~a guest post by Sarah at Sarah Pounds~
Since I started dressing myself all those years ago, I’ve known: clothes are important.
The way you look on the outside speaks to what’s on the inside, no matter what people will tell you about books and covers. Just like I’m likely to treat a thick leather-bound book with more respect than a paperback, people make snap judgments based on what they perceive you to be worth.
We all know that. We all do it.
So the sooner you figure out how to work that system, the better.
I learned pretty early on.
Growing up (I say that as if it was decades ago), my clothes typically didn’t come from department stores. Or even Target. As the oldest, I may have had some things off the rack that my younger siblings didn’t get, but for the most part, I didn’t get my clothes new. Especially when I was going through the growth spurts that ended with me being five foot nine in the seventh grade.
Instead, my Mom became a master of consignment.
She would sell bags and bags worth of baby clothes from when my little brother and sisters were even littler, and we would look for “new” clothes in the racks. Sometimes, the pickings were slim, but even then, I was figuring out how to wade through massive quantities of old clothes.
Around that same time, I became obsessed with What Not to Wear. I didn’t yearn to have those clothes, exactly. But I appreciated them. I took notice of cut, of fabric, of print and color combinations and what styles could be put together within reason.
On those Friday nights in front of the TV, I wasn’t a kid at the window of a candy store — I was a novice in a museum, taking in the work of masters and hoping for a chance to imitate their techniques. I absorbed hours of discussion about accentuating hourglass figures, colors that brought out the warmth in a given skin tone, how pointy-toed shoes made you legs look longer… I could go on and on. And I began to look for those trends everywhere.
Especially in the consignment shops and thrift stores I came to know, love and haunt.
I took a lot of these ideas and put them in play in my shopping routine. I had always felt a little overwhelmed whenever I went looking for clothes — now, it was easier to narrow my vision and simplify the picture.
I started with colors.
I attempted to wear a lot of shades in those first few seasons that were simply… bad. Sage green that made me look perpetually sick. A pale blush that made me look dead. A deep purple that brought out some interesting shades of yellow in my skin. But over time, I found colors that I gravitated towards. Burgundy. Navy. Cobalt blue. White. Black.
If you’re wondering, yeah, I liked neutrals. So sue me.
Luckily, I have a best friend who, even then, had an eye for colors and prints that I would have shied away from. And, even better, she let me take her clothes for a spin when I felt like a walk on the wild side.
Thanks to her, I expanded my palate a bit. And became more comfortable trying more adventurous looks. And investing in those looks myself.
Including the pixie cut I went for in my sophomore year of high school.
However, that pixie cut — which I loved, don’t get me wrong — made me quickly realize that it wasn’t just the color that mattered in an outfit.
If the cut wasn’t flattering, it didn’t matter what colors you put together.
This lesson came in sharp relief soon after I cut off 14 inches of hair in 10th grade. I was having a typical Monday-kind-of-day, and wore sweats and a t-shirt to school. In the teeming hallway behind me, I heard somebody call out “hey, who’s the new guy?”
I don’t know if they were genuinely curious or feeling malicious, but I was crushed. If that was the image I was going for, I may have felt validated, but instead, I was hoping to give off a sort of cute-and-flirty-yet-edgy kind of vibe. On the inside, I felt that way. But I realized that day that passerby on the street or in the hall weren’t going to automatically make that assumption if I looked like I had just rolled out of bed.
Even if my t-shirt was beautiful navy blue.
As a result, I went back to what I had learned from What Not to Wear (in addition to various fashion bloggers, by this point) to find what was flattering for my shape. I have a high waist with long legs, but not very many curves to account for. I started with jeans, my staple, knowing that most people look good in a dark wash. I wasn’t an exception to that, so I hunted in my haunts for a denim that was dark with minimal “artful” fading.
And then, I went for the more complicated piece: tops.
Tops are tricky, man.
Around this point, the trend was tilting towards flowy tops with loose bottoms. And those looked insanely comfortable, but also like they would turn my torso into a potato. Even when I went looking, though, the majority of shirts that were fitted at the narrowest part of my upper half looked like they were twenty years too old for me.
And yeah, I may have bought a couple of those structured, anti-box tops. But I also bought some of the blousier sort, and made a new best friend: skinny belts. They make it so easy to cinch in the waist and define an hourglass figure, or create the illusion of one if you have zero curves.
Like yours truly.
This helps out a lot in the thrift store department, because you’ll often find that a shirt might have a great pattern and the right size up top, but the bottom is just too big. In that situation, I started to utilize the skinny belt more and more.
Those two tricks got me through a lot of high school, until I started getting closer to graduation and realizing that I needed to up the class of my wardrobe before I started doing interviews for jobs and college. I wanted to look more than nice — I wanted to dress in a way that made people think I paid an arm and a leg for my clothes.
That’s when I realized how important quality is.
The way that clothes feel makes a difference in the way they fall on your frame. If a piece is made of cotton, it can often be hard to mix with more formal pieces like blazers or slacks. And if you want to go out to a friends small concert, you want to look good while also staying cool in the crowded heat.
This is where good fabrics, a feel for weights, and a sense of texture come into play.
So I’m going to tell you up front: you have to get touchy-feely.
You obviously don’t know how a piece of clothing feels until you touch it. But you also need to pull it taut to see what kind of give it has. See how stretchy it is. Try it on, if they have a dressing room, and be sure to move around in it. There’s nothing worse than getting home with a cute blouse only to find that the shoulders are too tight.
Once you get through that stage of sifting through a shop’s offerings, begin to think of how this piece of clothing will layer with other things you have in your closet. Think of what kinds of pieces — even what kinds of fabrics — are appropriate for different environments. I probably wouldn’t wear a wispy dress that hits me at mid-thigh to work, but it’s perfectly fine for time hanging out with friends.
On the other side of that coin, I probably wouldn’t advise wearing a spotless white, button-up cotton blouse to chill. That seems like a terrifying stain waiting to happen. And I definitely wouldn’t wear a wool blazer in the summertime. Ever.
However, I would say that rules can bend. Maybe you find a way to pair the wispy dress with leggings, ankle boots and cardigans in a way that makes it work-able. More power to you! But in general, if you’re shopping for a specific genre of clothes, keep material in mind. That, combined with the cut, is going to be what makes your selections look expensive, and will make people absolutely freak out when you tell them how much you paid for it.
So, what are my tips for you when you dive into the racks of a thrift store? Let’s condense it into a list. Lists make everyone happy.
If it’s stained, don’t even try it on. Save yourself the time, hon.
Pick colors that work for you. Nobody likes it when you look dead or sick.
Decide what cuts best fit your body type and personal vibe. And don’t assume that every super-snug pair of skinny jeans looks good on you.
Spend time looking for accessories. Thrift stores and consignment shops can be a treasure trove for these, but if you don’t find a golden egg the first time around, don’t worry. Keep looking.
Get in touch. And by that I mean, feel the fabric of absolutely everything you’re even remotely interested in. If it doesn’t feel like a million bucks, know that it probably won’t look like it either.
And oh yeah — have fun! You’re sure to find a lot of wacky things in your thrift store explorations. I know I have! Just run with it. You’re sure to come out with some great stories, pieces that are natural conversation starters, and a wallet that will thank you.