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A dollar a pound

In another era and another time, long before sites such as ebay, Poshmark and even Facebook Marketplace allowed people to resell items online and find buyers far and wide with relative ease, thrift stores and used-clothing stores were different. Really different.

In that other era and in that other time, the for-profit invasion–and in many ways, improvement–of the mostly charitable and do-good (though often not-so-well-managed) thrift stores such as the Goodwills, Salvation Armies and the Christian Women’s Thrift Stores of the world hadn’t yet transformed the thrift-store landscape. Nor had such commerce-enabling technologies, peer-to-peer selling and a vast culture shift yet occurred in which many (many, many) people would come to have side hustles–or main hustles–reselling items.

And in that other era and in that other time, those of us in the D.C. area who were “in the know” knew there was a store on Benning Road that sold used clothes–by the pound! I believe the price was a dollar a pound. It might have been two. It wasn’t three.

This magical place of treasures wasn’t organized as a clothing store might be. I remember there were several floors and I particularly remember a large room with a large pile of clothes in the center. A very, very, very large pile. Maybe we had to take our shoes off. Maybe we didn’t. Essentially we walked and waded through piles of strewn clothes (none of them hung or displayed), selected what we wanted, had our piles weighed by the cashier and paid by the pound.

I went once. Alas, I can’t travel back in time and have shopped there more often, but that one time I did go produced quite the finds. From the pile-o-clothes in the middle of the floor, I particularly remember getting a mint condition, 1950s, cashmere swing coat and a haute couture coat from the early ’60s, for which the design, construction and materials were pure luxury–almost decadent in their richness, yet fairly common to that era.

I’m sure I got some other items there, too, though these two coats are what I distinctly remember.

I miss beautiful clothes

What I mean is I miss the quality of beautiful clothes. I miss how well things were made. I miss good materials and reasonable styles and clothes that were meant to last. I miss feeling drenched in rich fabrics. I miss slipping my arms into a coat where the lining alone was better constructed and better sewn of better fabric than many of the high-priced, race-to-the-bottom, fast-fashion pieces of today.

What happened to building a wardrobe?

What happened to thoughtful consumption?

What happened to designers (now mostly “brands”) making clothes that built, from season to season, a better wardrobe? What happened to clothes from a brand that worked together, season by season, and created more choices and outfits as you bought more items from a particular store and brand over the years?



no more alligator purses

Gah. I used to get the best stuff at thrift stores and even at antique stores, too. Among my many fun and wild and wonderful acquisitions back in the ’80s, I had two alligator bags (more novelty than useful as the leather was so hard and the purse construction so boxy that not much fit inside). Fur items were easy enough to find and often pretty cheap (as long as you didn’t mind a bit of a musty smell); purses were made of real leather and had substance and feel to them. Shoes, too. Haute couture and designer items, albeit not the latest fashions, of course, were findable–sometimes pristine, sometimes needing a stitch or two.

And thrift stores had dressing rooms where you could–if you wanted–pick 20 or 30 or however many items to try on, explore and see if the items worked for you. I’d do that. I might have purchased only one piece out of 20 I tried on; or maybe on a good day, I’d walk out with four items out of ten I tried on. Now? Thrift stores are closing their dressing rooms en masse, providing few mirrors, if any, and hoping you don’t make it back within the 14-day window to return any items that don’t quite fit or don’t quite work. That’s one way to increase revenue. I guess.

Now? It’s all about the race to the bottom. Fast fashion. Clothes and shoes and accessories so cheap they’re easier to throw away than fix.

Yes, things are plentiful now, options abound and excess is everywhere.

But what about good, ol’ fashion quality materials, construction and design? What about clothes and accessories that are meant to last? What about some luxury in everyday clothes made durably and well?

Maybe the cycle will come around and such things will be valued again. I hope so. I’ve seen a rise in people talking about capsule wardrobes and Project 333 where people aim to wear outfits assembled from just 33 items in their wardrobe for three months (a season), so maybe there’s hope.

(That and a likely coming Crisis of proportions and repercussions beyond our current imaginations, circa 2028 or 2029. That’ll likely reset things, but that has yet to come.)




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