A Closet Content Analysis: Scarves from the Thrift
There is a "recyclable" storefront in Pessac-sur-Dordogne (south-west France) that I like to visit occasionally. It is an interesting place since it is run by the "commune" and was originally established to help out those who were in economic difficulty. Donations of anything and everything were accepted (although now they are getting pickier) and then priced at sometimes ridiculously low prices. Not only those in economic difficulty come here since there are treasures to be found. Keep in mind, there is also a lot of junk.
Many who are setting up a second or vacation home can buy household items for a pittance. One can live here for a couple of months in the summer having bought what their vacation home does not provide and then simply donate it back. Those who do not have the time or disposition to sell things when moving or leaving the country end up trucking everything to Pessac. Or those who just want to get rid of their old and dilapidated stuff will also donate to the commune storefront.
Now you may ask, "What does this have to do with scarves?"
Clothing is also available and there is even a "designer" section. The physical space is not a pleasing showcase for clothing. Unlike consignment stores or online consignment that require you to have everything dry-cleaned and in impeccable shape, the stuff here is probably donated without any preparation at all. The best that happens is clothing is hung on wire hangers and if you start thinking about it . . . well, it's best you don't think about it. You probably wouldn't be in a place like this in the first place if the thought of previously worn clothing "makes your skin crawl" as a friend described her feelings. I too tend to ignore the clothing.
One could call some of these clothes "vintage" and that is always a possibility. I like what Isabelle Wolfe wrote in A Vintage Affair . . .
What I really love about them . . . is the fact that they contain someone's personal history . . . I find myself wondering about their lives. I can never look at a garment . . . without thinking about the woman who owned it. How old was she? Did she work? Was she married? Was she happy? . . . I look at these exquisite shoes, and I imagine the woman who owned them rising out of them or kissing someone . . . I look at a little hat like this, I lift up the veil, and I try to imagine the face beneath it . . . When you buy a piece of vintage clothing you're not just buying the fabric and thread - you're buying a piece of someone's past.”
You probably will not find anything like "exquisite shoes" or a little hat with a veil in Pessac but then again, one should "never say never". Hems may be undone, buttons missing, along with stains or rips that are not trends; these are all part of the "thrift" possibilities.
That being said or written, after my most recent visit to Pessac, I question buying another scarf at retail again. (Well there is a Hermes scarf I may indulge in someday.) However, for my regular everyday in France kind of scarves I am not embarrassed to admit that I found three beautiful scarves, two silk and one a cotton and linen blend. Yes, I had to rummage through at least 30 other scarves and check out labels and hems but I ended up buying three scarves at 1 Euro 20 centimes - about $1.80 Canadian each. The silk ones are comparable to the scarves I have purchased in the past at 40 to 60 Euro each.
I do have some advice for those who might want to visit thrifts and re-sale businesses of this nature . . .
1. Check for stains and tears and never buy anything with either. It is very likely the item was given away because the original owner could not remove the stain. As well you have no idea what the stain might be and the longer it has been there the less likely you will be able to remove it. As well, leave behind whites that are grey or yellowed.
2. Check labels for fibre content and washing instructions. Very often these do not exist. If you know the feel of fabrics then go ahead and buy however be mindful that there are synthetics that can feel surprisingly similar to the natural fabric. In the case of the scarves, I was only looking for natural fibres such as silk, linen and cotton. As well for scarves, run your fingers along the hem to make sure it is still intact. The fabric and print has to be pretty special if it is necessary to re-hem with pain-staking blind stitches. As with stains and tears, check for pulls and fraying.
3. There is usually nowhere to try things on and you wouldn't want to until you washed the clothing anyway so know the size potential of the piece for you.
4. "When in doubt - don't buy it", no matter how inexpensive; you'll just end up donating it back. Even a couple of Euros/dollars/pounds is a waste if you will never use the item.
5. When you get it home, first let the fabric soak for an hour or so in cool water then wash according to fibre content. Unfortunately "hidden" stains sometimes manifest at this stage. Try to deal with it before you add a detergent. When in doubt, use cool water with a delicate detergent such as "Woolite" or even a shampoo. Shampoos designed for oily hair are good at removing bio-oils and safe to use on wool, angora and cashmere - after all, those are natural "hairs". Remember always cool to cold water for wool and cashmere. Silk can withstand warm water and linen or cotton can be washed in hot water. Careful though, linens often are blended with other fabrics. Be mindful of colours as well. Never mix whites and colours. When you rinse after hand washing, you can add a tablespoon or two of vinegar. It removes the residuals of soap suds and does not "build up" the way fabric softeners do. I use vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser in my washing machine.
There are psychological considerations and you know your personality type so no matter what how good the experiences you hear about thrift buys, follow your heart. If your first thoughts make you cringe, don't bother even going to a place like this.
NICE: There is a "feel good" factor about re-using and wearing previously worn clothing. Many do it with ecological pride. I had a friend who made a New Year's resolution that she would only buy consignment or thrift clothing for a year.
NO THANKS : Others cannot bear the thought of wearing something that someone else has worn. I feel that way about shoes and lingerie; yet I have sold shoes at garage sales and given away shoes that I haven't particularly liked. I had no qualms about others wearing my shoes.
There are treasures to be found so good luck to you at your next
The most confident of women are those who believe in every scrap of fabric they wear . . . (Sarah MacLean in Nine Rules to Break When Romancing the Rake).
And may I add to that . . . no matter where it was purchased or for how much.