Sanitizing (or Not) Your Thrift Store Finds

In the “What would you like to see me cover in a post?” section of my recent reader survey, someone wrote:

“Care and cleaning right after a thrift store purchase, maybe for each category of things you’ve bought? Kind of like an FAQ of how to clean and sanitize purchases.”

Well, dear reader…confession time.  I have a very high tolerance for grossness and a very low level of anxiety about germs.  Maybe this comes from my stint as a pediatric chaplain where we were SO vigilant about germs/bacteria/shmutz at work but told to relax about it in our personal lives.  As in, don’t create any superbugs by using all the hand sanitizer where it’s not needed – i.e. most places outside a hospital.

Anyway.  I don’t wash my clothes when they come home from the thrift store.

I know, some of you are retching all over your mobile reading devices as you read this (or NOW you are because I used vomit imagery.  Sorry).  Let me tell you why I would do such a heinous thing.

  1. I am impatient.  If I find something at the thrift store I love, I often want to wear it the very next day (this is a good sign of thrift money well spent; if it sits around long enough to get through our weekly wash/dry hoopla, that means I’m not superenthusiastic about it).
  2. And I’m lazy.  Our laundry is broken.  By which I mean our dryer takes two cycles to dry anything thanks to a dryer vent that is way too many feet of vertical.  So even if I did want to wash and dry a find that same evening to wear the next day, it would have to go through two dryer cycles and there just ain’t time for that before bedtime.
  3. It’s already clean.  Well, relatively speaking.  In addition to finding items that still have the dry cleaning tags on them, you may have noticed that these days, very few thrifted clothes (at least at the big chain stores) smell funky. I don’t know if this is because the stores freshen them up or people are just conscientious enough to wash before donating, but I cannot think of a garment I’ve sorted through at the thrift store that has smelled like BO.
    Also in this category: the chemical residue left on retail clothes from the manufacturing process.  I’d take someone’s preworn and prewashed secondhand item over that nastiness every time.
  4. Germs are good for you.  Unless your immune system is compromised or you are dealing with an ebola outbreak, coming into contact with germs and bacteria is a boost for your gut biome and your ability to fight off invaders.  It’s why I let my kid play in the dirt and why I don’t wash my face after a dog kisses me; it’s also why I don’t freak out about wearing clothes straight from the thrift store.  To be honest, if there was anything super egregious on there, you’d have already been exposed to it just from handling/trying on.

I get that this will just not be an option for many of you, either for aesthetic or health reasons.  So what would I do to clean the clothes if I were a clothes-cleaning type of person?  Or what *do* I do when garments I’ve thrifted are obviously dirty?

  • I wash ’em.  On cold, with detergent, and then chuck ’em in the dryer (or hang/lay flat to dry, if directions warrant it), just like all my other clothes.  I use a 7th Generation oxygen-based bleach for tough stains (including that time I removed what I’m pretty sure were period stains from a pair of white shorts I found at the Goodwill.  When the cashier pointed the offending spots out to make sure I really wanted to buy something stained, I was all “I ACCEPT THE CHALLENGE” and scrubbed and soaked until they were good as new.  And now I have truly run off anyone even remotely squeamish about bodily fluids.)
  • I use a homemade lavender-and-vinegar spray to freshen up pit smell from my own body, but honestly it doesn’t work that well, so I’m asking for a travel steamer for Christmas (hi Mom!) to refresh clothes without having to put them through the wear and tear (or energy drain) of a full wash-and-dry. This would also work great for clothes straight from the thrift store.
  •  I’d be all over using a natural equivalent of the Lysol or dryer sheets that I’ve read some people use on the inside of their shoes – for example a light spritzing of that vinegar spray above would probably do the trick.  Or a light sprinkling of baking soda left to absorb odors, then shaken out (but not at the same time as the vinegar!).
  • You can also send things to the cleaners, but again, unless you’ve found a “green” dry cleaners, they are likely using chemicals that are worse to put next to your skin than someone else’s germs.  Many garments labeled “dry clean only” these days do just fine with a delicate wash cycle or hand wash + lay flat to dry, so you can give that a try (Google “at home dry cleaning” for tips).

