04 October 2010

Off Season, Trading Up: Secrets of Thrift Shopping and How To Learn from a Sucker Punch

A long winded title, indeed. But today, we have a lot to discuss. I'm about to get long-winded, and it's likely that I might repeat things I've said in the past here, but what else is new? Read on...

I suppose you might call this a "style blog". Sure, the very term makes me feel a little gross, but that's what this is, right? Usually, such things deal in the moment, in what's new NOW. But I've told you before that being an inveterate cheapskate requires one to disregard any idea of seasonal shopping and be open to that which finds you. Its often the key to successful navigation and acquisition of another man's junk. This means you sometimes buy a straw hat in January or some cavalry twill in August. It's a mild from of schizophrenia, I guess.

Let's turn the clock back a bit. I know I've told this story before, but right now it bears repeating. Years ago, I was consumed with lust for some patch madras pants, real good ones. I had yet to find them at a thrift shop and I doubted I ever would. Mrs. G. suggested I might actually go out and buy a new pair. A lifetime spent as an inveterate cheapskate makes it hard for me to pay full whack for anything, but eventually I acquiesced.
I went to Brooks Brothers and J. Press, and even the Andover shop. The offerings at Press and Brooks were, frankly, too frumpy, rendered in a pastel palette. Even in matters of patch madras, you gotta have some standards. Andover Shop had something more up my alley, but even with full spousal permission they were too expensive to justify. Enter this pair from the dreaded Ralphie.  $110, at the Polo flagship in Boston, but I really wanted them and so I bought them. The real trick here was the bright, primary color palette. Exactly what I had in mind. An un-Godly amount of scratch for some Indonesian sweatshop pants, but damned if I haven't enjoyed them these past five Summers. But these pants were at heart a Sucker Punch, and the circle came full yesterday.
This pair found me. I suppose I should be insulted, or something, but Halloween time is often the best time to hit thrift shop gold, if you happen to be foolish enough to dress at all like I do. There are more plaid pants and jackets around in October than all the rest of the year. These were found in the "costume" section. My old Polo pair are cut very narrow in the leg. I loved this when I bought them, but the life of the Father of Two has made that cut,shall we say, a pinch less than flattering. This recent pair, as go-to-hell as they may be, are cut more like a classic pair of khakis.

Better still, the new pair comes by way of L.L.Bean, new old stock, in real bleeding madras, for $14.99. Thrift shopping often brings the concept of relativity into extreme sharp focus. The store charged me that price because for them, it's a premium. If it weren't for Halloween, they'd be lucky to get $3.00 for them.  Ralphie took me for a lot more, another  kind of premium. I ask you, where was the money better spent? Don't answer, we all know.

In any case, what are the chances of finding a new old stock, better version of your favorite patch madras pants in exactly the same patch pattern, only in actual old madras the second time around? We all know that Ralphie builds his empire on stealing and copying, and I'll thank you to leave that tired old discussion out of this. But seriously, with something this pushy, what are the chances? These pants are exactly the same patch madras pattern.Thrift shopping is at least cheap, and at best it can provide the astute veteran with a closet, and home, filled with fine things. But trading up on an exact version of something you already had? Digging up a new old stock version of something that Ralph stole?

Trading up in thrfit shopping is almost, almost, un-heard-of, but it does happen...soemtimes.


Oxbridge Camford said...

Re: Ralphie's stealing and copying:

The Spanish have a proverb "Well stolen is half done".

In the present context it tells us that originality is less important than is sound reasoning (on Ralphie's part).

Boston Bean said...

Mies van der Rohe once said that being good is more important than being original.

notanymore said...

Like your blog.

Don't like your constant bagging on Ralph. I am aware of the history of his brand, aware of his personal history, and own my own share of Gant, J. PRESS, Brooks Brothers, etc, but to deny that Ralph Lauren has at this point earned a spot at the table is pretty damn unfair, G.

Also, in a reference to one of your other authenticity rants, I actually do play Tennis in a made in France white Lacoste polo. That's the whole reason I bought the damn thing. :P

Giuseppe said...

