This past weekend I bought four pairs of jeans from the thrift shop! Excessive, I know, but when you hear this story you’ll see it was unavoidable.
I would have never thought such a feat to be possible if it didn’t happen to me. I mean, jeans are notoriously hard to shop for even in conventional retail stores. Yet, I found four perfectly beautiful pairs in one day at the thrift shop. It happened and it was a history-making score. This is how the story goes.
I already had a good collection of jeans: two skinny pairs, two relaxed boyfriend style, and two flared. All that I’d ever need, and a bit more. However, two of those pairs (a boyfriend and a flared) were starting to feel a bit loose, and I had been looking to replace them. Of course, I never thought I’d be able to do it in one day.
This past Saturday I needed a longer break from home and kids, so I went out to visit both my favorite thrift shops. In the first one I found three great pairs of jeans. I found a Joe’s, Japanese denim, boyfriend style; a Hudson, made in USA, flare; and a Burberry, straight, ankle check pair, made in England. And they all fit! I know. I couldn’t believe it myself. Now, I am not usually one to buy cartfulls when I go thrifting, because what’s the fun in that? I usually just keep it to one or at the most two items per trip. So I made myself select only two pairs and leave one behind. I chose to leave the Burberry behind, because the other two pairs looked better on me. Plus, I reasoned, it’s good to leave some treasures back for other people to find, for good thrifting karma. I was of course certain that the next person to lay their eyes on the Burberry jeans would snap them in a millisecond.
At the second shop I had no intention of buying anymore jeans. As a matter of fact I had no intention to buy anything at all, just to enjoy the browsing. Unless of course, something formidable and out of my wildest dreams would show up. Which, you probably have guessed, happened. I found a pair of black skinny jeans, made in Japan, by Karl Lagerfeld ! I had been dreaming about Japanese denim for a long time, because they are apparently the holly grail, as declared by denim connoisseurs over on the two or three websites that came up in my Google research some months ago when I was looking to buy some nice jeans for my husband. So this is how I ended up buying a third pair. Interestingly enough, in this second store I also found another pair of Hudson jeans identical to the one I had bought already. So you could say that I left a treasure behind even here.
I spent a good hour or more on Saturday evening cutting and rehemming. I’m not too fussy about that, I just cut off the original seam using older jeans in the same style to measure, and then I sew the new hem by hand, because I broke too many machine needles with jeans. One of these days I’ll buy some denim needles. Maybe.
And this is where the story doesn’t end yet. No. The following day I couldn’t stop thinking about the pair of Burberry’s I had left behind. They were actually a nice straight leg, and I don’t have this style in my collection, and in a beautiful dark wash, and they were made in England (the most exciting part about it). Because I had a 30-percent off coupon and apparently nothing better to do this Sunday, I decided to check the store again and see if they were still there. I was convinced they wouldn’t be, of course. I didn’t even look too hard, but I saw them immediately there, waiting for me. Destiny, what can I say. And at checkout I discovered that it was a 50-percent off day. How were those jeans still there? I can’t think of any other reason that they were meant to be mine. This is the magic of thrifting: it’s not just shopping, it has meaning. Right? And meaning is happiness. Meaning is everything.
Now I got rid of one of the old jeans (I might use it one last time for a Holi celebration this weekend), and I am left with nine pairs, of which one is a bit too tight in the waist and one is rather loose (but in a good slouchy way that I enjoy). I’ve never owned this many jeans before. Such decadence. I’m not sure how I feel about it.
In the past few weeks I had the greatest luck thrifting: a Madewell Transport tote and a Filofax organizer materialized in front of me, straight out of my dreams. Deserving of a blog post, right? The bag was not something I had been looking for in the thrift shop because considering the bag’s Internet fame (I think every style blogger out there must have one) I didn’t imagine it would appear in thrift shops any time soon. And yet, there it was one day, exactly the color way that I liked the most. The corners were slightly worn and it had some dye rubbed off in some small splotched spots, but otherwise the bag looked great.
At home I used some black leather dye (I use this one to paint every shoe and bag I own lately, to the growing resentment of certain family members who don’t understand why the dinner table must be covered in newspapers and bags and black paint all the time. Sorry!) and conditioner to make it new again.
I am discovering lately that totes are not really the most comfortable of bags. One of the two handles always slips down my shoulder which is very annoying. I might add another strap to make this into a cross body/slouchy hobo thing. We’ll see.
Then, last week I found one thing that I’ve been dreaming of: a Filofax. I was not expecting to find one so quickly (only last fall I learned about Filofaxes and how apparently amazing they are), that was why I had bought another organizer off eBay. This Filofax is a personal size Kensington, a style that I understand is discontinued. It was burgundy in color when I found it (why don’t I ever take before photos, why?) but the same leather dye turned it into black. Now that red button stands out really nicely, doesn’t it? I moved all the inserts from the eBay organizer into the Filofax and again great luck: they fit perfectly. I’m all set.
