Sunday, April 22, 2012

Second-hand Cashmere

I decided to get smart.  Instead of shopping around at chain stores, trying to find a semi-formal dress for my cousin's June wedding, I was going to do something I hadn't done in many years: visit this store that sells gently used designer clothing on consignment.

When I was a kid my parents were struggling on every level, including financially. My mom used to take me shopping at the thrift store regularly.  I thought it was great.  No two items alike - now that's a very interesting kind of store!  Some of my favourite clothes, like my multi-coloured hippie poncho, had been pre-loved.  And they all came with that magical, mysterious, back-of-the-closet smell embedded deep within the cloth.

I continued to buy second-hand until I married Ken.  He convinced me to buy new clothes more consistently, as part of an overall self-esteem-boosting makeover.  After watching five seasons of What Not To Wear, I got pretty good at dressing myself.  I figured out that I'm not a size Medium, for example, and that wearing clothes from the boys' section wasn't the best way to flatter my figure.

Shortly after I cut out my visits to Value Village, Toronto's media started paying a lot of attention to the city's booming bedbug population.  Bedbugs can travel via clothing.  My new habits had one more reason to stick.

However, after years of buying exclusively new clothes, I decided to trust Ex-Toggery.  Supposedly they're picky about the clothing they take in.  I guess it's no worse than going to any other public space in the same neighbourhood, like sitting in a theatre seat that someone else has just vacated.

When I entered the store, the first thing that hit me was that musty, back-of-the-closet smell.  It hasn't changed since the 1970's.  What makes clothes smell like that?  I mean, even clean clothes smell like "closet" when you haven't worn them in a while.  What is up with that?

There was a pretty good selection of clothing on the racks.  Nice cashmere sweaters for $50.  Silk blouses.  Top line designer jeans.  I flipped through the hangers to see if any amazing finds would jump out at me, but nothing did.  A couple of pretty tops that caught my eye were both labelled "dry clean only", so forget that.

I inspected two racks full of dresses.  There was only one that I liked that was also in my size: a Holt Renfrew house brand frock.  The tag claimed the original ticket price was $500.  It could be mine for a mere $100.  It looked well made.  It was a dark, almost violet blue; sleeveless; lace laid over a layer of thick satin; a plain, fitted top flaring at the waist into a knee-length skirt.  I tried it on.  The zipper stuck.  It fit perfectly except for the waist, which was uncomfortably tight.

And that was the long and the short of my shopping experience at the thrift store.  I didn't find a dress, but it was kind of fun poking through the cast-off designer duds of the super-rich (or the super-in-debt, more likely).

I did have a mildly unpleasant encounter with a sour sales clerk.  I had already been in the store for around 15 minutes when she approached me to insist that I leave my granny buggy at the front of the store.  I told her I was happy to let her search it when I left, but since I was using it to hold my wallet and my cell phone (in a side pocket of the lining) I was not comfortable surrendering it to her.  She wasn't open to negotiations.  She said again, sourly, "I'll just put this at the front," took the handle right out of my hands, and wheeled it away.

I wasn't pleased, but there was hardly anyone in the shop, so I decided to relax and assume that everything would be fine.  So I did, and it was.  No one stole my stuff.  I didn't miss any calls.  Still, I'll think twice before I go back.  I'll make sure I bring a proper purse, next time, when I'm in the mood to buy some cheap cashmere.


Tracy Makara said...

I love thrift stores. You just never know what you'll find there. Still cannot stand yard sales...blech...but thrift stores are awesome. That clerk sounds like a real wench! The cashmere sweaters would have been my downfall LOL!

Warped Mind of Ron said...

I buy all my underwear second hand... you save so much money that way ;-)

DarcsFalcon said...

Bummer that you weren't able to find something you liked that also fit well. Maybe next time, and a different shop. :) I have a feeling you won't be going back to this place any time soon. That clerk was pretty pushy - I mean taking your cart from you? She could have offered you a bag so you could keep your wallet and phone with you rather than running off with them.

I didn't know that about bedbugs. Yuck!

Granny Annie said...

Were you actually a little relieved that the skirt didn't fit? I would not have wanted to buy anything from that sour clerk. Almost all of the Flea Markets in our area post a sign for you to leave your large purse in your vehicle or allow the clerk to hold it for you while you shop. They don't trust us but we're supposed to trust them???

Warped Mind of Ron's comment is hilarious!

Lynn said...

I wouldn't have liked surrendering my stuff to that clerk either. Sometimes you find great stuff at those places. I used to have a long off white coat that originally came from Neiman Marcus found at the Junior League "Nearly New" shop. You never know what you'll find.

You know what I've notice about weddings lately? Even if it's an evening wedding, people wear anything, seems like. You could probably wear a twinset, skirt and pearls and get away with it.

wigsf3 said...

Seriously, granny buggy???

You're not old enough for a granny buggy. The sales clerk taking it away from you should be commended. It's like a mercy killing. Nobody wants to do it, but it needs to be done.

Emma Gorst said...

I really disagree with what the store clerk did. It's slightly chilling... can't they just hire a store detective and then target suspected shoplifters rather than all shoppers? (The prices they charge are more expensive than H&M!) Surely they must alienate other customers like that.

Sparkling Red said...

Tracy: If I had found a cashmere sweater in my size, I would have bought it for sure. I have never owned anything made of cashmere, but a friend of mine swears by it.

Ron: Don't forget I have had two husbands. I see how men treat their underwear; they wear it until it disintegrates. There is no such thing as second-hand men's undies!

DarcsFalcon: Yeah, I'm not sure how much bedbugs have truly increased in Toronto, and how much is just the news media drumming up fear to get attention. However, it's not something I'm eager to find out the hard way.

Granny Annie: Yes, I was a little relieved. I tried it on because it would have been a shame to go all that way and not even try something, but I was happy to get out of the dressing room and leave immediately.

Lynn: I once found a Laura Ashley sweater at a Goodwill "by the pound" outlet. As I recall, I paid 25 cents for it.
For this particular wedding I am going to make a special effort, because it's for a close family member, and if I don't make a good show of it there may be consequences!

wigsf: My granny buggy is very classy. It's espresso brown with ivory polka dots. None of that frumpy plaid for me.

Emma: Yup, they definitely alienated me. The stupid thing is that I'd been browsing the store for quite a while before the saleswoman confiscated my buggy, and I don't think she looked inside it. If I had wanted to stuff it full of cashmere I had ample opportunity.

DarcKnyt said...

EWWWW! Bedbugs in CLOTHES?! ACK!

Jameil said...

Sometimes consignment stores kill me with their prices. $100 for a used garment? I guess if it was originally $500 and is in excellent condition... The thing about thrift/consignment that drives me batty is how hit/miss it is. Like my friend found a Donna Karan suit with the tags still on for something crazy like $25. You know I'm so invested in this search that I can't wait to hear what you find, right??? LOL

Jenski said...

Bedbugs can ruin everything?!

I like consignment because there are lots of options and I always seem to have a hard time finding clothes that fit the same way.

Good luck with the dress search!

Warped Mind of Ron said...

Well... ummm.... who said I wear men's undies??? LOL