In Part One of our thrifting series, Gillian shows you how to navigate the wild west of thrift store clothes shopping. Now, her guide to what to do once you’re back home…
So, you’ve got the loot home. Now what? Throw everything in the laundry on the sanitize cycle and douse yourself in Purell? Boo.
What you really need to do is pour a drink (it’s been a long day, girlfriend), get some tunes going, and put on an epic fashion show for whomever will watch (cue your loving husband who will no doubt be ‘wowed’ by some of your less conservative purchases – but hey, you probably found him a decent shirt or two, and spent less than half your normal shopping bill…!).
Seriously though, here’s a little post-op cheat sheet that will help you take your thrift finds from, “where did you get that?” (as in, it looks like your great aunt Rose’s and smells like mothballs) to, “where did you get that?!” (as in, it’s super-rad and I want it!).
1. Cleaning: If the garment still has original tags intact, you may be lucky enough to find washing instructions. I usually exercise caution with most fabrics regardless. Vintage clothing is, well, old, so extra care needs to be taken.
I typically throw any synthetics or synthetic blends in a regular cycle.
Cottons and linens go in a delicate cold water cycle.
Silk and wool really should be dry cleaned. Now, I have broken this rule many times, with mixed results (that little black dress all of a sudden becomes that tiny black dress…). If you have a front loading machine with a hand-wash cold water cycle you will likely be okay, especially if you have some allowance for minor shrinkage.
As for the dryer, any synthetics can go in a regular timed or automatic setting. Gentle, low-heat settings are better for cotton and linen. Silk and wool should lie flat to dry or air dry on a hanger.
2. Freshening Up: I feel slight shame admitting it, but hey, we’re all friends here. I have definitely worn thrift finds that have not seen soap & water. Maybe I couldn’t face that $30 dry-cleaning bill at the time (man, it hurts when the cleaning bill is twice the cost of the clothing!) or maybe I needed to wear said item that very night. Excuses, excuses.
Regardless of the reason, if you need to perk up your new-to-you item, find an iron. A steamer and good ol’ fresh air also work wonders (note that if your iron has a steam setting, then the garment steamer is likely redundant unless you plan on some truly serious steaming action).
I like to add a drop or two of my favourite essential oil to the steam/iron water or, if I am feeling très fancy, French linen water is pretty fantastic.
Most irons have a variety of fabric settings, so again – use restraint and start on low settings for delicate fabrics, and reserve the higher settings for hardier materials.
Simply airing clothing outdoors on hangers also goes a long way towards ridding clothing of any musty odours.
3. Alterations: There are many minor alterations you can do at home, even if you are sartorially challenged. You will need a good pair of fabric scissors, a seam ripper, and a basic sewing kit.
For instance, most shoulder pads can be removed (comme ça) from the outside with a seam ripper, and you can probably deal with buttons and the odd loose stitch or hem on your own.
For taking in seams, fixing zippers, or shortening hemlines, Shanan and I bring in the big guns – our mother-in-laws! Otherwise you can bring your goods to a tailor for a fairly reasonable fee.
Usually I follow the rule of thumb that if I love a certain thrift find (and it was affordable) then even with the cost of an alteration, I’ll still be ahead of what I would spend buying new. And, I’ll have something timeless and unique.
4. Styling: You’re alone in your bedroom. All the sh*t that was in your cart a few short hours ago is now strewn across the floor. You feel like a drag queen. Your husband just asked you if you’re planning on “wearing” it. Don’t panic.
Take stock: are you pairing too many vintage items together? Shanan has killer radar for this. My tolerance for a full vintage look is higher, but she has a point. If you want to feel more ‘yourself’ and certainly more contemporary, then be sure the Debbie Harry leather mini-skirt isn’t being paired with the hot pink Melanie Griffith-esque shoulder-padded blazer.
Accessorizing is also key. If your ‘new’ dress comes with a matching belt, that’s pretty much the quickest way to make it look dated – so try and pair it with something contrasting but complementary. For shoes, we love toughening a look up with distressed Frye boots or Madewell platform sandals.
Now, you look great… not Priscilla Queen of the Desert great, but legit great.
This has been fun! Thanks for indulging me. See you out there. xo G.