For those of you who seriously can’t stand the thought of wearing something straight from the secondhand store, how do YOU clean your thrift finds?  Scroll down to comment!

 

Thrifting as Identity

A few weeks ago reader Ginna shared some thoughts with me about thrifting that got me thinking about how thrifting shapes my identity.  Here’s what she said:

I’m wondering to what extent thrifting clothing represents identity for me. I grew up super conservative in baggy t-shirts and ill-fitting jeans, so being able to have nice clothes feels incredible. Not to mention being able to play with more styles other than ‘plain and sensible’ ones.

I’d never thought about it this way before, but I also grew up wearing mostly baggy t-shirts and loose pants, to the point where a fellow student late in high school had to point out that my pants were two sizes too big for me.  Not that I wore things I thought were uncool, but my style just wasn’t super current because I interpreted trendy fitted clothing as “tight” and spaghetti straps as “revealing”; friends who started wearing such things had simultaneously started doing things I wasn’t yet comfortable doing.  (And yes that gets into a whole other conversation about what women’s clothing represents and the virgin/whore dichotomy perpetuated by how society perceives and portrays women’s bodies…including the time my mom told me that the fitted sparkly pants I wanted to wear to school were fit for a “streetwalker.”)
Anyway.  When I realized I could wear clothing that fitted properly, it was a revelation.  Likewise was the revelation in grad school that I could dress up for class – instead of wearing a t-shirt and scruffy jeans I could put a little thought and style into my outfits.  This let me have fun with my clothes and feel a little more grown up to counterbalance the embryonic state of perpetual studenthood.
Thrifting made both of these shifts more achievable – thanks both to price point and variety of styles.  And as Ginna pointed out, it’s enabled me to afford “nice” clothes that I would hesitate to spend $$ on in retail life.  (I’m campaigning to make that the next meaning of IRL. Yes?)  I have a soft spot in my heart for thrifting in part because it has seen me from awkward young adult to a professional with her own sense of style.
And as you’ve probably figured out from reading this blog, I am proud that I am now known, in part, for being the woman with the thrifted (yet stylish) wardrobe.  Building an entire wardrobe out of secondhand stuff I love is a fun, perpetual challenge always humming along in the background of my life – kind of like being the lone vegetarian or the person training for the marathon.  It’s something funky people know about me without me having to scream it in their faces.  Likewise it’s a great way to champion values I hold dear – human rights in the garment industry, environmental care, reducing consumerism, and the value of reusing/repurposing discarded things (which is very theological in my opinion).
What about you?  What does thrifting say about who you are?  Is it wrapped up in your identity or is it just a practical way to clothe yourself without spending oodles of moola?  Scroll down to comment!
And thanks, Ginna, for the ongoing conversation about our passion for thrifting!

Thriftvangelism

That’s the tongue-in-cheek term I use to describe my passion for sharing my love of thrifting with anyone who is foolish enough to ask where I got my clothes or who (happily) stumbles upon my blog.

It’s a particularly apt term because I am a preacher, but it’s also tongue-in-cheek because I’m the kind of preacher who grew up in a liberal church environment where everyone was allergic to the E-word (ahem, evangelism).  In my progressive tradition we’re more likely to spread the good news by actions of love and justice than by pamphlet/tract/awkward conversation about whether you’re “saved.”

That’s kind of how I am in real life about thrifting, honestly – I said “passion” above but the truth is that I rarely talk about thrifting unless prompted. (Writing about it on the internet, on the other hand…)  My thriftvangelizing MO is more “look fabulous enough that people want to know where you find your clothes” than “corner them and wax rhapsodic about the joys of thrifting whether they’re interested or not.”  You feel me?

