Tessa in brown dress_2937

Item:  one brown dress with white polka dots, probably homemade (all the better), too big, but oozing potential.  Original location:  an oddly groovy secondhand store in Orange, California.  Mission:  to create a thoroughly unique flamenco impression meant to be styled by a very tall teenage girl, name of Miss Lavender.  Craftswoman and miracle worker:  Maria Jesus, tailor extraordinaire and gentlewoman, and so pleasant I wanted to pick out curtains with her after all the measuring and chatting was over.

Getting measured_2940

Result:  a simple piece, sheath-like, to the knees, with peppy white dots and faaaabulous flamenco sleeves, now proudly hanging in the closet of a certain teen I know.

Final pinning_2948

Gettng fitted_2939

Moral: thrift often, look for the stuff others might scoff at, and use your imagination.  Note to self:  there must be a Maria Jesus back home.  (All that remains is to find her!)

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Brothers. In thrift store ragz. Goose, Volcom shirt. His older brother, in Ralph Lauren. Out of pocket expenses: roughly fifteen bucks.

I’ve been a thrifter since forever. Since long before it was hip. But it’s not just bric-a-brac I’m looking for. I like the good stuff, the stuff you know landed there as a result of someone else’s cleaning-and-purging frenzy. In short, I want boutique goods for pennies. I want the Waterford stem at the thrift store price. And I am so often rewarded for my efforts, I can only giggle. And rejoice.


Miss Zinnia. “Che” Beret, vintage, Little Joe’s Gang, Vienna. (Fetching, no?) Out of pocket expense: 7 euros.

So. Here are five secrets to successful thrifting. One. Go often. Sometimes, you’ll strike out, and there will be absolutely nothing but chotchkies.  And clothing that (really!) doesn’t work.  Just more “stuff,” in other words, that needs regular washing and/or dusting and should therefore prompt you to ask, “Do I really want to do more washing and/or dusting?” If you can answer No! to yourself just that fast, then you don’t need said item(s). That’s why it’s important to go often–because you’ll get a sense of the inventory that flows through a particular store, and you’ll know pretty quickly what a good day looks like versus a total strike-out.

Two. If you’re striking out, leave. There it is. Do not ever buy something that has no utility or beauty, a rule of mine inspired by the words of William Morris, father of the famous Arts & Crafts movement that started in England and moved to America. To his mind, it made no sense to have anything in your home that you did not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. So, even if the item is ten dollars; even if it’s just fifty cents, hold onto your pocketbook and go. You will thank yourself next time House Work Day rolls around, and you will certainly thank yourself next time you are forced to purge your entire house because you are moving out of the country . . .

Three. Absolutely pick up items you’ll need in six months (“need” being the key word).  One example was a boy’s navy two-piece suit I once purchased for my younger son to wear to church on Sundays. When I found it in a children’s consignment store, it was too big.  Six months later, my little Goose had a very sharp, like-new suit, and I was out somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty bucks. For the quality and the fit, not bad, not bad at all. (Note: consignment stores are different from thrift stores, but not really. Items can run a little more but tend to be in really good condition.  The main difference is that you can take in your own gently used items and consign them, thereby earning credit toward future purchases!)

Four. Know your brands. All my kids enjoy thrifting with me, and the older three have a solid sense of which brands are usually parked in non-thrift stores like Huntington Beach Surf and Sport, let’s say, or Anthropologie (a very non-thrift store).  My older daughter in particular is religious about knowing what brands live in her favorite boutiques, not so much because she’s logo-happy but because she knows how well her brands of choice are actually made. Thus, when she stumbled a while back onto several “Sparrow” brand sweaters at a consignment store in Costa Mesa, California, she knew perfectly well the quality packed into the deals she was getting. They were little cardigans, her sweaters, and beyond charming. She was giddy with excitement. So: window shop, frequent your favorite stores and even boutiques because once you’re familiar with the offerings, you’ll know exactly how lucky you are come time to make your purchases at the thrift store counter.  Moreover, sometimes a great find has been sitting on the rack long enough for it to be half price, another boon. Yep. This is your new hobby!