Even the little frame wallet peeking out of the bag is a new thrift find. Not that I needed another wallet either (I don’t usually use wallets, but pouches that hold everything I own), but this one was too cute to resist. And I can alway put the other pouches to other good uses.
Now I’m promising myself that the only things I’ll look for at the thrift store for a while will be linen tops and dresses. Nothing else. Unless it’s something exceptional like these latest finds. But otherwise nothing else. For sure. Probably.
I tend to feel very cold in the mornings, when I wake up long before the sun, because the baby is an early riser. Those are the hours when I want to wrap myself in a shawl to warm up while I drink my coffee and read my blogs, before I start making breakfast for the kids and an actual effort to wake up.
When I go thrifting, many of the treasures I find are things that I never thought I needed. That’s how I found the crochet black shawl that reminded me of my great grandmother (on top of the pictured pile). My great grandmother used to crochet every day. She could make everything and she would constantly ask visitors to bring her thread and new projects. And yet, I have nothing left from her. I remember her always covered almost head to toe in a gigantic black shawl. A gigantic black shawl leaning on a walking stick.
It was also unexpectedly like that I found my grey Indian shawl (pictured at the bottom of this pile), a blend of silk and wool I think, which I and the baby have been using a lot this winter and the last. I found it in the “fabric” section of the thrift store. The fabric is so pleasant to the touch, and so shiny and beautiful to look at! Even my Indian mother-in-law admired it (or maybe she questioned why we buy Indian stuff from outside India, I don’t know, I don’t speak Hindi, so in all honesty I probably understand a completely different story from the one she tells me).
Sometimes, and those moments are very rare, as they should be, the universe works in my favor and I find in the thrift shop something that had been on my list of treasures for ages. And those days are just magic, of course.
For a very long time, however, I’ve wanted a large Russian-style shawl (by Russian I mean Pavlovo-Posad style). In Romania, Russian-style shawls are a very traditional accessory. My grandmother has always worn one to church ever since I’ve known her. I have a Russian scarf from her. When I was a child I used to admire this one a lot, and I had declared it “my inheritance.” When I moved to US now more than ten years ago, my grandmother told me I could have the scarf. I have to admit that I don’t wear it a lot, but I still love to look at it every once in a while. But a shawl, a large shawl, I knew would come in handy on those frosty mornings when I come downstairs with the baby, still half asleep and shivering, and missing the warmth of the bed blankets.
I looked on ebay for Russian shawls, but they are (rightly) pretty expensive. Besides, I don’t find buying from Ebay as fun as thrifting, so although I will look up things once in a while, I very rarely buy something from there. So I put the shawl on the list of things to look for when I go to Savers. I never pass by the scarf section without going through each and every one and this past week, there it was, in all it’s very-colorful-roses-on-blue-background glory. I loved it so much that even though I couldn’t find any label or fabric content I just bought it. I assumed it had to be a Pavlovo-Posad shawl. Well, when I washed it at home I discovered the label, and while it is 100% wool, it’s Japanese-made, not Russian. I think I can live with that though, because it clearly wants to be a Russian shawl, so that’s what it will be for me.
Shawls fascinate me. They can be warm blankets, they can be decorative neck wear, and they can be protective cloaks. In my new book (still editing! I know. It’s been forever) they play quite a prominent role. There is something of mystery and magic about shawls, regardless of the tradition from which they come, and life can always use a sprinkle or two of those spices, to become more palatable, don’t you think?
For the past two months my family had quite a pleasant Sunday routine that involved my husband taking my daughter to skating lessons while the baby and I spent time in Savers looking around for treasures. There have been days when I didn’t buy anything, although the kids always seem to need one thing or another. They grow out of sizes at such a fast rate that clothes are consumables in our house. I should file the expenses under groceries. This post, however, is not about clothes needed by fast-growing children, but about an unnecessary bag for their mother.
I definitely didn’t need another bag. I didn’t. A year or two ago I had reached the perfect balance of bags. I have one bag (or two) for each imaginable situation: I have bags for winter and bags for summer, I have tiny fancy bags that work nicely for evening events, and slouchy, cross-body bags that I can travel well with me. I have big bags that can be diaper bag (or laptop bag) and purse at the same time, I have diaper bag/purse combos (the purse is small enough to go inside the diaper bag when needed, but also has enough space for essentials like phone, wallet, sunglasses and keys). I have tan, brown and black bags, and even a pink evening bag, because who knows when a little black dress (which I don’t own and possibly never will) might ask for a colorful little accessory. So, yeah, no need for a new bag. But then when I saw this pretty little leather one with it’s beautiful hardware and attractive rounded corners, I couldn’t resist. And it was only $4.
