It cost me $44.93 to look like a million bucks.
That's how much I spent on the resplendent sampling from my wardrobe I'm currently wearing. The outfit would have easily cost more than $1,000 -- if purchased new from brand-name stores. But the garments all came from thrift stores.
Ralph Lauren, was $1.99. A pair of Cole & Haan black wingtips set me back $12.
The suit wasn't perfect. The jacket sleeves were too long. For $15, my trusted tailor, Moses, shortened them for a perfect fit.
I'm a thrift store clothes addict. That makes me a bit of an exception to my gender, based on what I've seen at thrift shops and vintage clothing stores over the years. So, men, here's a chance for you to benefit from something women have known for years: There are great bargains in thrift store clothes if you know where and how to look.
Linda Stephens, who runs the Huntington Collection thrift store in Pasadena, agrees that men have largely avoided shopping for secondhand duds.
"But that is changing because the economy is bad," she said. She's noticed a brisk traffic of men coming through the store looking for shirts, shoes and $25 suits.
"We're talking $1,000 these days for a good men's suit," she said. That's new, of course.
At least 90% of my suits, sport coats, shirts, ties and shoes were purchased at thrift stores. I draw the line at socks and underwear, but I have picked up suspenders, cuff links, hats and even cutaway tails and morning trousers (a newsman must be prepared) in the resale market.
All of these purchases are of the highest quality. I like well-made clothing, but I dislike prices that require me to be well-heeled. If I had purchased my clothes new, the tab would have easily jumped into the thousands. But my annual total wardrobe investment, as a result of strategic thrift store shopping, runs less than the cost of a couple of suits at Nordstrom's.
As the recession cuts deeper into our wallets, more people appear to be buying preowned fashions. A survey of members by the National Assn. of Resale and Thrift Shops showed a jump of more than 35% in sales during September and October compared with year-prior levels.
But it didn't take a recession to get me into thrift stores.
Years ago I fell into the habit of acquiring things that had previous owners. It began with stocking my library with books from used bookstores. Next came the purchase of a used -- excuse me, "preowned" -- car.
Then one day, having time to kill, I strayed into a Goodwill store in Pasadena next to the tire shop where my car's flat was getting fixed. Noticing a rack of suits, I slipped on a couple out of curiosity. To my surprise, they fit, were in excellent condition and cost less than a week's worth of lattes from Starbucks.
To start shopping for secondhand clothes, you need to know the terrain.
First, all thrift stores are not created equal.
At the bottom of the pecking order are the ubiquitous Goodwill Industries and the Out of the Closet stores, which tend to put anything and everything on the rack. As a result, finding a high-quality suit at one of these stores is a bit like finding a needle in a haystack.
On the middle-and-upper end of the scale are the thrift shops operated by charities, including the Council Thrift Shops run by the National Council of Jewish Women, the House of Return operated by Beit T'Shuvah charity and the American Cancer Society's Discovery Shops. These stores often stock designer clothing donated by well-heeled members, not just someone's old socks and T-shirts.