But last week in response to the second half of a thrifting & gentrification conversation, reader Ginna commented about the wide-ranging benefits she’s experienced with thrifting, and I was reminded of an old-fashioned testimonial – the moment when someone gets up and shares all the good in their life resulting from the subject of said testimony.  I found myself nodding along with every skill she’s learned and change in perspective she’s had thanks to thrifting, and, like a good thriftvangelist, I wanted to share.

With her permission: Continue reading “Thriftvangelism”

Does Thrifting Save You Money? A Conversation with Ginna from Feet Chic, Part 1

If you’re a secondhand shopper, chances are you thrift at least in part for the monetary savings.  But what if the allure of inexpensive, quality finds is actually causing you to spend more?
Reader Ginna from Feet Chic and I recently convened a digital conversation about how much our beloved thrifting habit costs us.  In this wide-ranging conversation, we cover how we got into thrifting, how we think about hits/misses, and blowing our retirement funds, and much more.  Take a read through Part 1 below – and scroll down to chime in!

Ginna:  Here’s the question I sometimes mull over — do I actually save money thrifting?  Granted, my thrift finds are pricier now that I live in NY (for example, a pair of jeans that retails for $150 might be $25 here).  But I still think happily all the time what great deals I get.  (I probably spend $100/month thrifting clothes, but it’s a hobby for me, so it comes out of my discretionary budget.)

Leah: I definitely agree with you re: discretionary spending and it being a hobby. I’ve been thinking about scaling my habit back to be able to put more money towards social justice/charitable causes…. Though of course Goodwill is a good cause!  

From your perspective, what are the pros/cons of spending your clothing $$ on thrifting?

Continue reading “Does Thrifting Save You Money? A Conversation with Ginna from Feet Chic, Part 1”

A Visit to the Maul, and a Great Use for the Pesky Remaining Balance on Your Gift Card

I had to go to the mall a few weeks ago to get an existing gift card balance updated for a wedding present.

The MAUL
Disorienting much?  Image source

Yes, I am tacky enough to use the balance on gift cards we haven’t touched in years towards a wedding gift; but no, I am not tacky enough to send the self-same card that’s been stuck in a drawer in our house all those same years.

You know the ones…they stare accusingly at you every time you open said drawer, asking why you haven’t used them yet.  Your half-hearted rejoinder goes something like, “Well, the store is so far away,” “There’s not much money on you anyway,” “We never used the last thing we bought from this store,” or “I could use you to buy online but the cost of shipping will use up half your balance!”

My solution?
Continue reading “A Visit to the Maul, and a Great Use for the Pesky Remaining Balance on Your Gift Card”

Love It or Leave It – or, Learning to Say No to Clothes at the Thrift Store

I went thrifting with my friend Caitlin the other weekend – she racked up several items to try on and I struck out, so I ended up in the very spacious dressing room (thanks Newnan Goodwill!) giving her picks the thumbs up or down.

(Shoutout to my mom for training me to think it’s fun to help someone else try clothes on – Ma, you would have been proud of my re-hanging garments and sorting into yes/no/maybe piles while my friend kept zipping through her selections.)

My friend mentioned at the beginning of the process that she always tries things on twice, to give herself some time to marinate on a selection before sealing the deal.  I nodded in agreement – sometimes you just need to revisit a piece to decide if it’s coming home with you.

But then she found this purple, leopard print dress by Soprano (retailed for around $50).  My friend’s face lit up and we both oooohed and ahhhhed – it was love at first fit.  “I won’t have to try this on a second time!” she gushed. Continue reading “Love It or Leave It – or, Learning to Say No to Clothes at the Thrift Store”

Saying Goodbye to a Sentimental Favorite

I wore this dress at my ordination and to my baby’s baptism (where one of her godfathers said I looked like “somebody’s gurrrlfriend,” which was his way of saying “hot”).

IMG_3665

It was also the first sheath dress I found (yes, thrifted – it’s vintage Julian Taylor), and sheaths are now my hands-down favorite dress silhouette. So there’s history.

love the cut.  I love the waist detail.  I don’t even know the proper name for the split neck but I love it.  Perfect length.  (A little hot, though – vintage polyester, you rakish cad!)