I've come to Ralph's defense many times here, and I have plenty of it in the closet. That's why I asked that we give that tired discussion a rest. See my post "Sibling Rivalry" from a while back.

Anyway, I loved my Ralph patchwork pants. But next Summer, they'll be replaced with the Bean pants, which are of better fabric and cut. I plan to have something made of the cloth of the old Ralph pants.

Bosotn Bean,

van der Rohe was right. Quality is always my first consideration. After all, there's really nothing original in a navy blazer and grey flannels, is there? Originality, when you find it, can be a nice side effect, but it is far from necessary.

mistermidwester said...

This post cracks me up. It has happened to me more than once, and despite some pretty urgent pangs of need, I've learned to hold off on paying full price for something unless it's so insanely rare that I doubt I'll ever see it again in my size (and really, those pants probably qualify for you, as they are a pretty unique pattern and color).

Another phrase that might be apropos here: "Good artists borrow; great artists steal."

Ralph is great, right? :)

Anonymous said...

Re: "After all, there's really nothing original in a navy blazer and grey flannels...".

Originality is the enemy of tradition.

Jho78 said...

"Inveterate cheapskate" eh? I've been looking for a phrase to describe myself. This will do nicely.

Anonymous said...


Great find.

In Ralph's defense here, that's actually a terribly common patch pattern, I've seen identical patch clothes from at least a half-dozen makers.

I believe the fabric suppliers sell pre-patched fabric bolts to manufacturers.
I know I bought (on clearance) a bolt of that exact same fabric at a craft store a few years back.


Anonymous said...

Sound post, Affordable, I like the 'passion', or 'enthusiasm' as we say, no real need to be too carried away, old thing.

I prefer the J Press patch madras, but also the rather wonderful O'Connells new old stock, and I'm prepared to pay for it, as this stuff doesn't really exist in the UK.


Young Fogey said...

Wow! What an incredible find.

Even if I wouldn't be caught dead in them :-)

You have an incredible wife who knows when to let you have what you really, really want and can't find through your regular venues. You are a lucky man to be so blessed.

And yet--what a find! Who'da thunk it?

When I absolutely, positively have to have something new because my thrifts simply don't have it (and I know this from going regularly for years now), I try off-price stores first, but look for quality (I've found Italian silk in Marshall's--but not much!). If they can't provide it, then I move up to the department stores--but look at the sale items.

Actually, I haven't paid retail for anything in ages. Thanks, Giuseppe!

The Glengarry Sporting Club said...

I don't understand how one guy can have so much luck. (Or is it a sweet combination of timing and persistence?)

Anonymous said...

I just found that same polo blue label pair at a local consignment shop for $14. Also found another pair at Steinmart's "take an extra 50% off lowest price sale", but I don't remember the brand. I paid 17.99 for this new pair.

Anonymous said...

Great Story. Great Luck, as usual. But-- Doesn't answer the real question: What's to become of the Ralphie Madras?

ADG said...

You know that I have enough madras to open my own store for it. But I don't think I've ever paid retail for any of it!

Anonymous said...

The Glengarry Sporting Club said...
I don't understand how one guy can have so much luck. (Or is it a sweet combination of timing and persistence?)

Ok Giuseppe, time for a blog on the mental/physical process of finding such extraordinary find.


Anonymous said...

I would be lucky if the thrifts I visit broke out incredible items around Halloween as a fun mockery of our style. I can only seem to find the typical cheap plastic stuff.

Anonymous said...

My experience with the RL ones is to grab a needle and thread a few times each summer. The patches unravel with a high frequency.

Anonymous said...

Polo is trash, for the most part.

Unknown said...

Style blog. Not fashion blog.
Good on ya.

A said...

reading over your archives, i resonated with this. I found a new old stock pair of ireland made clarks wallabees in exactly my size and the color i arleady owned. this was at the pink 2 level thrift shop in cambridge, ma. Trading up for sure.