Tag Archives: goodwill

In Thrifting, as in Real Life, Sometimes You Win and Sometimes You Lose

While perusing the goods at my fancy shopping place (aka the Goodwill Outlet Center), I’m always on the lookout for vintage table linens.  I keep some for myself, but others I pass along to people I know can use them.  While making a quick pass through the bins last week I spotted the tablecloth above.  At first it looked to be mid 20th century, but something about it looked a little too much like a modern interpretation of a vintage design.

I pulled the cloth out anyway, just to make sure I was not making a mistake.  The first thing I noticed was how thin the fabric was.  Vintage printed cotton and linen tablecloths are usually very hefty in weight.

Then I looked at the hem.  The almost half inch turn under and the very wide stitching had me convinced that this was not vintage.  But then I noticed the real proof.

Oh, well.  I knew it was too good to be true.

The popularity of retro and vintage design has really made it hard to tell what is new and what is old unless you educate yourself as to the differences.  Several weeks ago I posted a photo on Instagram of a display of new hankies that were designed to look old.  After a few washings I’m sure these new hankies will look even older.  And reissues of Vera Neumann designs are identical to those she produced in the 1950s through 1970s.  The difference is in the fabric and the finishing.

When I spotted these Vera napkins at the same fancy shopping spot, I knew they were the real vintage deal.  The linen fabric was soft but sturdy, and the edges were beautifully finished in cotton thread.  It really took the sting out of being fooled by Martha.

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What I Didn’t Buy – Chopped Saint Laurent Rive Gauche Dress

We laughingly call the Goodwill Clearance Center, “The Dig” for reasons that would be obvious if you have ever visited one of these centers.  Everything is piled high in huge bins, and one must dig for the treasure.  Sometimes I want to call the place “The Heartbreak” as was the instance this week when I pulled the above garment from a pile of Forever 21 and Kathie Lee.

This was a dress from Rive Gauche, which was Yves Saint Laurent’s boutique ready-to-wear line.  I say was a dress because someone had chopped off the bottom one third and left the unfinished “up-cycling” project to be put in their donate pile.  I was attracted to the fine wool plaid and was pleased to see the label.

I will say straight out that I am not an expert, or even a novice when it comes to knowing the various lines that Saint Laurent designed over his long career.  Something about the braid and the brass buttons were slightly reminiscent of his famous 1976 Russian Ballet collection, but the plaid was not.  Because of the damage, I decided not to buy the poor mutilated thing, but I was intrigued and wanted to find out more about how Saint Laurent developed his ready-to-wear collections as compared to his couture.

When it comes to a designer who does both couture and ready-to-wear, the relationship is often thought to be one of the couture being developed first, and then the next season’s ready-to-wear is often based on the ideas of the couture.  I had that in mind when looking at this piece.  But after reading about how Saint Laurent actually worked, I realized that he did it the other way around.  Rive Gauche was like an experimental workshop, and the clothes made for the boutique were often developed into the grand ideas of the couture.

Could some of the ideas seen on this dress gone on to be further developed as the Russian collection?  I’m sure I cannot say, but it points out a valuable lesson.  A garment does not have to be couture to be significant.  I think that was shown very well in the recent Museum at FIT exhibition, Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the ’70s where many of the garments on display were actually Rive Gauche, and not Yves Saint Laurent couture.

I like this photo because it shows the reverse side of the fabric.  Even though Rive Gauche was ready-to-wear, it was high-end and expensive.  This was a very nice, finely woven wool plaid.

I have said this before, but to to remind all the DIYers out there:  Think before you cut.

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What I Didn’t Buy – Ties + Denim = Disaster Skirt

When shopping at the Goodwill Outlet bins, I never know what I’m going to find.  For each found treasure, there are probably one thousand pieces of drek.  I’ve gotten really good at filtering out the Forever 21 and the Kathy Lee junk, but sometimes a garment will surface that makes me stop and think.  This is such a piece.

I posted this photo on Instagram, and got some really interesting comments.  One person asked if it mattered when the ties were so ugly.  Another pointed out that it could be the work of a student, as some schools’ textiles programs assign a tie reworking project.

My objection to this skirt has nothing to do with the ugliness of the ties, though there are some ugly ties there.  I’m not concerned with the haphazard construction.  And at this point in time, I can’t see that there would be much of a market for these late 1970s and early 80s ties.  What really bothered me was that I’m very certain that 7/8 of each of the sixteen ties and 3/4 of the denim from the skirt ended up in the trash, all for a skirt that was probably never worn.

A lot has been written lately about how much textile waste each person living in developed countries generates in a year.  I’ve read everything from sixty to seventy-five pounds of waste per person.  At that rate we will soon be buried in fiber.

There is no way that the Goodwill in my area can sell in their retail stores all the stuff that is donated.  Much of it never even reaches the store, as items thought to be unsalable go straight into the bins.  Items that have been on the sales floor for over a period of time are culled and put into the bins.  Even after spending hours in a bin that is sorted through by dozens of eager shoppers, there is a lot of textile items that are left unsold. At that point the leftovers are baled and sold to a rag house.

There is a great article in The New Republic about how these raggers work.  Basically, cloth items are sorted into three groups:  the really good stuff and vintage which is sorted and sold to vintage and other resale shops, the okay stuff which is sent to developing countries, and the stuff that is so bad that all they can to is sell it to be made into rags, felt, and other reprocessed cloth.

The article mentions that there are people in these rag houses who are trained to spot vintage clothing.  I’ve read elsewhere that some of these companies actually let vintage shop owners come in and sort through.  I do hope that all the great things that I see, but can’t justify buying, end up in a nice vintage store somewhere.

