Wednesday, May 29, 2013

An old take on new clothes

There are good reasons, I know, to buy new clothes.

For example, when you know exactly what you want, and when you also know that you can't buy that exact kind of clothing used, then it follows that new is the best way to go.
[If you're thinking "underwear", well, then, so am I.  I'm really picky about the brand, style, and size I wear.  Normally I keep costs low by wearing them into the ground, so to speak, but lately we've owned a dog who unaccountably eats my undies.  No shoes, no socks, just my underwear and my husband's bike gloves.  Go figure.  So instead of buying new underwear every five years once the elastic is so bare that my husband (the Laundry Tsar) starts chucking them, I'm forced to replace my undergarments nearly yearly.  More than you wanted to know, sorry.]
Also, recently, I bought new bike shoes because I didn't know at all what I wanted, but I knew that buying the wrong shoe would be a Bad Idea.  So I went to our local bike shop where I'd bought the SPDM, and had them fit me out and introduce me to some snazzy (sna$$y) shoes with cleats.  Rockin'!
[So now I know I wear a size 42 in bike shoes, and I know what kinds of cleats to buy for my future shoes.  From now on, I'll be able to buy used bike shoes with confidence.  I really do think of this as a one-time-only, learning-experience-version of a new shoe purchase.]
The whole getting-exactly-the-right-thing experience has been so surprisingly smooth that I started wondering to myself, "Am I cheating myself -- no, am I cheaping myself -- out of this experience by buying clothes at yard sales the rest of the time?"  After all, I have a good life, and I find good things where I shop (in my neighbor's yards and garages).  But maybe there's more perfect stuff in the land of consumer retail?

Then reality had its chance to sink back in, in the form of friendly stories.

I went running with my friends TL and K last Saturday, and they were talking about disappointing purchases.  K had bought new running shoes, and they just didn't feel quite as good as she'd hoped.  TL had bought a couple of different bathing suits, some of which looked better in the store then they did once they came home.  They laughed about this because they were with me; I was running along in my $1 hot-pink-marathon shoes.  They both knew I'd bought my last swim suit 3 years ago for $2 (a racing suit with the tags still in), and it fits me just fine.

Listening to TL and K reminded me that buying clothing is almost always a gamble of some sort.  I can improve the odds in my favor by knowing my size and knowing details about specialty clothes (like what kinds of cleats I'll want or what styles of racing suits work for me).  And if I'm going to be able to buy exactly the same style and brand every time (as I do with my undergarments, or as Dogs-or Dollars does with her jeans), then I can stack that deck almost entirely in my favor.  But if I want any variety in my clothing at all, it's always a gamble as to how the clothes will suit me once I'm actually wearing them in my real life.  That makes me happy to be gambling at yard sales instead of in the mall, where my mistakes cost me 50¢ or $1, not $50 or $150.

So as we head into the heart of yard sale season, I'll just add a few of my own experiences about the best way to find good clothes for pennies.
A yard-sale haul from last summer

  • Learn where the spendy people live.  If you can find a neighborhood yard sale in a development full of vinyl-sided houses, hit it up.  That's where I find name-brand clothes barely worn (sometimes never worn).
  • Avoid old neighborhoods with houses that were well-built long ago and where people have lived a long time.   It's fun to go there to peek around, but these people are careful enough about tossing around money that they're getting rid of mostly old, dusty kitchen and basement stuff.
  • Along these lines, check out your nearby university or college.  When college students  leave for the summer, you can sometimes get great bargains.  Our own college has a giant yard sale every May where we sell off printers, furniture, very trendy clothing, and food that students leave behind, donating the money to charity.  Every once in a while, our athletic department sells off old athletic equipment (I've gotten running shorts and sports bras there).
  • Do NOT think about the price.  It doesn't matter that this coat costs $300 in the store and only $3 at the yard sale.  What matters is whether you need a new coat, whether your closet is already overfull, and whether you actually like this coat.  
  • Do NOT care too much about this one particular item.  You're going to see cute, amazing things at a yard sale and think, "I need to have that!".  The most amazing thing about that is, it will happen again and again.  So you can afford to let that darling pair of shoes go if they're not quite right (for example, if they cost too much).  By which I mean, ironically . . . 
  • DO know your prices.  After years of yard saling, I know there's a range of prices for things.  If I'm patient, I'll always be able to get perfectly good women's shoes for $2 or less, so I don't bother buying the $4 shoes (even though I agree that's a reasonable price for the owner to charge).  But for my boys' shoes, I'm increasingly willing to go as high as $5 for black Jordans.  
  • Have the perfect [yard sale] body.  Which is to say, for yard sale reasons only, I'm very happy to wear size 10 or 12.  If I could figure out how to do it, I'd shrink my feet down to size 7; my size 9 feet are hard to shop for.
  • Be female.  Women's clothes are everywhere.  Men's clothes, not so much.  Or, if they're there, they tend to be old, ugly, ripped, or stained.  It's difficult to buy used clothes for my husband.
  • If you're male, be young.  See above. The older my boys get, the harder it is to find good clothes for them at yard sales.
The rest of the advice -- know what you like, know what's in your closet already, blah-blah-blah -- works the same for yard sales as it does for the mall.  Which is to say: we do our best, but life's a gamble, and so are clothes. 

1 comment:

  1. You are just too funny! "Be female" or a young male. How true! Shopping for teen boys is difficult, especially when he is so picky about the kind of jeans he wears. (He's 5'8" and weighs about 100 lbs so he's hard to fit too.) Our town has two annual yard sale days, the first weekends in May and Oct. I hit the thrift stores hard in the summer for sales to find school clothes. And I'm glad to know I'm not the only one to have trouble finding shoes that fit my feet. Thanks for sharing.