Monday, March 28, 2016

Thrift Week finale (two months later)

Two months after my Thrift Week series on local thrift shops was cut short by the one big snowstorm of 2016, I finally got a chance to visit the last thrift shop on my list: Second Time Around in Pennington. This thrift shop is run by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Princeton, in whose church my Morris dance team holds its weekly practices, so I had been seeing a flier advertising the store and its wares on the church bulletin board every Thursday night for months, and it looked a lot more appealing than most of the thrift shops in our immediate area. Based on the pictures, the store appeared to be fairly small, but clean and well organized, and the clothes seemed to be nice but not too trendy. So I thought I would probably have a much better chance of finding something wearable in my size than I had so far at other area thrift stores, where the clothing selection was either (a) very limited, (b) old and in poor condition, or (c) very fashionable and pricey and too small to fit me.

The only downside of this store is, it's all the way out in Pennington—a town that's nearly an hour away from us and isn't very close to anywhere else we tend to go. It's not too far from my parents' house in Hopewell, but it's not exactly on the way, and we tend to visit my folks mostly in the evenings, after business hours are over. So in all the years we've lived in Highland Park, I haven't been able to visit the store more than once or twice.

However, about a week ago, Brian and I planned an extended shopping trip that would take us to our favorite Amish farmers' market, where we could stock up on free-range meats and assorted types of bread flour, and on from there to the Trader Joe's in the Princeton area for some other staples. So Brian suggested that, since this was within striking distance of Pennington (maybe 15 minutes away), we should make a regular excursion of it and go hit the Second Time Around as part of the same trip.

Unfortunately, even though I knew this thrift shop was on our itinerary for the day, I forgot to bring my camera, so I can't provide any photos for you. However, the photos you can see on the store's Facebook page give a fairly accurate overall impression of the store and its contents. Basically, the clothes are what people would call "nice"—fairly upscale, but not particularly fashion-conscious, and definitely aimed at a rather older crowd than the modern looks I tend to find at the consignment shops and even at Goodwill. The selection leans toward dressy clothes for both day and evening, and there's a whole rack specifically for clothes from Chico's, which specializes in casual looks for mature ladies. (I assume the reason these items are sequestered on their own rack is because Chico's uses its own particular sizing scheme, which bears no relation to the sizes found at any other store in the known universe—but the fact that the store has enough of them to fill an entire rack tells you a lot about its clientele.)

This looked fairly promising for me, since I am now approaching the point of being "a lady of a certain age" (though no one seems to be quite certain what that certain age is) and the teen-centered styles found at a lot of area thrift shops definitely don't suit me. There were a couple of things in particular I was hoping to find at the store:
  1. A decent pair of walking shoes. With the weather warming up, the heavy Timberland boots I've been wearing all winter (one of the better finds I've had at our local Goodwill store) are no longer particularly suitable, and the pair of Skechers I wore through last summer and fall are now so worn down that I can feel the sidewalk through them. I wasn't too optimistic about my chances on this front, since as I've noted before, I have a great deal of trouble finding shoes that fit me well and are a reasonable value. I'd already checked all the other thrift stores I visited during Thrift Week without success, and an initially promising pair I found at Payless turned out, after a short trial, to be too tight to wear for more than a few minutes at a time. (Fortunately, the store was willing to take them back even though they'd been worn; unfortunately, when I tried on the same style in a larger size, it wouldn't stay on my foot.) But I figured it was at least worth looking.
  2. A dressy outfit for winter. Back in 2014, we were invited to a December wedding reception for a couple of friends, and it wasn't quite clear what sort of clothes would be appropriate. I have a couple of different cocktail dresses that I knew would pass muster, but neither one of them provides much coverage, and I didn't care to freeze my tush off. I also have one floor-length velvet dress that only gets worn once a year for the Princeton Winter Cotillion, but I was afraid that dress, though warm enough, would be too dressy for the event. So I ended up wearing a casual skirt with a turtleneck and tights and being woefully underdressed. (I saw guys in suits at that party whom I'd never in my life seen wearing anything but blue jeans.) So ever since then, I've been looking for some sort of outfit that's moderately dressy but still warm—perhaps a dress with long sleeves and a mid-length skirt that I could pair with fleece-lined tights, or maybe a nice pair of pants and a silk or velvet top. But even though I've checked every store and website I could think of, I haven't been able to find a single outfit that meets this extremely basic description. So I thought perhaps the problem was that garments of this type just aren't in fashion right now—in which case, a store full of slightly dated-looking clothes might actually be the best place to look for them.
Unfortunately, I struck out on the dressy clothes. The store didn't have a very big selection of pants and blouses, and the dresses were mostly on the highly formal side. I did try on one sort of grey wrap dress with mid-length sleeves, but it wasn't particularly flattering, so it wasn't much of a bargain at $25.

However, I had an unexpected hit at the shoe rack. Although the selection of shoes was fairly small, it was all sturdy, high-quality brands, and unlike the selection at most thrift shops, a significant percentage of them were sensible walking shoes rather than high-fashion, high-heeled, highly impractical styles. And, since they were secondhand, I was willing to waive my objections to wearing leather. This one pair caught my eye: a modest, practical pair of leather oxfords originally from J. Crew in a size seven. This isn't my exact size, at least not usually, but I ventured to try them on anyway and found that, at least with the socks I was wearing, they were reasonably comfortable. Of course, the pair I bought at Payless had seemed comfortable at first, too, and if this pair proved to cause some sore spots upon further wearing, I wouldn't be able to return it. And the color, a light brown, wasn't one I'd usually wear.

But given that spring was nearly upon us and I hadn't succeeded in finding a pair of spring shoes anywhere else, it seemed worth risking $12 on these. And actually, it turned out that the store was in the middle of a sale that weekend, with everything reduced by 50%—so at $6, the shoes were definitely a reasonable buy. I spent an extra $2.50 on a new pair of laces to replace the original rawhide thongs, which I found very difficult to adjust. (Those found a new use as part of the belt pouch that goes with Brian's Renn Faire costume, giving it a much more authentic look than the  modern shoelaces I originally used to tie it.)

My new spring shoes aren't exactly perfect. Though sturdier than my old Skechers, they're not as versatile, since they're a style that really doesn't work with skirts. The color isn't ideal for me, and the leather lining only extends as far as the ball of the foot—so the place where it cuts off creates an awkward ridge in the footbed that feels uncomfortable when I'm wearing these with thinner socks. (I tried adding an insole to alleviate this problem, as we did with the pair of yard-sale sneakers we bought for Brian, but that made the shoes too tight overall.) But still, they're reasonably comfortable for walking in, and they look incredibly durable. Unlike most modern shoes, these can probably even be resoled when they start to wear out, so I should be able to get far more use out of this $6 thrift-shop find than I can out of a brand-new $50 pair of Skechers, which seem to show visible wear after less than a week.

So I think, thanks to this one fortuitous find, I can belatedly declare my Thrift Week thrift-shop experiment a limited success. Sure, I visited eight stores (only seven of which were open) and only found any useful secondhand goods at three of them. But on the plus side, I came away with one rare (if possibly slightly overpriced) book, two usable pairs of pants, and one usable pair of shoes, which are really hard for me to find...all for just $21.50. And, on top of that, I now know of at least one area thrift shop that is actually worth the trip. It's not terribly convenient to get to, but it's no more inconvenient than the Unique Thrift Store in South Plainfield, and the overall selection and prices are better at Second Time Around. Plus, I'd rather support the Unitarians than a for-profit business.
Post a Comment