To Buy or Not to Buy? Criteria for Thrift-Store Clothes Shopping
It's a lot of fun to shop at a thrift store. There are a lot of clothes that are almost great. Here are my tips for separating the "buy it" from the "leave it" items. It doesn’t matter if it is the bargain of the century, if it’s just going to sit in your closet because it needs some type of mending that you'll never get to. Here are some of the frequent problems I’ve encountered, along with my suggestions. (See also: 10 Things to Look for Every Time You Visit a Thrift Store)
If a zipper doesn’t work, I’d leave the item behind. I find zippers to be tricky to replace, and a new zipper runs about $7.
Missing a button? Check the inside seams of the garment. Usually, you will find a spare. If not, see if you can rob a button from the bottom of the shirt, or from a cuff, and use that in the missing button’s place. Do you have a button jar at home where you might find a match? Unless the buttons are extremely unusual, you can probably find a close replacement at a fabric store. I’d take a chance on buying it. If you don’t know how to sew on a button, here is a helpful link: How to Sew a Button
It is frustrating when the rest of the garment is in great shape, but the collar is frayed. I think these are a lot more trouble than they are worth. Leave it behind.
Unfortunately, most of them are not going to come out. In all probability, the previous owner tried hard, already. I had a friend who would always say, “I’ll just put an appliqué’ over it.” I think that works for jeans, but nothing else. In most cases, it’s pretty obvious. I’d leave it behind.
As a rule, if the threads of the fabric have been ripped, that’s a tough repair. However, if the rip is in a seam, you can probably make this repair easily if you have a sewing machine. I’d take a chance.
If the fabric has a pattern (for instance, a plaid) you can probably make this repair. For a solid fabric, it will be too obvious. Below are photos of a wool kilt, unfortunately discovered by moths. To make a similar repair, cut a piece of the fabric from the hem or a seam. Pin the “patch” piece to the inside of the garment and hand-stitch (of course using appropriate thread color).
Too long? Easy fix. Just turn up the edge and stitch. Too short? Check the existing hem. Can you let it out a little? Take a look at the line, though, that is revealed when you let down a hem. The old hemline may be too obvious. Sometimes, you can use the steam setting on your iron to get the old hemline out.
Go ahead, give it the sniff test. If there is odor, it is possible to get it out. It might take a lot of effort and multiple washings, though, so you will need to decide whether you think it will be worth your time, effort, and investment in additional laundering supplies. Because I discovered dormant body odor when I steam-ironed a cotton blouse I found, I turned my husband (a.k.a., Der Stain-meister, in our house) loose on it. He did plenty of Internet research, and tried most of the remedies sworn by online:
- paste of 20 Mule Team Borax
- soak in hydrogen peroxide
- vinegar soak and after-wash rinse
- baking soda paste
- ammonia in the wash water
Many of these things seemed to help, incrementally (the 20 Mule Team Borax paste and the hydrogen peroxide soak, most notable among them). But what finally removed the last traces of body odor, even under the steam iron, was when he sprayed the armpits of the garment with a 50/50 dilution of rubbing alcohol and water, then let the blouse line-dry. He says it helps to understand that body odor is caused by bacteria, so killing bacteria without damaging the garment is the trick. Since that episode, he has seen recommendations he would like to try on the next problem garment: Cascade in the wash water, a can of Coca-Cola in the wash water (not Diet Coke), and a spray of Antibacterial Febreeze. (See also: 6 Things in Your Kitchen That Get Rid of Bad Smells Naturally)
If a coat is in otherwise good shape, you can re-line it, although it is not easy. Home sewers know the challenges (slippery fabric, tricky fit). For a price, you may find a seamstress or tailor who will take on the challenge. Be aware, though, that you may pay as much or more for a lining as you did for the entire coat.
For pants, either they fit, or they don’t. Leave them behind if they don’t. It takes an extremely skilled tailor to make a pair of pants fit properly. A dress has more possibilities. You may be able to take it in if it’s too big. Yesterday I found a sleeveless dress that is a size too big, but I could tell that taking in a half-inch on each armhole would be perfect. If something is too tight, do not play the “if I just lose five pounds” game. The odds are that the clothing will just languish your closet, taking up valuable space.
My last tip: check the washing instructions. Be realistic. I personally no longer purchase clothing that has to be dry-cleaned. I never liked items that had to be hand-washed, or “blocked,” like sweaters. If you know you will put off cleaning, and therefore wearing this item, it’s a waste of your money.