Thrift Tips with stitchtowhere: Tip the Third

By | July 11, 2008

Well, I’m finally back from a really fantastic vacation on the west coast of soviet kanuckistan (which, of course, included some pretty stellar thrifting) fighting nazis on the moon, with yet another thrift tip. I’m sorry to have left y’all hanging (no doubt you–all two of you- spent the past few fridays frantically hitting the refresh buttons on your browser, weeping heartily after each fruitless reload), but the beach was pleading for some stitchtowhere time nazis had started terraforming and constructing a giant laser, so you can see how I needed to suit up and ship out for awhile. The future of my summer the planet, DEPENDED on it. It is my hope that with time and perseverance and a bunch of ill-advised strikethroughs I can win back your trust and we can go back to The Way We Were.

In Tip the Second, I encouraged you to write me with some of your tips, and some of you (some, ONE, whatever!) did! Props to goes to fatshionista reader Olivia Mae, whose email inspired the topic of today’s post.

She writes: “I work at a thrift shop… [and] wanted to pass on some tips… if you spot something with a small hole/stain or a bit of wear and tear, simply point it out to me and I might possibly give you a small discount.” I’d been planning to confess my notorious parsimony and refusal to pay sticker price on ANYTHING make mention of The Possibility of Haggling in here somewhere, and Olivia Mae’s email confirmed it’s a viable Thing, and thus meritorious of its own post (even if it isn’t exactly fat-specific).

So, without further digressive strikethroughsadieu, I bring you

Thrift Tip The Third: Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate the Price

In my years of thrifting I’ve found that prices do tend to be steep given the quality/wear and tear of many of the items. In fact, high-cost, besides the incredible scarcity of plus-sized items, is probably the most common complaint voiced to me whenever I open dialogues about thrifting: used clothing has become so pricey, people tell me, that one is better off shopping clearance at box stores because there you’ll get NEW clothing for the price of what you’d pay for something pre-loved and you’re guaranteed selection. The way I address this (the only way you can, imho, address it, really) is, pretty straightforward: I *POLITELY* point out garment flaws/stains to a salesperson and they, more often than not, adjust the total to something more reasonable. Call me callous, but given the cold-hearted capitalist culture we live in, I find it difficult not to take the position that most stores/companies are (if inadvertently) prepared to soak me for as much as possible, and, I dare say, RIP ME OFF. Thus, I’m of the mind that when it comes to shopping for clothing, it behooves me to try to shift things to be more to my liking both in terms of price, and in terms of employee/customer interactions.

It occurs to me that in some parts of the continent/circles/thrifting elite (they exist! they are the people who buy those $100 petticoats!) it might be considered rude or gauche to openly question the price of something, so it might be useful for me to illuminate some of my personal context when it comes to the practice of haggling and bargaining. I was spawned and continue to reside in what might very well be one of the cheaper cities (in terms of both costs of living, and people’s spending habits/sensibilities) in North America. We (or at least most of the folks in my circles) actively haggle–or bargain–for all sorts of non-edible wares from cars (both new & used) to 50 cent salad spinners and garage sales. Most Winnipegers love a good bargain, and we all get more satisfaction if we feel like we not only helped make that bargain happen, but increased its bargainicity (totally a word) in the process. Bargain-hunting/negotiation is so woven into my social fabric to the point that I’m kind of surprised when I get my commodity fetishism on with someone who doesn’t check out what’s on clearance of feel remotely moved to try and negotiate a better price based on a rip or tear or loose button.

It also occurs to me that this tip might get some backs up, since many thrift shops and second hand stores are run by charities (The Salvation Army, for instance) or at least donate a portion of their proceeds to charity. While I’m not exactly flush with cash, I should clarify that I don’t mind and expect to pay more substantial amounts of money for second hand items, (fine vintage pieces fetch scads on ebay, such is the way with one-of-a-kind rarified objects) especially when I know my (very often) consumer indulgence, will go to a good cause. I’m not saying that thrifting is all Let’s Make a Deal all the time, because I don’t believe the prices are ALWAYS unfair. If you’ve spent any amount of time in any of the large thrift department stores (especially big thrift chains like Value Village or Savers, as it’s known in most of the the U.S.) you’ve probably noticed that pricing from store to store (and even week to week) can be wildly inconsistent. At giant stores, the volume of donations is large, and (as, my friend who worked at VV for several years tells me) they try to price and replenish racks as quickly as possible. They do the best they can in the time they have, but any of us who’ve worked in retail know how fast things move. Pricers and sorters don’t always have the time to thoroughly comb garments for stains or rips or imperfections and are generally pricing based on like-items and brand reputation. This is why a black tank with frayed edges or a small rip in the hem, could very easily have the same ticket price as one that is sparkling and perfectly pristine. It seems to me that (in my city, and I’m told others) it’s reasonable to assume that with such large volumes of rotating stock some items will end-up priced very high. (The opposite is also true… Every now and then designer labels will be missed and so priced ridiculously low, these rare finds constitute the Thrifting Holy Grail, but that’s another post for another time). If you operate under the philosophy that humans are fallible (and shaftings within steely unfeeling capitalist culture both predicated and inevitable) bargaining negotiations aren’t necessarily about being stingy–it’s a way to actively engage in the often unthinking and automatic act of purchase exchange (how many of us “check out” at the check out… I know I’ve found myself absently punching in the pin on my debit before even looking at the total… very unsettling) and keep thrift prices reasonable and comparable and competitive.

Olivia Mae closed her email reminding us that being nice to store employees is beneficial not just for obtaining a discount now and again, but also for tracking down coveted items. She notes “I can easily help you find things since I probably put the clothes on the racks…[and] if we don’t have a particular something that you had in mind, then I might just keep my eye out for you in the sorting room when I am tagging and pricing clothes.”

Thanks, Olivia! I know I often–to borrow a phrase from high school lit class–frame thrifting as a classic sort of a wo/man versus environment type conflict/quest. Racks upon (often disorganized) racks of potential allies and enemies that I must (and my fat thrift friend) conquer on my (our) own. I forget that staff are there to help and could certainly point me in the right direction when I’m after something specific! Thank you for that reminder!

I hope you’re enjoying this ongoing feature on thrifting/fatshion. If you have any tips you’d like me to share/write about feel free to hit the “contact us” button (put “thrift tips” in the subject line) and drop me a line. I’ve got more tips a brewin’ but I’d love to hear from you & will (of course!) credit you if I write about your tip!

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