassination.
    One of my most beloved "great buys" from my junior high school thrift-shopping episodes is a stunning black formal gown by the legendary haute couture designer Givenchy. It was crammed in between the grossly frilly, "morally proper" prom dresses that were de rigueur in Salt Lake City at the time, and the price had been marked down from seven dollars to two. I knew it would be years before I would need such a fabulous dress. Maybe never -- I didn't care. I thought my mother would think I was being wasteful, but when I modeled it for her, she said, "That's a very good investment." And indeed, it has been.
    The dress below, designed by Givenchy the same year as the one I bought (1954), embodies his clean, classic lines. But mine is even more becoming -- and more comfortable. It is a matte wool blend, which I like better than the more satiny dress Audrey wore:
Audrey Hepburn, "Breakfast at Tiffany's"
    It would be 10 years before I wore it -- and 20 years after he designed it -- but it was, and remains, au courant.

    I still love these old masterpieces, but what I really wanted when I was 15 years old was to wear what everyone else (I mean the "in" crowd) was wearing. When I look at the secondhand classics I had in my closet, I can't believe I preferred the prevailing fashion, but when you're an awkward, insecure non-Mormon adolescent in a Mormon-drenched hothouse of cliques and whispers, it does affect your courage. 
    For a long time, all I wanted was not to stand out. I stood out enough as it was -- in a bad way -- without having to wear cheap, used, "outdated" clothes. So I mostly wore Auerbach's "bargain basement" generic versions of the brand names that all my friends wore, instead of showing up at school in my knock 'em dead thrift ensembles. 
    (Before long, I went overboard in the other direction. Standing out was my goal, not blending in. Repudiate the dominant culture! Wear vintage clothes with combat boots, and smoke Marlboros. Swear, and chug jug wine. Hang out in pool halls, while still being an honor student. That'll teach 'em.)
   But for the time being, I longed to have the inoffensive but boring styles that were in style at the time. They all seem so unappealing to me now. I wanted a pair of authentic Bass Weejuns, not the fake ones, which cost less than half as much.

Weejuns were so cool. All the cute, popular kids had them.

I was desperate to have some real Madras. I had fake Madras.

 Gant's button-down, Oxford-cloth shirts were so classy! And costly!
I didn't want jeans. I wanted Levis -- real Levis!

Fisherman-knit sweaters were so snuggly!
     But that was long ago, and it was a phase I outgrew before too long. Today's kids have the advantage of owning a culture that values individuality, creativity and pure craziness. Why didn't we have that? Why didn't we have bod mods and tattoos? It must have been those damned Soviets, which our government used to scare us all into becoming a "nation of sheep." And now we are rams -- ramming through conventions and expectations. At last.
    Like this: Young ladies who know how to live sparingly without scrimping on style:   

    I browse through my closet, and I remember the thrill of finding each one of the treasures within. The most memorable venues were dimly lit storefronts on Canal Street in New York. At that time, Canal Street itself was like a place that history had left behind. One forgot, for a while, that big, beautiful, dynamic Manhattan was just a few steps away. This was another world. It was eerily quiet, like an abandoned movie set. Most of the buildings were boarded up. There were dingy shops that sold nothing but buttons, old fixtures, picture frames, used tools or decades-old kitchenware. 

Where was I? I lost track of time as I explored forgotten remnants of the past.
    And then there was the one that was filled with huge cardboard boxes overflowing with musty clothes and shoes, presided over by an expressionless, toothless woman from Romania. This place was a wonderland, if you could stand to breathe the particulates that flew into your face as you waded through all those wrinkled, fraying artifacts, looking for the gems. I kind of tranced out when I was in there, lost in a dreamscape.
So old, so beautiful, so cheap.
Fun stuff.

Grand stuff.
     My favorite rewards for these lunchtime immersions were the suit jackets, hats and accessories -- pearl necklaces and earrings, clutch bags, scarves, even vintage lingerie in its original packaging. Designs from the 1940s remain my favorites. The workmanship on these pieces is something that most people today have probably never seen, but at thrift shops, they are so inexpensive, I often said it would have been stupid not to buy them, whether I needed them or not. It was like collecting art.

    I still have most of the 1940s wedge shoes that I bought in the early 1970s. They were so beautiful, I wanted to own them, even if I never wore them. They cost one dollar per pair! Most of them seemed never to have been worn. They were all so cute, it drove me crazy.

    I even bought an old, decorated pair of cowboy boots, but I had to give them away. Even with five pairs of socks, they were too big. I liked combat boots better anyway, even with my evening gowns. 
    When I stopped drinking, stopped working and stopped going anywhere, I also stopped getting dressed. Why wear actual clothes, when you can live out your golden years in loungewear and cozy men's bathrobes? It can be rather glamorous and decadent, a combination of Greta Garbo and Hugh Hefner. Thrift shops are busting out all over with fabulous hermit attire, and I have so much of it, I ought to start my own "vintage outlet." The problem is, I love this stuff. It is my connection to the grand sweep of upper-crust, lazy living. I am carrying on a venerable tradition that I'm afraid has nearly become extinct. Even those who can afford to lay about in satin pajamas all day have become "ladies who lunch," and then head for the day spa for a series of fragrant self-indulgences. So, like so many things in this world, it's up to Elderly Girl and me to "keep the dream" of solitary grandeur alive. Thrift shops make this economically and morally feasible:

Let's just stay in our velvet PJs and read great novels, OK honey?

Whenever  I wear this gown, a lovely breeze materializes.

This would go well with strawberry-oatmeal pancakes, served to me in my bed.

Loungewear makes me feel so relaxed, yet powerful.

Why is it that I am always so beautiful in this lazy-days ensemble?

    But most of the time, I just throw on a man's robe after I have a shower, and pretty soon it's bedtime. It's good to feel handsome, even if you're an old girl.

A"Gangster style" (?) 1940s wool robe.
   A Feb. 4, 2014 New York Times dialogue poses the question: "Is it Passe to Dress Nicely?"  and provides a lively discussion. ( I don't think it's passe, but our definition of what's "nice" has been blown wide open. What's "in" is to dress comfortably, thank god, and to wear what you like.