I thrift; therefore, I am. I’m happy to spend on other things — international travel, books and good wine (although I’m always attracted to those that are Wine Spectator-rated but under $10 a bottle).
I won’t shop for clothes at the mall though, sale or no sale. Those skirts, sweaters, suits and accessories don’t sing a personal story of a bad day at the office or a perfect appearance at a party.
I haunt thrift stores. I really can get something for next to nothing. (And when I buy at a thrift or a consignment shop, I can be assured that I’ll be the only one wearing that vintage sweater or the suit someone’s great-aunt Sally cut from a Parisian model she had copied.) I have bonded with both friends and strangers over a Pendleton knife-pleated skirt, an already-broken-in Coach bag and a fur collar. Who cares if that Pendleton item is from the days before sizes were changed to make women believe they are smaller than they actually are?
Recently though, I had the strangest of thrifting experiences. I bought an Adolfo skirt suit in a hip fuchsia and gray houndstooth. Very Jackie O. When I felt in the pockets, I discovered a stack of business cards, presumably belonging to the former owner, complete with her e-mail address.
“Perhaps,” my husband suggested, “she has passed.” Maybe mourning relatives collected her clothing and donated it to be redistributed. I mused about the cases the previous owner might have tried in court or meetings she might have held with clients who were trying to plan their retirements and the dispositions of their estates.
Would these clients have become confused by the wild houndstooth pattern? Would they have taken the advice of a woman who had purchased such an extravagantly patterned ensemble and whose skirt fell to just above the knee? Of course. They would have understood her to be as bright as the pattern and as confident. Yes, this was an excellent purchase. It had been priced well, and I got an additional 50 percent off because I happened to visit the store on a Monday.
I rushed to Google the name of the Adolfo suit’s previous owner. Not dead. Not even Jackie O vintage. In fact, from her Web site, she appears to be a pretty, vibrant blonde younger than I. “When she’s not at work, Jane enjoys spending time with her husband and five children, and has recently taken up horseback riding.” I learned she is a member of the local bar association and of American Mensa, Ltd.
Will wearing her suit make me smarter? Younger? Blonder? Might I take up horseback riding? Do men in Santa suits become kinder and more generous?
Etymologically, “thrift” derives from the Middle English term for prosperity, perhaps from the Old Norse word meaning to thrive. Thrifting allows me to both prosper and thrive. It stimulates my imagination in ways that shopping at the mall can’t. I daydream about who wore these clothes and for what occasions. I wonder what new adventures I will have sporting this suit, wearing these shoes, carrying this bag.
Thrifting defines me as someone who not only loves a bargain but also appreciates quality craftsmanship and values personal friendships. One of my friends and I sometimes do tag-team thrifting: She stalks her local stores for me, I hunt on her behalf, and we text each other for approval before purchasing.
I love literature, history and anthropology, interests that dovetail with my hobby. Thrift shoppers know that every sweater has a story; every tux has a tale. And I am always eager to listen.