thrift shop

The Moral Wardrobe: The $2.99 Plaid Dress

thrifted, ethical outfit with plaid dressthrifted, ethical outfit with plaid dressthrifted Pyne and Smith Clothiers look-a-likethrifted Pyne and Smith Clothiers look-a-like
Ethical Details: Dress - thrifted; Jacket - secondhand via Thredup; Shoes - Frye

I'd been eyeing a plaid linen dress from Pyne & Smith Clothiers over the last several weeks, but I couldn't justify buying a summer-weight dress in October, especially one that costs over $100. Then, on Saturday, I dropped Daniel off at a friend's house and decided to stop by Salvation Army for a look around before heading home. 

I hit the jackpot! Not only did I find this dress in an all-season plaid with adorable front pockets, I found high waist, acid wash jeans that fit me like a glove and two longer length vintage skirts that will be great for winter. I even got a groovy, '60s inspired chair to add to my library for $14.99. It was thrilling. 

I normally don't have this much luck at thrift shops, but I've found that it's worth it to stop in every once in awhile with a mental list of the silhouettes and colors I'm looking for just in case. The trick is to always try things on and check very carefully for stains before purchasing. 

I'm continually amused by the fact that I go thrift shopping on my days off from thrift shop management. Just can't get enough. 

second hand challenge: outfit 1, black and white stripes

second hand outfit
low back top
strappy flats
black and white outfit
Ethical Details: Top - thrifted; Skirt - secondhand via Thredup; Shoes - upcycled

I take it for granted how much of my wardrobe belonged to someone else before it got to me. Working at a thrift shop, you can lose track of how much you're taking home with you. When I bought this blouse (for $3.50), I remember thinking it wasn't quite my style and wondering if I'd actually get around to wearing it, but I love the plunging back and the fit of it so much that it's become one of my favorite pieces. 

That's not always the case, though. I've made a lot of terrible impulse buys that I end up re-donating. Still, I've had pretty good luck getting things I love at second hand shops. In the past month alone, I've purchased a cashmere cardigan ($3.50), practically new Urban Outfitters duster ($3.50), Sam Edelman Petty Booties ($3.99!), and a current season J. Crew top ($10.00) from thrift shops and ebay. (You may be asking, "But what about your capsule wardrobe?" at this point, and to be honest with you, that's up in the air; that project really helped me figure out my style and narrow down my purchases, but the seasons here are so unpredictable that I haven't been ready to start it.)

I know a lot of people find no thrill in sorting through poorly organized racks of second hand clothes (I can't imagine why! JK), but it's definitely worth your while to take a quick look around a second hand shop before splurging on a new item. You'll save money and give old things another chance to see the light of day. 

on seeing people


This post is a follow up to my previous post, You Don't Have to Feel It

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I tell the college-aged women at my church that service industry work builds character, and I truly believe that. You're being paid to interact with whoever comes in the door; to answer even dumb questions with kindness; and to treat rich and poor, annoying and pleasant with impartiality and grace. Now, I haven't always seen this principle of equality practiced that effectively among my coworkers and I admit to being less-than-welcoming on a few occasions, but I believe in the ideal, and that normally keeps me from snapping. 

Life has changed a lot since I got my first retail job and it's changed even more since August, when I started managing a church-run charity shop. Suddenly, most of my coworkers were 60+  and my customer base became a lot more diverse. While it wasn't always easy to please the affluent, international clientele at the coffee shop on the Downtown Mall (an outdoor pedestrian street full of local shops and street musicians), it was predictable enough to fall into a rhythm. Wealthy, left-leaning business people seemed more alike than different, so I could easily go on auto pilot and I didn't have to hold my tongue - they appreciated the spectacle of their minimum wage barista chatting about politics and theology while the espresso grinder whirred in the background. 

But the thrift shop is different. The thrift shop doesn't discriminate. Due to its place in the retail hierarchy, it can't help but welcome all. We're here for the poor and the bored, the frazzled mom, the wealthy house wife, the college hipster. Anyone and everyone comes through that door. We've made coffee for a homeless couple who got caught in an autumn rain storm, outfitted a dog in a child's vest to keep it from getting cold, opened the staff lunch table to a new age hippie who lives on the outskirts of town, given free clothes to new mothers, bartered for tech services with a man with life-threatening allergies, and enlightened a donor about the global human trafficking industry. We've cried, prayed, and laughed. We've played with children and helped old ladies out to their cars. 

It sounds like utopia - and it is, in a way - but it isn't easy to keep being open to whatever the day holds. It's easier to sit in the back and chat with coworkers. It's easier to sit in my office in the dark, checking emails aimlessly or texting my husband. It's easier not to deal with the uncertainty of each new interaction. And things between me and the volunteer staff have gotten heated on more than one occasion. We gossip too much; we forget we come from different worlds.

