Confession: I love shopping at Goodwill. I’m not just talking about the fact that I like how the money I spend there goes to a great cause, or how you can find cheap deals on pretty much anything that goes in a person’s home. My love is more serious: I get a goosebump-inducing, pulse-racing thrill from shopping there, and I’ll tell you why: When you score at Goodwill, the score can be epic.
For instance, as I write this, there’s a mint-condition powder pink vintage Chanel suit up for auction at ShopGoodwill.com, and right now it’s going for $601 with 50 minutes left on the clock. That same suit—in that condition, of that style and color, would sell for more than $1,000 on eBay. Now that is the kind of score that gets my pulse racing! (And, yes, I love that the $601 will go toward a great cause. How can you not?)
About 15 years ago I saw a blue Isaac Mizrahi twin set from the early 90s at a Saint Vincent de Paul thrift store and I didn’t buy it. It still had the tags on, and I didn’t buy it. The store wanted something like $39.99 for a Mizrahi skirt and sweater that looked straight out of the film Unzipped and probably retailed for close to a grand, and I didn’t buy it. These are things I think about—the score I missed—15 years later.
When I was a kid growing up in the 1980s in Delaware, vintage shopping was unbelievable. I had a leather go-go dress that fastened with buckles I remember splurging on: I paid something like $15 for it. I wore a completely authentic, fully beaded brown-and-copper silk charmeuse dress from the 1920s to my prom (accessorized with my fuchsia Louise Brooks bob, 1920s silver metal chain purse and 1930s platform heels) and the total cost was probably about $125 for everything. (I had to work extra shifts as a busgirl to pay for that one!) One of my most incredible pieces was a mermaid costume from what was either a theater production or a costume ball from around the 1920s or 30s. It was seafoam green and gold, beaded and appliqued and weighed about 15 pounds, and I think all of my friends wore it at some time or another for Halloween or a crazy party just to be wacky and fabulous. I probably paid $10 for that one. I had dresses from the 1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s (though not the 1970s; the 70s were seriously uncool in the 80s) crammed into a closet that carried a total retail cost of less than $400. That is how cheap vintage was back then.
Of course all of it is gone. In 1989 I sent two huge boxes of my clothes—ones I had designed and sewn myself along with vintage pieces—to a woman organizing a fashion show in Cleveland and she never returned my stuff. I was in college and too poor to drive there (no one in college had credit cards back then) and pick it all up, so there it all stayed. The local newspaper ran a big feature on the show, and even included photos of two of my pieces—some crazy Prince-inspired velvet blouse I made and the leather go-go dress—but I don’t know what happened to all my clothes. Since then, vintage has become it’s own market, and stores like Crossroads and Red Light buy fabulous finds in bulk, making it tough for the rest of us to find the sweet score. Had I known that vintage would never be as available, easy to find and inexpensive as it was in the 80s I might have not let it all go so easily. I must have thought the dollar bin would last forever!
So I think part of my Goodwill love is the fact that there always lurks the opportunity of finding one of my lost pieces, or at least replacing something lost with something better. And I’ve had some pretty great scores since those days. Four years ago I found a Christian Dior cotton skirt there for $3.99, and just two weeks ago for my wedding I bought two Oscar de la Renta crystal toasting glasses (I looked them up on my iPhone and they retailed for $45 each), also for $3.99 (for the pair). The number of out-of-print books and records I’ve scored are endless, but I’m most proud of finding a full collection of sci-fi film soundtracks (great party music!) and early signed copies of Fashion is Spinach and the Unprejudiced Palate. I also buy spools of vintage silk ribbons and vintage wrapping paper so I can always give very well-dressed presents that cost me next to nothing.
My only tips for shopping Goodwill is to keep a canister of Wet Ones in the car because your hands will get filthy, and try and get the vibe of the place—does it seem “hot” or “cold”—when you walk in. For instance, if I see any older, punk-rock kind of moms in the clothing racks I know the place has been picked clean, my chances of scoring are probably nil and I don’t even waste my time. If the place is empty on a Tuesday afternoon and the gals are pushing a big rack of “party dresses” out from the storage room, I know I might have a good chance of a score. Also, I always check forgotten sections of the store—the wig bin, the notions racks, sporting goods—for a misplaced or hidden item. I’ve found beautiful buttery driving gloves, 1960s colored stockings still in their packages, designer coin purses and a bag of vintage Hermes scarves in those sections.
So what about you? Do you have any great Goodwill or likeminded thrift-store scores to share? Tell us about them!
Photo: The aforementioned Chanel suit. It sold for $612.99.