Thursday, 18 February 2010

Thrifting in Different Places

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
Scarf: second hand / some random flea market in Finland
Beige wool skirt: second hand / Salvation Army
Tights: Urban Outfitters
Ankle boots: Aldo


Sal said...

How fun to hear about the Helsinki thrift scene! Also, I'd love to hear where you are in upstate - I went to school in Binghamton, and one of my besties lives in Albany. (Drop me an e-mail if you're not comfy saying here ;)

I lived in San Francisco for a couple of years and let me tell you, the thrift in Minneapolis is FAR better. More stuff, cheaper, and not nearly as picked-over. There are very few items I wouldn't buy used over new ... and I honestly don't understand the aversion.

Django et Coco said...

Wow, those tights are the most pretty an original tights I have seen in a long time, love them :)

I feel in love with thrifting while living in Vancouver, BC. The city is fairly new and still consider a smaller city thought the thrifting here is amazing! Not only do I find vintage piece every time I go but I find vintage deadstock, designer vintage, newer designer piece etc... and because of a lot of new resident coming from overseas, they bring a lot of imported pieces, which are my favorite treasure! ;)

-Coco from Our Paper Moon

DVM said...

I love that Audrey snuck herself in to the boots photo!

Anonymous said...

You know I was looking at Helslook or something like that and I did notice that a lot of people mentioned they got their clothes at a thrift store, which surprised me because like you said, here it's not very much like that, but in a way I'm glad that not a lot of people are interested in thrifting, the better for me. I started thrifting about 3 years ago, before then I always bought new stuff, I started in part because of the recession but also because one fellow teacher once mentiones that she got an awesome ornament at a thrift store and it was an expensive one, she got it for a buck, since then I was intrigued and started visiting the thrift shops myself, and I love it!

jesse.anne.o said...

In Brooklyn most thrift stores are picked over but we do have thriving re-sale places instead (where the resident population goes in to sell their unwanted stuff, and the buyers weed out what they think will sell to buy) for moderate prices. Between Beacon's Closet and Buffalo Exchange, it's not too expensive to buy resale stuff. It's funny because until I started doing Wardrobe Remix I didn't realize how much of my stuff came from there.

We do also have the overpriced consignment shops and vintage shops as well, especially in Manhattan.

But even with Beacons and doesn't compare to thrift shopping the Salvation Army in 1992. I got '60s cat eye glasses I've had vintage sellers offer to buy off me...for $2.50.

Eyeliah said...

I have only thrifted in 2 Canadian cities, I def feel like it is looked down on at times and the people around me shopping for practical. There is one trendier place but it gets pickd over and fast, I prefer the huge sorted by type and color the best as it offers the most rewards for a dilligent thrifter!

Marie McGrath (The Joy of Fashion) said...

Very lovely scarf! Love the colors and the pattern.

Rad_in_Broolyn said...

Hey, thanks for the great post on thrifting cultures. I've thrifted in London, Vancouver, Minneapolis, and Brooklyn. While Brooklyn is picked over, there is a lot of turnover. But since I don't have a lot of time and patience, I do a lot of vintage shopping on Etsy and ebay. Is that cheating?
Love the tights and shoe combo!

Milla said...

Great post! I really really miss thrifting in Valtteri and in the summer Hietsu. They just don't have anything like it here. American thrift stores can be quite aggravating at times, just because of the sheer volume of recently abandoned mass produced goods. They also offer wonderful surprises, though here on the West (best ;) coast they are quite picked over.

Everyone I know seems to thrift shop, so I'm not sure if it's looked down as much here where folks have relatively low-incomes. Definitely the older generations in the cities (i.e my in-laws) don't seem to thrift. It's Costco and the like for them even if they're on a budget.

The Patersons said...

How interesting to read about the comparison.

I grew up in Asia where thrift shops are NON-EXISTENT! Except for el-cheapo furniture, which even now is almost extinct. I think the Asian culture is more enamoured with shiny new things!

thankfully I now live in Melbourne, Australia and have been introduced to the wonders of thrift and vintage shopping.

There is always at least one thrift shop in each suburban shopping area and some more expensive vintage shops scattered throughout esp in the inner city.

Thrift shopping is mainly still for poorer people althought there is a small sub-culture of students that I've spotted.

As for vintage, again it's such a small subculture.

I'm lucky that my husband and sister are both aficianados and we love thrifting.

However, most of my friends think it's strange and one of my work colleagues won't step foot in a store because of the musty smells and thinks its gross to wear 2nd hand things! Oh well, more for me!

We don't have as much variety and stock as you do in the US though...thank god for ebay and etsy though! ;)

tigerteacher said...

I thrift in the Philly area and the differences you describe between Helsinki and NY state sound like the differences between urban Philly (antique and boutique feel) and suburban Philly where there are treasures and junk mixed together in a warehouse setting and priced on the cheap. I love the cat pictures!

tigerteacher said...

I thrift in the Philly area and the differences you describe between Helsinki and NY state sound like the differences between urban Philly (antique and boutique feel) and suburban Philly where there are treasures and junk mixed together in a warehouse setting and priced on the cheap. I love the cat pictures!

englund said...

Just discovered your blog through A Cat of Impossible Color--a wonderful find!

I live in the Ithaca area. I find that the Ithaca Salvation Army and Trader K are usually well picked over in my size (I wear a 6-8), but there are plenty of really tiny sizes. Perhaps most people who donate clothes are petite students--or maybe these are just the sizes that linger for a bit in the store.

I have picked up some beautiful scarves, skirts, and a dress or two in the Ithaca stores, but I no longer spend much time shopping there. My best thrifting ground is a well-run Salvy in a nearby somewhat-less-hip community. Less competition for the good stuff!

Charlotte Holmes said...

You have such a good perspective. I wish I'd known about local thrift shops when I lived briefly in Helsinki! All I knew was that 60s style was very chic & much in evidence on the street.
The Goodwill store in my town never charges more than $7 for a garment unless it is truly extraordinary--then it might be $10 or $15. Yesterday I spent $30 & came home with two bags of Eileen Fisher, j.jill, Marsh Landing, Banana Republic, etc. garments. What I did notice yesterday that was a departure was this: so many short skirts! In the past (not so distant: December) they've been long dreary skirts. Now short skirts have been in vogue long enough that the rich girls have tired of the individual pieces! What I hope to eventually find are the knee-length skirts. Now, I'm buying long ones & lopping. Do you like upstate NY? It must be very different from what you're accustomed to.

gina said...

I love your red top with those bright pinks. The patterns on the scarf and tights are awesome. I'm in love with those tights!

I live in Chicago, and I started thrifting here a few years ago. Depending on where you shop in the city and suburbs, you can find different types of stores. Some focus solely on selling items cheaply and do not discriminate in what they sell or how they display. Other places sell cheap clothes at too-high prices. I've been in stores and seen items from places like Forever XXI, H&M and Ann Taylor LOFT selling second-hand for more than I paid for the same item new! Other stores are actually vintage boutiques, and even with these stores, prices range. Some stores are relatively inexpensive while others can be way overpriced.

I've discovered a few particular stores where I like the combination of selection and price, and those are the stores I frequent.

Of course, buyers from some of the smaller trendier second-hand and vintage stores will shop at the larger cheaper stores for items to resell at higher prices.