I found my vintage wedding dress in a thrift shop. A heavy satin from the 1960s, it cascaded down in a shiny ivory pool over my feet. I liked that it came with a history of success. If it had worked once, I figured, it would work again.
The dress held mystery. Who had worn it before? I imagined stories about her. Had her wedding been simple, a get-together at her parents’ house with cake and punch? Was it a formal affair in church with hundreds gathered? When she grew old, did she spend her time crocheting?
With a mom married in a second-hand wedding dress, my son came to thrift store shopping honestly.
I’m an adult convert. I never went thrift store shopping as a child. I grew up going to department stores like Lord and Taylor, Macy’s and Neiman Marcus that smelled of women’s floral perfume and men’s leathery cologne. Everything was new and had been advertised in Vogue.
I remember an early thrift experience when I was 21 and living in Santa Cruz. My housemates took me to a warehouse called Bargain Barn. We waited outside, milling around with other people before it opened. Inside, the workers dumped clothes and shoes on long tables with slight edges to keep the items on top. The mounds reached up to eye level. A bell rang and the doors opened. You paid by the pound for the clothes you bought, whether they were leather or cotton.
We squeezed through the door like a mass of human tooth paste. Frenzy and adventure electrified the air. Everyone moved with speed and determination. I bumped up along the first table and looked over the large number of clothes assembled in front of me as people next to me flung them past.
One of my housemates brought me a pair of white go-go boots. “These would be cool on you,” he said.
They looked authentic. Thick heels and stretchy white vinyl with tall laces. A treasure!
I bought them and was transformed into a secondhand store shopper.
One summer, two family vacations, three states, four different Goodwills. Whichever town we are in, we check out the Goodwill. The first trip was up to Minnesota to visit my parents. While we were out running errands, my parents asked if there was anywhere we wanted to go.
“Yes! We’d like to go to the Goodwill,” we said. They looked surprised, shook their heads and humored us.
We walked into the Goodwill in St. Paul and stopped in awe when we got through the front door. Organized by color, the racks were rainbows through the store. It was colorful and full of action. Dozens of red sweaters changed to pink to yellow.
I like to search for three main things: handmade sweaters, baskets and afghans. I started with sweaters while my husband and son peeled off for the men’s section. I found a sweater in my size crocheted with three types of yarn in a Catherine wheel pattern. Fantastic!
The basket section was loaded with different sizes and materials. If I hadn’t been limited by the size of our car trunk, our suitcases and our long drive home, I would have picked out five. Or ten. Or, if I’m being honest and my family didn’t talk me down, 15. But I limited myself to one.
We could have spent the afternoon in the St. Paul Goodwill but out of respect for my parents, we pulled ourselves away from the extravagance.
Our second trip was to Illinois to visit my childhood friend. For this trip, we mapped out our drive so it included a stop by the O’Fallon Goodwill. What a great store! Friendly people. My son found a t-shirt with trained and certified Dating Consultant written in script across the front. I picked out fluffy blue towels, brand-new.
Once in Illinois, we stopped by the Goodwill in Alton. I chose a fancy Christmas dress for my friend’s daughter.
Our home store is in Columbia, Missouri. We like to drop off donations and then shop. A perfect circle.
What are we in God’s eyes? More like department store items chosen carefully by professional buyers, clean and unused?
Perhaps you have a few worn places, a small hidden stain, or a torn place that can be mended.
All we need is the willingness to hang on the rack, and let God take us home and make us a new creation.
God has a use for you.
Like modern-day cultural anthropologists, we learn about people by looking at stuff. What was thought worth enough to be given away instead of sent to the trash? What did the employees consider good enough to put out to sell?
I appreciate seeing people with disabilities both at work in Goodwill and shopping there. Too often, we arrange our lives to avoid those with differences.
Sometimes we work hard to keep an image of perfection going. Secondhand is all about practicality, utility and getting the most out of what you have. As I walk in the store, I smell the earthy scent of fiber, baskets, stuffed toys, furniture and dusty electronics. It’s the smell of human culture. So much stuff flows through our lives. How good to let it flow instead of clot up for too long! I’m grateful to everyone who takes the time to donate instead of dump their stuff.
As a family, we have fun exploring and shopping. It gives me a sense of reconnecting. We see the trends that were, the items that sold a staggering number and then were discarded. Remember the singing wall fish? Cabbage patch dolls? Beanie babies? My son found a Fushigi magic ball in the Jefferson City Goodwill. If we keep looking, I think we might find a pet rock. Or a troll doll.
My son and I both enjoy tchotchkes. All three of us love bargains. Goodwill was made for us. As a family, we can buy mass quantities of clothes and knickknacks but still walk out only $40 lighter.
As someone who takes months to make a single afghan, I appreciate seeing handmade afghans in Goodwill. I take heart that people respect handmade crafts and donate them, rather than trash them, even if they’re in rough shape. I have adopted three afghans for our house.
I ask my husband to tell me the story of who made the latest afghan I brought home. He humors me and says, “This rainbow afghan was crocheted by an older woman while she crossed the U.S. in a hippie bus.”
I wonder if she wore a heavy satin ivory dress in the 1960s.
Are you a fan of secondhand? Tell me more in the comments!