27 February 2014

Rules of Thrifting : Develop Your Eye

I recently posted two rare and wonderful items for sale on Ebay, and while I like to keep the commercial aspect of things to a minimum around here, the provenance of both of these items speaks to a very important rule of thrifting that bears discussion here. Anyone can look through the obvious stuff, but it takes a seasoned pro to find things were they really don't belong, and "an eye" for this sort of thing can only come with practice and experience.

Pictured above is vintage men's dressing gown made of heavy but butter soft wool, made in England by Welch Margetson and Sons for Dunhill of New York, likely 1940s. I found this garment hidden in a rack of women's overcoats. As I passed by the rack, something about the finish of the cuffs and the piping at the lapel caught my eye, so I stopped to look. That extra minute was all it took. I might not have looked through an entire rack of women's coats, but practice has trained my eye to rest on little details that might yield a surprise result. Conversely, a rack of men's sleepwear is likely to have mostly, if not all, cheap flannel pyjama bottoms from Target and Old Navy. I'd love to keep it, and wear it with silk pyjamas and velvet slippers, but fancy house clothes and I don't mix, since I'm likely to be washing dishes, doing laundry, or some other mundane and potentially dirty task in them. Still, I hope it finds a lovely home (auction info here).

Not too much later I found this vintage flannel rowing blazer. I saw this hanging at the end of a rack of business suits in the women's department of another store. It's buttons had been replaced with some awful fake jewel buttons, and the sleeves had been "altered" by having the cuffs turned up and under about two inches and badly stitched on the inside. I took out the stitches, steamed the cuffs and sewed on some gold buttons I had laying around, which is what this jacket should have in the first place. I'm sad to see this one go, but I'm about two inches short for it and I don't think I'll be spending much time on a boat, or near one, any time soon. (auction info here).

I'm not suggesting that there's no organization in thrift shops, and certainly some are better than others, but it tends to be the more unusual garments, the ones with details that most normal people would assume are effeminate these days, that might wind up in the ladies clothes. The robe may look masculine enough in the photos I took, but its set in a very masculine context. The piping on the rowing blazer is not something common in menswear anymore, except in the most rarefied circles, and many of those folks aren't haunting the thrift shops. By the same token, brightly colored bits of silk may seem to most people like a women's accessory, but I find most of pocket squares in bins full of ladies scarves. For that matter, women's jacket styled like menswear often mix with the men's clothing in these places too.

The point here is to keep an open mind, and do what you can to develop a sharp eye for detail and imaginative shopping techniques. Sometimes the best garments are hidden in plain sight if you only just look for them.


David M. said...

Love that rowing blazer (so why don't I bid on it, right?). I can't think of many occasions where I could pull it off. A summer wedding, dinner at a fancy waterfront restaurant? I could never wear it to work. Just thinking out loud. Nice find, man.

Young Fogey said...

I have taken your fine advice, and have found nearly all of my pocket squares in the ladies' section.

I sometimes find ladies' clothes in the men's section. I usually put them back where they belong, but have yet to find any real treasures when in the ladies' clothing area. Still, you never know....

David V said...

Patent leather formal pumps and a camel hair polo coat, just two of the men's wear items I've picked up from the women's section. The nice thing about them in the wrong location is that they are not immediately snatched up.

Anonymous said...

I found a man's Barbour Bedale in new condition in ladies jackets this week at Savers for $8. It fits my husband perfectly. I'm still trying to figure out what's wrong with it. I thought it had been washed, but water beads up on it.

When I was in high school, I made my father a bathrobe like you have pictured. It was 100% wool with contrast piping, and I embroidered his initials on the chest pocket. It took me weeks to make, and I gave it to him for Christmas that year. He wore it for decades, until his death a few years ago.