There is never a shortage of neckties in thrift stores, and my Goodwill is no exception.  I imagine that ninety percent of the ones that go through that place end up at the rag house.  But at least those ties will be recycled into rags or whatever for industrial use, and will not land in a landfill somewhere like the unused portion of the skirt ties most likely did.

But what about the project itself?  Is there any hope for the dated and seemingly ugly tie?  What can be made with all the millions of out of style neckties?

Actually, I think there is some hope for a similar project.  In this case, not only was the choice of ties unfortunate, but the execution of the project was poor.  Instead of overlapping and stitching the ties, they could be placed edge to edge and zig-zagged.  They could even be left unstitched, to make a dancing skirt with a lot of movement.  But most importantly, some actual pretty ties could be used, like those from Liberty of London.  But then, how does one come up with sixteen Liberty neckties?

As I spotted this skirt, another shopper also spotted it.  In one of the great cross-overs from digital to real life, this shopper was Jessamyn, who is a reader of this blog and who recognized me.  We ended up in a conversation that included the question of what can be done with unwanted neckties.  She mentioned that she had made crazy quilts using some of the wonderful silk ones she had found.  And that is a good point, for though it seems like the thrifts are full of the tacky ones from 1982, there are also plenty of fabulous Italian silks.

I recently mentioned that I always buy the Liberty ties because they make great bias binding and can be used for small projects.  Reader Nancy was so kind as to send to me two lovely Liberty ties she had found.  It’s just too bad that not all the old neckties were made of such wonderful fabric.

One last thought: I can’t help wondering if the ties that I consider to be ugly and pretty much worthless will someday become desirable.  It has happened before with neckties from the 1940s.  

Interior look at how the ties were attached to the skirt.

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My Not-So-Secret Shopping Place

My life changed the day I discovered the Goodwill Outlet Center.  I’m not exaggerating.  Where else can you prowl through piles and piles of textiles and clothes, and then pay $1.10 a pound for your finds?

In case you don’t have one of these paradises in your area, let me explain.  The sorters go through all the donations and put anything they think will not sell on the regular Goodwill floor into the giant blue bins.  I suspect that 95% of the vintage donated ends up in the bins, along with all the fabrics and patterns.  There are also bins of “hard goods” which can be anything from vintage records to every VHS movie ever released.

The book bins are amazing.  Even though the regular store has a large book section, there are always at least four bins of books and magazines.  I look for sewing books and those on history and fashion.

There is a bit of a trick shopping here.  First, you do have to be willing to dig through the piles.  It is hard work.  And there is a bit of an ick factor, which is solved by the wearing of rubber gloves.  It helps to be methodical, sorting through one bin at a time.

I’ve learned that if I pull out one piece of vintage from a bin, there are probably others.  I think that sometimes the workers empty entire bags of donations into the bins if they feel that all the stuff from the donor is junk.   They must get a lot of donations where a house is being cleared due to an older person having to leave their home, because if a bin has vintage tablecloths and other linens, there are usually dozens.

Yesterday there were piles and piles of fabrics, ranging from the 1940s through the 1980s.  I feel pretty confident saying that a sewer’s stash was donated.  There was a lot of interest in it, and I got some very nice pieces, including a Christmas border print, and a nautical novelty print from the 1950s.

There were also dozens of these fabric circles, which were most likely cut out to make a yo-yo quilt.  Can you believe that dachshund print?

I could not capture the correct colors with my phone camera, but this is a great late 1960s or early 70s cotton duck.

There was also quite a bit of vintage clothing, probably from the same estate.  The print above was on a nylon print skirt.

There were lots of vintage patterns, mainly for children.  Lots of times when there are big fabric lots like there were yesterday, there are also bags of zippers and trims.  Unfortunately, I either missed them or they were not donated.  One thing that is rare to find are button boxes.  I think there must be a lot of sentimental value placed on them.  I know I have my grandmother’s box of buttons and I cherish it.

My Goodwill Outlet also sells the merchandise from the regular stores that has been on the racks without selling.  I’ve heard that in some places the contents of the outlets is entirely store leftovers.I wonder what they do with all the good stuff?

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Thrifting Adventures

I had some time to waste yesterday so I went to the local Goodwill clearance center. If you don’t have one in your area, the Goodwill workers throw into these big bins all the stuff they think will not sell in the regular store, plus stuff that has been in the store for a while but has not sold. I usually find vintage fabrics there, but I know a woman who has found some really nice vintage clothing.

Anyway, that woman was there, and she was talking to another woman, both of whom were looking for vintage. The second woman said she had found some great stuff in the bins, including a 1950s Dior couture dress. When I expressed some reservations about that, she said that she had compared her label to that of some experts on-line who had this great label thing! Yes, she was talking about the VFG Label Resource.  What a coincidence!

Anyway, she said the dress was in the car, so she took me out to look. There, in a cute little vintage suticase was a Dior couture little black dress, from around 1959-62 or so. It was just surreal.   In 20 years of thrifting, I can honestly say that I’ve never spotted a piece of vintage couture.
Then this gal procedes to tell me she has a storage building full of designer and vintage stuff she has squirreled away, including a classic Chanel suit (and yes, she’s sure it is the Chanel couture label.)  She even invited over to take a look at all her finds.  That should be fun!

So how did a piece of French couture end up in the bargain bin?   I’m thinking that because the Goodwill sorter did not see a label (it is in the waist)  and the dress was clearly “homemade,” that it went into the bin. Also, on the front there is a flower made from the dress fabric and it is badly smushed.  This dress obviously did not belong in the store on the rack next to the Kathy Lee and the Sag Harbor designer frocks!

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