High Fashion, Low Prices

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High fashion comes with high prices—or does it? For the vast majority, there is a preconceived notion that in order to live life as the fabulously fashionable, you need a fat wallet or a seasonal work bonus to pull it off. Though there are perks to a higher paycheck that include a larger variety of colors of your favorite shirt, the “average Joe” is entitled to the wardrobe of his dreams while still being able to afford everyday living expenses.

The solution to the epidemic plaguing the dullness of our closets can be found in two words: secondhand shopping. For some, thrift shopping is the alternative term and for others, clearance-rack cleanout is the preferred. The words are interchangeable but the meaning stays the same—finding ways to shop alternatively while keeping your closet and your wallet abundant and happy.

Despite popular belief, good places to start are at high-end fashion stores. That’s right. The over-the-top, overpriced, never-step-my-foot-in department and name- brand stores you frequent only during extremely special occasions. Keeping your head high, walk proudly through the entrance doors and head straight for the clearance rack at the back. No one really cares if what you’re purchasing is last season. If it’s cute, stylish and versatile, you shouldn’t either—especially if it’s marked down 75 percent from its original price. Besides, in fashion, everything old is eventually new again.

Once you’ve hit your favorite department and name-brand places, your next destination is thrift and secondhand stores. Austin has a unique sense of fashion that revolves heavily around maintaining a balance between classy and casual that is still street savvy and leaves others saying, “wow… that ensemble is so Austin.” The city flourishes with a large variety of thrift and secondhand stores that cater to the culture pulsing through the streets, making shopping smartly relatively easy.

Some of my favorite places to frequent, and great places to start, include Buffalo Exchange, Frock On, and the Goodwill and Salvation Army stores. It’s good to find a handful of places that you can frequent from time to time so you familiarize yourself with the kinds of items each individual store caters to, while maintaining a relationship with the community surrounding these places (plus, making friends with other thrift shoppers is always a bonus and almost inevitable).

Stores like Frock On cater more towards a vintage look, with pastel colors, snapped buttons and an abundance of accessories, where stores like Buffalo Exchange are geared more towards an alternative look comprised of creating an ensemble from individual items, such as matching that striped J. Crew tank-top with a Giorgio Armani denim jacket, all for what would likely price around twenty dollars.

Though places like Goodwill and Salvation Army can be intimidating for some, there is no shame in shopping at stores that provide good quality items and a contemporary look at extremely affordable prices. When it comes to second- hand shopping, the smell of some items might not be the most appealing, but that can be easily solved with a good detergent and a little patience.

It’s about perspective. At the end of the day, the people winning are those walking out of these stores with new items to add to their wardrobe and enough money left over to splurge on more important expenses, like a dinner date for two in the city. Maybe you’ll feel emboldened to wear that new Ralph Lauren blazer your purchased at your favorite secondhand or thrift store? Regardless, your wallet (and your date) will be satisfied.

Secondhand Shopping Secrets

  1. Set a budget. Whether it’s your first thrift shopping experience, or one-hundredth, the most important element is to set a budget aside of only what you’re willing to spend. Withdraw your budget in cash so you’re not tempted to overspend and train yourself to spend only what you have in your hand.
  2. Create a destination map. Austin has such a large variety of secondhand stores. Create a map of places near you and plan out an efficient way to frequent your favorite places, or be adventurous and try something new. Time is money and if you can find a way to manipulate both in your favor, why not take advantage?
  3. Shop with friends. It’s easier to go through this experience, especially if you’re new to it, with a friend, or two. They can provide the support you need to gain that bit of confidence for whenever you’re ready to shop alone, and let’s be honest—shopping is always more fun with a group, and they help refrain from making unnecessary purchases.
  4. Keep an open mind. Don’t be picky! Go for the look, not for the label. It’s important to be versatile when thrift shopping so you’re less concerned with ‘how does this look’ individually, and more intrigued by ‘how can I fit this into a current ensemble?’ It’s easier to find gems of clothing if you go with a blank slate rather than looking for something in particular.
  5. Be patient. Thrift shopping isn’t always easy or always in your favor. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. There are times when I find absolutely nothing after hours of looking, and others where I find a surplus of items I’m in love with. Treat yourself kindly and be persistent in your search.
  6. Color coordinate. Solid colors are your friends! It can be easy to fall victim to intricate patterns and vintage fabrics, but if you’re able to find a couple of solid colored items, then coordination comes easier when putting together final ensembles and items are also interchangeable.
  7. Confidence is key. It’s easy to associate thrift- shoppers as extremely confident buyers. Just because they’re confident in the clearance racks, doesn’t mean you can’t be either. The greater the confidence, the sharper your mind is able to boldly sort through items you may, or may not be, interested in purchasing. So take a deep breath, and sort, sort, sort!
  8. Look for extra discounts. Many thrift stores offer an extra discount or special on certain items on a seasonal basis. Some even go as far to offer discounts on items on certain days of the week! Familiarize yourself with your favorite thrifts and check their websites and social networking cites daily for updates. Sign up for newsletters if there are any available.
  9. Share knowledge. If you’re looking for a specific kind of item, a good way to find it is through word of mouth. Whether its through your social network, or your newly-made thrift shoppers alliance, ask around if anyone knows of local places that have those denim cut-offs you’ve been looking for. And if you’re inclined to, do the same.
  10. Wash, wash, and wash! Though most thrift stores are generally very hygienic in their products, it’s important to go through one more round of laundry (just to be safe.) Some items also have that ‘second- hand smell’ so you might want to give them a good wash before wearing. Once they’re clean and dry, you’re ready to sport and wear with pride.

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Isaac Gomez is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin (BA, Theatre and Dance), and a recipient of the University of Texas George H. Mitchell Award for Academic Excellence. As a young Latino Playwright, his most recent works include The Women of Juarez (Cohen New Works Festival), an ethnographic piece centered on the mass murder of women in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. The Women of Juarez was additionally presented as a Lunada table reading with Chicago’s Teatro Luna, and is the recipient of the Austin Critics Table David Mark Cohen New Play Award for 2013. Upon moving to Chicago, Isaac completed a Literary/Dramaturgy internship at the Goodman Theatre, to which his dramaturgy credits include Cheryl West’s Pullman Porter Blues, Martin Zimmerman’s The Solid Sand Below, and Rebecca Gilman’s Luna Gale. Currently, Isaac is the Literary Manager at Victory Gardens Theater, where he is the resident dramaturg as well as the curator of their Public Programs event series. He is also an administrative associate at the Alliance of Latino Theatre Artists (ALTA) in Chicago and an active member of the national Latina/o Theater Commons.