Feb 11th, 2018, 02:10 PM

A Thrifter's Guide to the Galaxy

By Lauren Morris
The working magnum opus of my secondhand sprees, my silk scarf collection. Image credit: Lauren Morris
A step-by-step process on getting into and succeeding at secondhand shopping.

My eyes narrow and my heart rate quickens – I take a deep breath and take stock of my surroundings. Pilling cashmere. Moldy records. Chipped porcelain. Ugh – acrylic, acetate, polyester. This is my zone. I look bad in camouflage, would never kill an animal with my own two hands and strongly believe that no one really needs guns for personal use: I’m not your typical huntress.

Amid this donated wasteland, my senses activate. I see the glint of lucite handles in a pile of weathered briefcases and a peek of printed silk in a rack of shriveled wool sweaters. Thrifting attunes me to my environment much like the way our ancestors learned to navigate their worlds to survive.

Secondhand-shopping is not something that you get good at overnight. I spent the first two years of my obsession thinking I was getting off really well if I went home with pants that were still on clearance at J. Crew, or a pair of Acne Studios ballerina flats that were a size-and-a-half too small, but I jammed my feet into anyway. Similar to the dating world, the best things come to you when you’re not desperate, but skilled.

100% secondhand coat closet. Image credit: Lauren Morris

I began to thrift out of financial necessity during my freshman year of college in San Francisco. It’s a city renowned for its rampant eclecticism and extortianate rent prices; it's also the setting of the popular Netflix series Girlboss, whose real-life protagonist Sophia Amoruso became fabulously rich from selling vintage clothes on eBay (probably found in some of the same thrift stores I spent hours in).

I didn’t know about her story at the time, I just wanted clothes that were better quality than Forever21 and in the same price ballpark. The Goodwill flagship store on Van Ness and Mission was a Mecca to me, sadly falling to the gentrifying forces steadfastly at work in Northern California last year. I’ll always remember that corner as the place I got my first leather bag and a fantastic lavender wool suit that promptly split straight down the a** seam the first day I wore it. Walking across an intersection, of all places – but it’s been tailored since…. Talk about stopping traffic.

When I found my first Yves Saint Laurent skirt for $5.99, something changed in the way I hunted. Thrifting didn’t have to be a source that would only serve to financially permit me keeping up with a constant turnover of trends. I began to imagine myself as recovering a bit of fashion history with every vintage designer piece I bought. My wardrobe is becoming a compilation of unique, and sometimes rare, items. I never have an issue with someone wearing the same thing as me.

Since moving to Paris, I’ve become more cognizant of the reality that I’ve reduced my thrifting trips down to a procedure. While studying here, I’ve learned a ton about sustainability in the fashion industry. Beyond financial and personal style reasons, thrifting becomes even more of an ideal consumer experience to me when I consider the ethical pros of buying used clothing. Combatting fast fashion while contributing back to my community? Yes please.

Bottom line, thrift stores elicit the same phenomenon as Crackerjack. The hunt requires a bit of patience, but whether you’re digging through clothes racks or caramelized popcorn, you always come out pleasantly surprised.

Here is a survival guide for when you’re out treasure hunting:

1. Look for charity shops that have a religious affiliation. The prices are usually much more reasonable. This is how I got a Guy Laroche skirt suit and a Le Creuset fondue pot for 48 euros.

2. Always begin thrifting in a section where there are the least people shopping. Crowds detract your focus. This is how I found 5 designer coats/jackets in the matter of twenty minutes. Total? 30 dollars.

3. Run your fingers over the fabrics while you are looking for clothing, and check the material tags. Organic cotton, silk, cashmere, linen, Irish wool – these are a few of my favorite things! This is how I landed $9 black silk Richard Tyler culottes.

4. Make sure you keep your phone charged, so that you can Google an item and price compare if you’re unfamiliar with a brand. This is how I left a store with a Holden Leathergoods backpack worth 600 euros for $10.

5. Always do a second round of looking: there’s always something you miss. This is how I found a sold-out $700 Y-3 bomber coat for 25 euros.

6. Try the clothes on before you buy them, even if they’re cheap and you’re tired. If that neckline or pant flare doesn’t look good on you now, it’s never going to. This is how I avoided wasting $15 on Piazza Sempione pants.

7. Don’t forget, humans invented thread and needles for a reason. Don’t let a small tear or a missing button deter you. This is how I reclaimed a $5 gold Pierre Cardin sweater.

8. Haggle. This is how I got $60 pink patent leather Ferragamo flats, like new.

9. Buy the conversation piece that you will regret leaving, even if you only wear it sometimes. This is how I came home with one of my most coveted items: an Escada longline silk blazer with dolphins emblazoned all over the back. 20 euros.

10. Donate back to thrift stores: something will undoubtedly catch your eye on the way out. Beware: you might end up like me, pathetically lugging a huge Vogue cover mirror 45 minutes through the Paris metro system (but it was only 20 euros!).

When in doubt, employ one of the oldest tricks in the book: text-a-friend. Christian Lacroix blazer or home decor?: an existential crisis to resonate through the ages.