A couple comment boxes ago Rad_in_Broolyn asked me about the differences between thrifting cultures. Like many of you know, I moved from Finland to upstate New York last August. Back in Finland I went to flea markets and charity stores constantly, pretty much every week. Helsinki is a relatively large city (population is about 600 000) and in terms of numbers there are a lot of flea markets out there to be found. However, a big city with a university equals a lot of trendy student thrifters, which means that at times you come across really high prices and tough competition trying to find your treasures. I was lucky to live in a suburban area where my fellow thrifters were not quite as numerous, and I'd bump into old grannies' emptied closets in my local thrift stores.
In our small town here in New York we have one huge Salvation Army store, one tiny thrift shop in the pretty-much-dead downtown, and one hip vintage boutique. There are also a couple of charity shops that I have not yet been to (they are always closed!). I haven't come across any flea markets in the European sense, and people don't seem to sell their old clothes in garage sales - only furniture, china, trinkets and electronics, stuff like that. We have a couple of antique stores here too, but for the most part they don't sell any vintage clothing. (I have a feeling that the one small vintage boutique hoards all "proper" vintage in the area).
The competition here (with one's fellow thrifters) is non-existent. The people I bump into in thrift stores are far from trendy students looking for unique clothes. The people who thrift here are poor. This shows in the prices (except for that one vintage boutique, which is quite expensive and clearly aimed at the vintage connoisseur). In general, thrifting is cheap over here, really cheap. I have not come across a single piece of clothing in Salvation Army that cost more than $20, and this includes vintage fur coats, wedding dresses and evening gowns. Back in Helsinki some downtown charity stores would charge $80 for a second hand 1970s wool coat.
When it comes to the stuff that is sold in thrift stores, there is none of that trend-driven display of clothes here. (In Helsinki most downtown thrift stores seem to know what the hipsters are looking for any given season.) Our local Salvation Army is coordinated by type (coats, dresses, skirts, jeans etc) and colour, and there is nothing but racks of clothes as far as the eye can see. You really need to be ready to spend some time looking for things, because no one does it for you. Clothes they have range from beautiful old vintage that has been stored away in someone's attic to heavily used cotton t-shirts. I don't think they have any system as to what they are selling at a given time. In Helsinki, most thrift stores, including Salvation Army stores, seem to be very well organized and season-particular, as well as aware of current trends.
To me it seems that at least in our town, thrifting is looked down upon a little. It is clearly identified with people without money. The items that I see my fellow thrifters look for are practical clothes like jeans, sneakers, sweaters and such. The old granny stuff that is on the-most-wanted-list in big city thrift stores does not sell here, except when I get my hands on it. However, if we drive an hour to Ithaca (a lovely university town with a European vibe), the second hand culture resembles the one in Helsinki, except that the prices are lower. Same goes for Princeton, NJ.
In my experience there are people everywhere that don't quite understand the point of second hand shopping - "why buy old when you can buy new". Some people just don't understand or enjoy it, some people feel awkward or grossed out by other people's old clothes. Fine by me, that means that there are more treasures for me to find! I'd love to hear about your experiences when thrifting in different countries, cities, towns or the countryside. Have you come across crazy prices, culture-(or area-)specific items, or different ways to look at thrifting?
Red mohair jumper: second hand / Salvation Army