Five. Teach your kids to thrift! Saving money is a skill anyone can acquire, and doing it smartly–i.e., getting great value for less–is essential these days. Over the last many years, we have saved so much money and acquired so many terrific pieces and felt so happily triumphant together and shared so many great moments and laughs, it’s ridiculous!

Make haste, then!  Your Ethan Allen sectional awaits. (I know this to be true because I once bought a practically new Ethan Allen sectional at the absurdly low price of $179. at the Salvation Army on Harbor Boulevard in Costa Mesa, CA.  We stuck it in our garage, and my kids and their friends went on to trash it. But hey–we’d saved a bundle, including the blow to my sanity each time I had to pull Smarties wrappers out from under the cushions after an epic Mario Kart session.)

Final story. Last week, the thrift store down the street from us here in Barcelona was emptying out all its inventory so it could make room for more. Every piece in that store–every coat, every pair of shoes, every top, every everything, was 1 euro. Really! I’m seventeen euros poorer, but my family now has great jackets and shirts for the winter, and I have a couple of groovy (and warm!) skirts.

Off you go. With your kids! Make a mom date out of the excursion. Get some fish tacos (hmm . . . missing those, I realize) or ice cream afterwards. Your bargains await!

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Go See Vienna! And Take Your Kids!

by Becky on August 25, 2012 · 1 comment

in Uncategorized

When we dock in Vienna, we each have a few things we really, really want to do.  My son the Mozart lover, he’s about the music.  And the architecture.  I love watching his face each time we enter a cathedral.  My younger daughter and I want cake (my daily ritual).  My older daughter, the vintage queen, wants to do some thrifting, if there’s any thrifting to be done.  And my youngest–well, he’s the disappearing act.  I finally have to turn off my “quiet box” (the radio/head phone set that dials me in to our group’s historian-slash-tour guide) because I can’t manage to listen to her and keep track of my eight-year-old at the same time.  I mean, every monument in the city is begging to be climbed, and he has no compunction about dashing off to the nearest one, even if it means getting himself lost.

Notice the look of awe.   One of the best things about the trip is watching the kids react to beauty.

And watching them react to each other. 

Tucked into the tower of St. Matthias church, Vienna.  Better than playing in a fort . . . 

All smiles.  Does she know there’s a piece of cake somewhere in her day?  Below:  the “Che” beret that called out to her from the shelves of Little Joe’s Gang, a vintage clothing store in Vienna.

  • Vienna - Thrift Shop Vienna - Thrift Shop Outside thrift shop in Vienna
  • Vienna - Vintage Glasses 1 Vienna - Vintage Glasses 1 Compilation of vintage glasses at a thrift store in Vienna - photo 1
  • Vienna - Vintage Glasses 2 Vienna - Vintage Glasses 2 Compilation of vintage glasses at a thrift store in Vienna - photo 2
  • Vienna - Vintage Glasses 3 Vienna - Vintage Glasses 3 Compilation of vintage glasses at a thrift store in Vienna - photo 3
  • Vienna - Vintage Glasses 4 Vienna - Vintage Glasses 4 Compilation of vintage glasses at a thrift store in Vienna - photo 4
  • Vienna - Vintage Glasses 5 Vienna - Vintage Glasses 5 Compilation of vintage glasses at a thrift store in Vienna - photo 5
  • Vienna - Vintage Glasses 6 Vienna - Vintage Glasses 6 Compilation of vintage glasses at a thrift store in Vienna - photo 6

 The vintage queen selects a pair of glasses.  Who cares that they’re not prescription?  Take them back to the states, ship them off somewhere to be retrofitted with prescription lenses . . . and you’re good, right?  But which pair to choose?  Which PAIR?


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