Thrifty Shopping and Thrifty Snooping

Perfect Silk Threads Unravel History

I am a thrifty person—a habit achieved after many impulsive forays into buying for the sheer high of it—highs invariably followed by pangs of remorse.

One early phase of my rehab consisted of leaving price tags inside items—reminding myself that they were once thrilling new scores. Truth be told I prefer shopping to possessing. I bet I’m not the only one. Shopping is thrilling sport, and for many restless souls holds out hope of happier prettier days.

Thrift and consignment shops are a recent phase in my Sisyphean push for a plumper savings account.

At first, I bought gently-used clothing and accessories–lacey sweaters, Tyrolean jackets, and big costume jewelry—that promised to give me many a new persona.

But they sat unworn in my closet until I actually developed a personal style. I then donated the flashy items piece by piece to Housing Works Thrift Shop. Other people’s extravagant errors and unwanted gifts (the meat and drink of charity thrift shops as well as consignment shops Bis and Encore, second-floor emporia on Madison at 84th) ceased to thrill me as much.

My last impulse buy from Bis was a luscious Chinese moss-green silk jacket (Shanghai Tang) with an unbelievable furry silk lining. I couldn’t resist it at $100. I know its retail value was once about ten times that.

The silk jacket is immaculate. Until recently, I gave no thought to its personal history—unlike the too narrow and slightly worn Jackie Kennedy low-heel pumps (yes they really were) I bought next door at Encore.

But I was wrong about my green silk jacket with the delicate coral tracing. Yesterday I felt something rectangular and flexible in the breast pocket. Fishing around I extracted a wonderful clue to my jacket’s international past.

The clue, it turns out, is a technicolor ticket for the Secret Itineraries tour of the Doge’s Palace in St. Mark’s Square.

I visited Venice twelve years before my jacket’s visit on July 20th 2001 (the date on the back of the ticket).  I am truly surprised at the advanced age of my pristine jacket. I guess it wasn’t worn much after that trip to Venice.

Unlike my fancy jacket, I didn’t take the expensive Secret Itineraries tour, so I missed climbing to the attic room across the Bridge of Sighs where Casanova was imprisoned.  I’d had it with steep narrow stone stairs and ancient bright gilded mosaics. My jacket’s former owner doesn’t seem to share my qualms about spending a lot of money to traipse up and down those dangerous stairs.

What else do I suspect about her.

She’s likely a careless soul, after all she never bothered to empty the pocket of her jacket, but after a decade of not wearing it, I’m thinking she casually gave it to her maid to dispose of at Bis consignment store. I bet the jacket was a heavy item in a posh suitcase that summer in Italy. It’s all the furry silk lining!

The jacket owner’s excursion to St. Marks Plaza apparently required an unseasonably warm jacket—maybe summer’s sun had disappeared that day. Or maybe she was determined to make a fashion statement despite the heat.

One memory I cherish of my visit to St. Marks is scores of pigeons flocking in waves to a lovely dark-eyed child pitching handfuls of seed.

I remember a trio of all-white birds flying inches above my little table narrowly missing me and my melting lemon gelato to land on the child’s seeds. I impulsively stood and followed them. There was no one to tell me I was being silly—and the pigeons didn’t seem the least bit frightened of me.

To me, following those three pure white pigeons who were soon pecking at cobblestones around my sneakers was a lot of fun—far more fun than squeezing inside Casanova’s small cold prison. The child and I grinned as a white pigeon ate a few seeds off my sneaker.

A Few Thrifty Tips Off the Top of My Head

  1. Befriend the seamstress at your nearest cleaner and buy bits of bright contrasting Marimekko fabric to patch worn bed quilts, blankets and even sheets. You will save hundreds of dollars and have fun redesigning quilts like a fabric artist.
  2. Always avoid impulse purchases. Leave coveted items on hold over night.
  3. Try to spend money not on dressy rarely worn clothing, but on stuff that’s like the things you wear everyday. A plain good winter coat will protect you aesthetically and keep you warm. Express yourself with up to the minute scarves. I recommend an orange polka dot one to join the street parade. Marimekko is a good inexpensive resource for an arty eye-popping scarf that your friend the seamstress can hem for you.
  4. Shop in your closet—even though it’s a cliché, it’s sobering advice.
  5. At thrift stores buy men’s shirts. Your friend at the cleaners with the sewing machine can customize them to you inexpensively. He can even sew a bit of fabric over logos—making the shirt one of a kind.
  6. A reason to avoid thrift shops is that other kinds of stores accept returns and thrift shops don’t.
  7. Check out department stores’ kitchenware and then go to Crate and Barrel to buy inexpensive well-designed and simple dishes, pots, towels, vases and fake flowers.
  8. Forget that white’s been fashionable in Manhattan for years—buy white furniture and dishes and knick knacks. They don’t crowd small apartment spaces.

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