Some people wouldn’t be caught dead in a Salvation Army. (As a woman I know recently put it, “Don’t you wonder whose dress you’re wearing?) Others consider thrift shopping a way of life. I’m in the latter camp. Why do I love to thrift? It boils down to the thrilling possibility of finding something really, really great for really, really cheap. Buying second-hand means you can wear interesting clothes that are unique to you, without breaking the bank.
As a recent story in the Chicago Tribune points out, when the economy is down, the demand for second-hand clothes and household goods goes up. Setting aside economic reasons, thrifted clothes are trendy (see: entire stock of Urban Outfitters), even sexy, judging by the “thrift store girls” photo spread in Vice magazine, and Nerve.com’s recent dating column featuring advice from thrift store employees.
Long a mainstay of packrats and bargain hunters, thrifting has always been one of my favorite activities, so when I recently moved to Austin (temporarily), my first solo trip was to the strip of shops along Burnet Road, north of Forty-fifth. First, I checked out the jackets and dresses at Top Drawer (4902 Burnet). The store smelled strongly of incense, and the Fleet Foxes record played softly over the speakers. Pretty hip. I had made a goal to come home from Austin with some Dale Evans–style Western wear—you know, golden-fringed arm guards and elaborately embroidered shirts. Unlikely, I know, but a girl can dream, right? No luck in that department at Top Drawer, however, so I headed across the street to the Thrift House (4901 Burnet), which benefits the Assistance League of Austin. Top Drawer has an amazing selection of over-the-top vintage pieces (think floor-length, shocking-green sixties empire-waist dresses) and a separate jewelry counter with bangle bracelets for two bucks! On another visit the store was having a wedding sale, with a plethora of white dresses, veils, and crinolines for extremely reasonable prices. I didn’t come home with anything that day. (A set of diner-style coffee cups and saucers, at just $0.25 apiece, was incredibly tempting, but I couldn’t think of a way to take twenty ironware cups on the plane.)
When a friend came to visit recently, we carried out an exhaustive tour of Austin’s many vintage shops, the upscale cousins of traditional thrift stores. We stopped at Amelia’s Retro Vogue and Relics (2213 S. First) and Flashback Vintage (1805 S. First), both housed in funky bungalows. Oohing and ahhing over forties skirt suits, fifties evening gowns, and sixties shift dresses, I checked out the swimwear, but found the modest, navy-blue knit suits worn by the bathing beauties of the Victorian era a little too vintage for my taste. That wet wool sure must have been itchy. In addition to its mind-boggling collection of hats, Amelia’s offers a personal stylist by appointment to help you find that perfect period look. We also checked out the threads at Cream Vintage (2210 S. First) and New Bohemia (1606 S. Congress) but came home empty-handed, finding the fashions either too wild or too pricey for our (admittedly anemic) budgets. (For a comprehensive listing of Austin’s vintage boutiques, check out the great “Vintage Around Town” brochure you can pick up at most of the shops.)
The following weekend, I decided to hit the bigger thrift stores up north, and finally, my hunt paid off. At Savers (5222 Burnet) I found a black cotton dress from the fifties with a delicate floral print and a delightfully full skirt, plus all its original buttons. The price? $5.99. Already ecstatic, I headed up to the Goodwill on North Lamar, where I discovered the find of the century: a double-wrap fifties circle skirt with a hand-painted black-and-gold border, in a stunning chartreuse color, with pockets. I headed home grinning, knowing I had found a souvenir of my time in Austin worthy of Dale.