So why am I donating it to a secondhand store?

I stopped wearing it, plain and simple.  (This pic is from 40+ weeks ago – thank you Instagram for keeping track of my wardrobe.)

A photo posted by LeahLW (@thriftshopchic) on

 

I could tell you why (while I like the color, it’s pretty intense and it just kind of overwhelms me – see above), but I’m more interested today in sharing why I’m giving it away instead of hanging it in a garment bag for posterity.

Big things happened in this dress, sure – it evokes a lot of memories.  But those memories don’t live in that dress.

They live in each embrace from my parishioners, invoking the hands laid on me when I was tasked with this humbling and holy call.

They live in the face of my child and the way her church family – the one that welcomed her into the big, wide, family of God – can’t get enough of her on Sunday mornings.

They live in the smile on my face every time I rock a sheath dress that’s the sartorial descendant of that first one, feeling great and hearing the echo of my friend’s voice purring in admiration. (For the record we’re both married and of different sexual orientations so no funny business there. Ahem.)

And I like to think that someone else just might get something close to the level of joy out of this sweet teal number that I did – which will never happen if it stays in the back of my closet.

So goodbye, Julian Taylor sheath.  You have been good to me, and I thank you for it.  I now release you into the wider world to bring yet more style happiness to as yet unknown persons.  It’s been lovely.

 

Do you struggle to give up sentimental pieces?  Or do they bring you so much joy you WOULD rather keep them just to smile at them every day in your closet?  Click through/scroll down to comment!

 

Friday Moment of Zen: Rihanna “Work”ing at Goodwill

From yesterday’s grand opening at their new Decatur store.  More to come next week!

PS 20,000 is the number of people to whom Goodwill of North Georgia will provide career and job placement assistance in 2016.  Dang!  And “Welcome to the Flagship” references the fact that this location will house not only a store and a career center but eventually Goodwill of North Georgia’s headquarters.

Happy Weekend!

Friday Thrift Camaraderie

I met a gentleman at the thrift store recently who caught my attention when I accidentally thought he was asking me a question.  (I just assume strangers will speak to each other at thrift stores—it’s one of the nice things about the communal space thrifting creates).

Turns out he was just talking out loud to himself, but he took the opportunity to share his conversation with me.

“Is this too loud?”  (holds up a white shirt with orange/pink/green plaid striped over it, similar to below but with a lot more white/no blue:)

polo-ralph-lauren-orange-big-and-tall-long-sleeve-plaid-linen-shirt-product-1-19726315-0-384474396-normal
Source
 (edited for excessive male model brooding)

He continues: “I mean, I wear bright colors—this (points to a faded mauve madras shirt) is pretty tame for me.”

“I think it’s great,” I respond, “It’ll bring a pop of color without blinding anyone.”

“You think?  Good.  I hate being boring at work.”

 

This is thrifting camaraderie at its best: encouraging someone to live into their own style even when it’s a bit outside the norm.

Plus, who doesn’t love seeing masculine types wearing something besides a plain ol’ blue dress shirt?  (This is why the spouse has a purple/red/teal plaid shirt in his closet…)

 

What’s your latest/favorite thrifting camaraderie experience?  Do you talk to strangers (or solicit their advice) in thrift stores?  Or does it totally rub you the wrong way?

 

Happy Weekend, Thrifters!

 

A Rough Guide to Atlanta Thrift Stores, Part 1

Rough Guide Pt 1Instagram follower Audrey asked whether I had a list of my favorite thrift shops anywhere in writing. The short answers are “no” and “I should make one, stat.”

And so, without further ado—except to note that this list is really centered on Northeast Atlanta, is based on my experiences, and is open to edits/corrections if you want to add anything or I get something wrong—here is part 1 of my brief eval of the thrift stores I typically visit: the non-Goodwills. Continue reading “A Rough Guide to Atlanta Thrift Stores, Part 1”