I have been wearing it exclusively now for two weeks and I am very happy with it. I am happier than if I had resisted buying it, I think. Which I often think I should have, because I own enough crap already and I don’t have the time or the energy to take care of it all (my basement is a messy testimony to that). But it was cheap and small. At least I got stopped from purchasing two lounge chairs that were cheap and lovely. Really lovely. They only needed new upholstery, and maybe an extra room in the house. See, good that I bought that bag that helped me resist bigger temptations. I think that maybe I should just enjoy it for now and stop obsessing over needs versus wants. Sometimes there is little reason to our actions, and that should be acceptable. As long as it stays in the realm of sometimes and doesn’t become every day. As long as it’s small and cheap and beautiful. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. (The planet? Of course you had to remind me of that! Come on, stop giving me such a hard time. Just this once.)
I can’t resist embroidery or crochet embellishments. I know that in our day and age these are no longer the mark of handmade items enriched by the mastery and care of skillful artisans, but machine-made, fast-fashion creations (in most part), but something of that ancient handmade spirit is still summoned by these garments, I often find (or maybe I’m just dreaming, which might very well be, since I get little sleep and my awake hours are in fact lost in a daze of semi-reality).
I often like to think of the times when women would sit in front of a wood-crackling stove and work on tedious, detailed embroidery for hours at a time. In agricultural societies, most of women’s work in winter consisted of making clothes for the family and linens for the house. I learned from Mamaia (my grandmother) how to do cross stitch on tablecloths, how to knit vests and winter hats, how to use the sewing machine to alter hems, or make bedsheets and pillow cases; and once or twice I even watched her weaving bed covers and wall tapestries on an old, wood, weaving loom like this one (the woman in the image looks a lot like Mamaia too). For a long while didn’t really appreciate any of these skills I inherited from her, and years later the fast-paced modern life did not allow time for these activities that seemed destined for a life of leisure. I wished we all could still slow down in winter and occupy the time with pleasant, calming projects involving the creation of beautiful things to be used for years to come. How precious those things would be! Let me lie down here for a moment and think about that. With my eyes closed. Just for a second.
Right, I was writing something. Yes. I remember. So, in the thrift shops I always look for peasant blouses and I think I have quite a nice collection by now. I want to learn about the different types of embroidery of various cultures. Only India has a myriad, like Kantha, from Bengal, or Chikankari from Uttar Pradesh. In Romania, the beautiful traditional blouses, called ii, are also adorned with delicate amazing embroidery. I’m also smitten with Mexican peasant blouses, but I know little of other traditions, and I know (and rejoice) that there is much to learn about.
Now, on a different note, I wanted to take a moment and admit how awkward it still feels for me to talk about personal style and clothes and adornments of all sorts on this blog. While in my daily life I do spend quite a bit of time thinking about my what I wear and I often find myself fascinated by other people’s personal styles, there is a deeply ingrained fear that these are superficial matters and not worthy of too much thought, and if I talk about all that here, I will give the impression that I am not a deep thinker, a serious intellectual, and all that which matters. So, in a way, I have to force myself to write about these things, although they do interest me very much and although when I really think about it I know there is nothing wrong with caring about how clothes look, how fabrics feel or how jewelry carries meaning. I watch Project Runway on TV and I have no doubt that designing clothes is an art and designers are artists, just like village women who embroider complicated patterns on fine fabrics are artists themselves. It is about beauty, and nothing about beautiful things is a waste of time. Right? OK, maybe sometimes time will be wasted, but what is one to do with time anyway, if not fill it with beauty? If not adorn it with thoughts of swishing fine cloth? And anyway, it is too tiring, boring and passé to be highly intellectual all the time. My brain needs rest. True, lots of rest, recently, or it loses track of what’s real and what’s only a dream, but don’t tell that to anyone.
I was thinking of starting a new regular column over here about thrift shopping and style and stuff. Because there is pleasure to be found in stuff, especially when it’s cheap and treasure hunted. Thrift shops make for a thrilling experience, and since beautiful but boring day-to-day life with a baby doesn’t allow for many of those, I appreciate it from the bottom depths of my shallow little heart.
I generally hunt for leather bags and linen or silk or wool, or embroidered, crochet cotton. Lately I have been noticing the jewelry section also, which I used to ignore because of no interest in “costume” jewelry, which for me meant plastic crap. But I have relaxed my ways a bit lately, to allow some excitement at the sight of a long non-precious metal or glass-bead necklace. What’s the harm, after all, right? Metal and glass are still natural materials, after all. Right? Right. (That was not a rhetorical question, and I do need to answer it myself because nobody else reads this blog.)
So, yeah, stuff can be exhilarating (and almost ethical), especially when it’s already used, cheap, well made, and pretty. All must apply, otherwise consumer guilt comes haunting at night, and destruction of the planet from overproduction of crap and creation of garbage becomes terrifying nightmares that don’t really stop in the light of the day either.
Minimalism is of course appealing and clearly the more ethical choice, but it is such a difficult commitment. At least for me. I am not a saint, in spite of the image I might try to create on the Internets. For this moment in my life, thrift shopping gets a lot of love over here, and it will show its pretty face on the blog from time to time, with your permission. (Yes, all right, “you” is just a hypothetical concept on this blog of mine, as “you” very well know. And “we” don’t need to mention it again, OK?)
Copyright 2018 Lori Tiron-Pandit