Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A theory of thrift

While many of my favorite items of clothing are vintage of homemade or no-name origin, my favorite designer thrift find has got to be my Barbour Beaufort jacket. I acquired it in a sleepy small-town Salvation Army down the street from my mother-in-law's house during a stopover on our big cross-country move. I've only recently had a chance to wear it, but it's been perfect for this rainy spring weather. I like the sturdy feel of the construction and the waterproof waxed cotton. So much nicer in a downpour than the Patagonia rain jacket I lived in, when I lived in Seattle.

Another recent find was a Dries Van Noten button-down, which I passed along to T. It's just a simple black button-down, but it has a beautiful drape and a wonderfully aged patina that make it special. And then a few years ago, I found the perfect white button-down made by Thomas Pink in a local Goodwill.

Since these favorite pieces are examples of menswear, my new theory of thrift is that the best designer vintage to be found in lowly secondhand shops is in the men's aisle. Men's clothing eschews trends for the most part and is made to last and be functional, which I think contributes to their lasting appeal 10 or 20 years later when they turn up in these thrift shops. Of course, it must help that they're not as nearly picked over as the women's aisles, either. And maybe men are less likely to go to the trouble of selling their discarded clothes than women.

Though I've found many designer clothes for women, none really appealed to my style. Maybe that's because women's clothing in general is less about functionality and more about decoration and trends. It's not that the vintage looks dated or bad, but that their range of appeal is so much narrower. Thus the Diane Von Furstenberg silk leopard-print skirt, the Comme des Garcons perma-crinkled shirt, and the Versace tee I discovered in my thrifting forays were all bypassed or eventually given away or sold. 

Anyway, I can't really discuss designer vintage finds without mentioning the Hermes loafers I found in a Goodwill on the Microsoft side of Seattle. It was just a bit too big even with socks, and I must have gotten rid of them during a ruthless cull pre-move. Sob. That was an example of classic women's design, but alas, it wasn't meant to be.

History professor Michael Prokopov offers his own theory of thrift in an NYT article about flea markets. He says, “Flea markets proliferate a volume of goods needing to be sold and people who are hungry — emotionally and aesthetically — to sort out the meaning of life. . . . For most people who go on these ritualized scavenger hunts looking for something that they may not know exists, it is a kind of pilgrims’ process through the detritus of the past.” Even the journalist quoting him had to raise an eyebrow at that academic heavy lifting, but it's an interesting thought nonetheless.


  1. The Barbour jacket must be the ultimate thrift find! I also like to pass by the men's section of thrift stores but I've yet to find something that fits.

  2. Sometimes they're all mixed up. I found the men's DVN shirt in the women's section.