I can no longer make assumptions about who people are, or how they'll react. With every interaction, it is made more clear that I'm dealing with individuals, not stereotypes. I have to see the person in front of me - really see them - and I have to make a little room in my heart for vulnerability and loosen the death grip I have around my perspective. This is community; it's not about me. 

This is what I'm getting at: mutual understanding doesn't come naturally. To see people, you have to be willing to get to know them. You have to ask them what they need instead of assuming you have the answers. You have to see past the small talk and really look them square in the face and try to memorize it for next time. You have to learn to do this every single time. And it's never easy. 

If we want to build a world full of compassionate people, if we want to change lives both here and across the globe, we have to start with the people right in front of us. We have to start having intentional interactions, every time. Charity becomes problematic when, instead of seeing the person on the other side, we only see ourselves reflected back. 

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Artwork: Communion by Ruth Meharg. Used with permission.

the moral wardrobe: dappled

vintage sunflower dress personal style post on stylewiseblog.blogspot.com
vintage sunflower dress personal style post on stylewiseblog.blogspot.com
vintage sunflower dress personal style post on stylewiseblog.blogspot.com
ethical and fair trade outfit idea with sunflower dress on stylewiseblog.blogspot.com
Ethical Details: Dress - vintage; Cardigan - old

90s dresses have the miraculous quality of making you feel awesome and comfortable at the same time. 

On a personal level, this week has been quite successful. The thrift shop's annual toy sale is this weekend and I was freaking out a bit about the pre-sale workload, but I think everything will be ready! On a public level, this week has been challenging, but important. I struggle to know how to talk about racism and prejudice in my own country, but I know that staying out of it isn't right. We're screwed up. I'm screwed up. It's a matter of fact that people of color in this country are treated implicitly and explicitly as less than human all the freaking time. It's horrifying that so little has changed since slavery. It's devastating that black men keep dying. The reason is easy to discover: racism. But the solution will take a lot of work. It's up to all of us to be willing to engage with the issues and with the real people behind them and to stop excusing ourselves or opting out. It's up to us to hear people out and to make our voices heard. If you're white, it's important that you get involved, but don't get in the way. If you're black, know that I'm with you and I really want to support you and fight with you in a productive way, so please feel free to step in and let me know the best way to approach this. 

discarding things and people

I became the manager of a church-affiliated thrift shop two months ago. I thought I knew what the challenges would be. I thought I had a grip on the industry. But I've learned a lot: about consumerism, about prejudice, about deeply held, deeply misinformed ideas about poverty and giving. For the sake of clarity (I tend to ramble without a clearly defined topic), I've grouped what I've learned into three categories:
thrift shop ethics blog post, stylewiseblog.blogspot.com

Lesson 1: People buy too much stuff. 

One full day was spent sorting through Girls' clothing size 7/8 that had been donated by a single family. When we receive toys, we typically receive them three garbage bags at a time. I walked up to the front door this morning to discover 8 full bags of junk and an old TV scattered around the porch (please note that we only accept donations during open hours and we don't accept TVs; thanks, buddy). I ask "WHY?" so many times a day, it's practically a mantra. What the heck are we doing?

Lesson 2: Donating eases consumer guilt to our detriment. 

Though thrift shops are a great resource and a great means of raising funds for charity, they've also become a justification for over-consumption. Judging by the types of things we get in on a regular basis, it's clear that people give things to us so that they don't have to feel bad about throwing them away. But, really, what are we going to do with jeans with a hand sized hole in the crotch? We're forced to throw it away since you weren't willing to.

Lesson 3: People massively undervalue the lives of people less fortunate than them. 

This is the saddest part of my job. At least once a week, someone says something terrible about poor or homeless people. One week, someone was angry that I gave one of our "nice shirts" to a woman using a voucher to get clothes for her son. Today a woman exclaimed, "Homeless people don't care if their clothes look bad!" Maybe this is lost on a lot of people, but it's our responsibility to acknowledge the innate dignity of everyone. Part of that is giving to others as we would have them give to us. 

It pains me to think that we would save the best for ourselves and let the "poor people" have our discards. It bothers me that our thrift shop structure nearly requires us to send the crappy clothing overseas because we hate the thought of throwing it away.

This must stop. It all has to stop: the buying, the discarding of things and people.

Charity shops are wonderful. They're a happy place where goods can be re-used and re-loved. But they simply can't solve issues of character. It's up to us to buy less and care more. It's up to us to carefully consider the repercussions of our actions as consumers and, more importantly, as people.

P.S. The post, Dear World: Let’s Stop Giving Our Crap to the Poor, inspired me to write this post. Give it a read!