Our closets change with every chapter of our lives—a new job, a move, or just growing up. Your T-shirt collection is replaced by work blouses; tennis shoes are one-upped by sensible heels. You keep a few faded trusties with sentimental value: that skirt you were wearing on your twenty-first birthday, or the concert T-shirt you cried into when the singer gave you a hug. But generally, turnover is high in the clothing department. Why spend big bucks on pieces that will likely only define you for a few years? (There are some exceptions—we'll get to that.)
I've never been one to spend a lot of money on things I know I'll eventually lose. That's why, when I had to dress nicely for press conferences and presentations in college, I truly dove into the world of secondhand shopping. The Triangle overflows with thrift stores and boutiques, each with something it's uniquely good for. For every wonderful custom-made dress, there's a secondhand shop with an only-worn-once vintage shirtdress waiting to be found.
My entire apartment is furnished by TROSA (3500 North Roxboro Street, Durham). My pride and joy is a reclining loveseat I paid thirty-five dollars for. If you need furniture, this is the spot. They have every sort of chair, couch, end table, coffee table, shelving system, and chest of drawers you could dream of, mostly in awesome condition. They get funky pieces in every week and will keep you updated via Instagram. They're also A+ in their selection of housewares and odd decorations (glass jars, candlesticks, salt and pepper shakers), in addition to a hefty selection of books, DVDs, and VHS tapes.
TROSA also has rows and rows of clothes, but I've never had much luck finding good pieces there. This would not be my first pick for killer clothing finds, although a slight nod to their T-shirt selection is in order.
The charm of the Salvation Army Family Store (3167 Hillsborough Road, Durham) is that it's usually relatively empty, giving you plenty of room to divide and conquer or mosey through the aisles. It's not too hot in the furniture department, and earns a solid B in the household oddities category, but it gets a raging standing ovation for its dress assortment. It's a treasure chest for sensible, well-made secondhand dresses, a secret I've kept in my pocket for a while now (you're welcome, masses of female yo-pros). I rarely walk out without two or three dresses I get complimented on for weeks. They are also a highly rated choice for skirts and, sometimes, even footwear.
Now we come to the holy land: Durham Rescue Mission (3900 Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard, Durham). Though the store is always 100 percent riddled with crowds, it's worth carving out an hour to find what you need. The men in the furniture department are angels on Earth who will help you find exactly what you're looking for and get it into your car. This store is also a gold mine for dresses and skirts. Good shoes can be found, and jeans, if you have the patience to dig through the rows. I've found great jackets, with lots of leather garments priced stupid-cheap. Durham Rescue Mission can do no wrong unless you're looking for kitchen items or decorations, a completely disorganized mess.
The Chapel Hill/Carrboro area isn't exactly rich with thrifting options, but the PTA Thrift Shop (103 South Elliott Road, Chapel Hill) is the best. The cool thing is that they have a comprehensive technology area staffed with a human to answer questions and even fix items you find there. PTA is also a very solid option for clothes (except for shoes), especially outerwear. What it lacks in furniture (they put the few good items out front), it makes up for in household items and groovy decorations.
The dark horse of secondhand shops is Father & Son Antiques (107 West Hargett Street, Raleigh). It's a legitimate vintage shop, so the prices are higher, but this store is four levels of awesome. You can find anything, particularly dresses and furniture. I've spent hours just meandering through the floors, and my most prized dresses come from here. Father & Son will not steer you wrong with statement furniture; their T-shirt game is on point as well.
It's worth mentioning that I'm not a believer in getting everything at thrift stores. It's important to have a few pairs of new jeans that you can break in. Also, boots—just get a new pair that'll last a few years. And I don't even understand people who donate underwear and bras to thrift stores. Don't buy them.
Finally, keep in mind that thrifting is a game of give and take. Donate pieces you no longer want to these shops so they can take on a new role in someone else's closet. The clothing circle of life is a beautiful one; now go forth and do your part.
THRIFTING TIPS AND TRICKS
DON'T RUSH IT Most thrift stores are organized very strangely, if at all, and they have, well, a shit-ton of clothes in them. There's no "running in real quick" to find something you need. If you're looking for gems, take time to dig.
HAVE A PLAN You could absolutely go to Salvation Army to browse if you want to blow fifty dollars on a phallic vase you just had to have, or a cap with "World's Best Pop-Pop" stitched on it. That's totally cool, but it's best to go with a mission. If you need dresses for the office or the perfect pair of black jeans, set your sights on that. It'll be a much more effective trip if you can focus on just one section of the sprawling store.
DON'T GET FRUSTRATED I've gone to Durham Rescue Mission on my lunch hour and been unable to find a parking spot. I've seen TROSA on Sunday morning with a line ten deep. Prepare to be annoyed, and keep in mind that people clogging up the aisles are working through the same process as you. Finding clothes at the thrift store is a process, and everyone has their own—though mine is the best, so I hope you've been taking notes.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Extravagant Thrift"