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Get My Thrift?

Back to School ’07: Lessons in how to save big and look hot.



Now that you’re going back to school, most of your money is going to go to textbooks and lattés in the library café, both outrageously overpriced. So here’s one way to save cash without sacrificing the lattés: thrift shopping.

Don’t be turned off by the idea of wearing some stranger’s leftovers. If you do it right and sift through all the junk, you can find some great things that match your personal style and look normal. People often mistake my thrift-store finds for expensive mall incarnates. Even Redemption Department designer Jeff Martin found he could make a living reselling and altering what he finds on the cheap.

First, keep in mind that a thrift store is not a consignment store, such as Pib’s Exchange and Name Droppers, nor is it a department discount store, like Nordstrom Rack or T.J. Maxx. A thrift store sells clothing people give away, stuff that’s been lying in boxes under their beds for a decade that they’ve become fed up with. They decided to dump it at shops, some of which operate for charity and some of which operate for profit, that will sell it for usually less than $10 per item.

The Deseret Industries (DI). Savers. Thrift Town. And those goodwill places running east on 33rd South like the Assistance League or Lagniappe Thrift Store, just to name a few. Whether it’s because thrift stores are more picked-over in other cities or because people here take better care of their unwanted clothing, many thrift-store junkies claim that Utah’s selection of thrift stores is better and bigger than elsewhere. Some are gigantic warehouses almost as big as Kmart. The offerings inside are better, too.

Salt Lake City fashionista and former Deseret Industries employee Matthew Stevens theorizes why this is so: “There are all these old people here that have all this great vintage stuff, in Ogden, especially. When they die, their kids donate the stuff to the thrift stores, and all the people here are too backward to know it’s cool.”

Thrift store veteran Morgan Swensen’s feelings resonate with Stevens’ (both currently employees of Utah fashion designer Jared Gold): “That’s the one reason I couldn’t move out of Salt Lake”—because she would miss the area’s numerous DI stores.

Thrift-shopping experts like Stevens and Swensen are going to be a little peeved that I’m giving away some valuable secrets. It’s not just shopping; it’s a game, a treasure hunt where all other shoppers are competitors digging through racks and mounds for buried gold. You may feel a rush of adrenaline, a surge of competitive rage or a flood of nausea as you navigate the racks.

When you enter the store, pause before diving in. Soak in the surroundings. Racks upon racks of clothing can be intimidating­­—but absorb it all. If you see a glimmer out among the fabric, something that catches your eye for some unknown reason, go to it and start there. Don’t just look for your size or gender. This isn’t a fancy establishment like Mervyns; often, items get mixed around. You also may realize that sizes aren’t at all important when the piece of clothing is so cheap, especially if you, a friend or your mom are adept at altering clothing. Genderwise, women are snatching up little boys’ jerseys like fixed-gear bicycles, and T-shirts are always unisex.

At a thrift store, you can expect to find these items: outrageously dated (and billowy!) jackets, clothing from the ’80s that could be from JMR today, T-shirts with incredible slogans on them like “I’m Too Sexy to Be 70” or “Jensen Family Reunion,” costume jewelry, oversize prescription sunglasses, fabulous prom and cocktail dresses, neon one-piece ski suits and sophisticated sports jackets. Plus, you’ll score more reasonable items like crisp, white, dress shirts or comfortable hoodies marked way, way down. Of course, everything is marked way, way down.

You probably won’t, however, find these items: nice jeans that correctly fit your backside, clean shoes, underwear or swimsuits. The DI has started selling new, packaged socks and underwear but avoid at all costs the tighty-whities and any lingerie draped all filthy and lonesome on a hanger.

The goal is to take a throwaway and give it life again, to make it yours. If you have thrift shopping in your soul, you can walk out with treasures like a faux-Chanel handbag with splendid gold tassels or a three-piece suit in dark, royal purple that looks great on you and that people won’t recognize as severely underpriced. There are more tips I could give, but you really should learn the advanced stuff on your own, with practice and luck. Plus, I don’t want to give any more away to my competitors. It’s a fierce, fierce game.

But, after you buy a half dozen outfits for less than $50, it’ll feel great buying yourself a guilt-free latte or two.

Short List of Thrift Gold Mines:
3330 S 1300 East

94 E. Pages Lane

4145 S. Redwood