Thursday, February 25, 2010

It's a buyers market (or why ebay sucks)

I mentioned it in another post awhile ago, but it's probably worth repeating that in addition to buying clothes for myself, I sometimes find stuff on the cheap that I re-sell (which I then use to fund my own clothing purchases).

While I have occasionally bought new clothes (mainly a couple pairs of jeans and athletic shoes), the vast majority (95% or so) of my entire wardrobe has come from thrift stores over the course of the past decade or so. To be honest, I enjoy the thrill of the hunt, and I must admit that I actually find myself largely disgusted by the cost of purchasing clothing new.

I'm getting a little off track here, so I'm going to swerve back on course by simply saying that it seems like ebay has finally run off the rails. Sure, it's good for popping off certain super-rare items, but a good portion of the traffic on the site seems to simply be other sellers trying to figure out what will sell high. This is probably nothing new to those who have been using the site extensively for the past several years, but it was nonetheless a bit of a surprise to me.

Let me present example one; a vintage western suit made of shiny polyester. This was not a high-end item by any means, but at the time of auction closing, the auction had been viewed over 225 times and was being watched by over 20 people. The pictures I posted weren't too shabby (at least in my humble opinion).

In the end, this suit got a whopping 3 bids and went for a grand total of $15.50. Fortunately, it was something I'd purchased for $1 and didn't spend too much time photographing, but I certainly found myself frustrated.

My next dose of reality was with a swank 3-piece 100% wool Daks suit, tailored in London. I certainly didn't expect it to go for $200 or anything like that, but I again felt like I had taken pretty good pictures (like the western suit, it was too small for me, otherwise I likely would have kept it) and described it well. At auction closing, it had over 100 page views and 10 watchers.

Bam! It went for $38, which obviously isn't scraping the barrel, but considering it was a reasonable size (40), it felt like it certainly didn't bring as much as it should have.

And so, I may have reached my wits end with ebay for interesting clothing items. Is it time to dive into the world of Etsy for my vintage scores that don't fit me, or is there something else I'm missing?

At least my clothing budget is low. That 38 dollar sale mentioned above will buy me about 10 times more than the average person.

I consider this a sign

It seems like I've mentioned the weather in a majority of the posts I've made on here since I started, but screw it, this winter sucks and I'm sick of it.

It was then, like a shot of sunshine and warmth, that these ties called to me when I saw them at the thrift store tonight ($1.99 each).

They're all 100% cotton madras, woven in India and constructed in the good old United States. They're bright, and they make me happy.

This ice will melt soon, I know it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Weekend WTF: When pigs fly

Sometimes I see an item that I simply can't pass up. The attraction is often of sheer kitsch value, but alas, I can't deny the hard-wiring. The following can't be explained any other way.

Hey, I've never tried to deny it. I love my classic styles, I love my modern styles, and yes, sometimes I fall off the deep end.

I haven't eaten pork in 12 years, but damn it, I love this tie.

I'm going to work it into an outfit this spring, and it will rule.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Blinded by excitement

When I first started out thrifting, it was more than a regular occasion that I would bring a piece of clothing home and find either a minor or even serious issue with whatever I had bought. In my excitement of finding something cheap and haste of purchasing, I overlooked holes, yucky stains, and rips that should have been obvious with even a bit of inspection. In a few cases, I was able to fix the issue and wear the garment anyway, but often it would result in said item finding its way to the trash or being re-donated.

Over time, I've learned to look things over a lot closer, but once in awhile I still get so excited that I simply don't check things as well as I should. It happened to me again this week, but I think you'll understand why.

On first glance, it's just a huge tweed overcoat. Then, you flip it open and voila!

Although it was just a bit on the big size for me in terms of girth, this huge Harris Tweed overcoat had me incredibly excited (especially considering it was $4). Leather braided buttons and thick, thick tweed with lots of little unique hints of color in it. It would have been one of those items that I'd probably only break out a couple times a year, but it would be massive.

Unfortunately, I got it home and realized that in one area on the back (closer up near the shoulder blade), there were several decent-sized moth holes that went clean through. There's enough extra fabric on the coat that I could nick some pieces off somewhere and possibly do small patches, but suddenly my dream of the overcoat lost its luster, especially considering it was a little bulky in size to begin with.

In addition to the Harris Tweed tag, it has an absolutely amazing department store tag in it, and now my thoughts have turned to other projects that could be done with it. The full circumference at the base of the coat (with inner flaps flipped out) is 68", and it's 48" in height. When you include two sleeves of 26" length and 16" circumference, there's probably somewhere in the range of nearly 3 full square yards of tweed (minus the smaller sections with the holes).

I'll have to do a little planning, but I'm thinking of doing something like this handmade patch wool scarf from the fine craftsperson at The Cordial Churchman. Mr. Affordable Wardrobe himself got crafty with something similar recently, so I can certainly draw some inspiration from one of those places.

Now, I just need to get some Singer featherweight pointers from my wife.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A hint of things to come?

Although I've run across some nicer winter items lately, a couple thrift finds from today make me think that we're on the verge of getting out of this winter funk. If not, then these items are certainly teases.

First up is a pair of Louis Raphael seersucker pants. I've been holding out for a pair in my size since last summer, and I finally ran across this nice 100% cotton pair in a 36/34 (the waist seems a bit smaller than the listed size, but that's fine by me). I know I could have just bought a pair new, but that's not really my style. Besides, these were $4, and look like they haven't been worn (although they're going to need a good steam before I break them out).

The second find (for $1) was this slick square-end tie with the department store hanger tag still on it. It's kind of a shiny woven thing that would probably work just fine during these cool months, but the blue is going to be cracking electric when the sun comes out and it finally starts to warm up.

I can feel it. Can't you?

Sorry captain, we can't save him

About a week ago, I was out looking through the racks at a local haunt when I came across an absolutely stunning vintage shirt / jacket from Timberline, a fine company known for their wool items.

I'd seen pieces like it sell for near a century note online, and when I discovered that it was nearly my size, I started doing little somersaults inside. It was only $4, and it had huge juicy green buttons and a nice blue/green and black windowpane pattern over cream that was really sharp.

Before you chastise me for not steaming prior to taking photos, please read on...

There was only one (well, more than one) problem, though. The jacket had some staining issues. Around the pockets and the bottom of the coat was dark discoloration of some sort that made me re-think buying it several times. In addition to the darker stains, there were a couple smaller (and even darker) spots at various spots on the front. Looking the jacket over, I couldn't find so much as a moth nibble, though, so I decided to spend the money in the hopes that I could somehow convince the stains to detach themselves from the garment with a couple different treatments at home.

My first attempt at removing the stains was a cold bath with shampoo and some light agitation (my usual wool washing technique). This managed to fade the discoloration a little bit, and with some more specific finger scrubbing I was able to almost completely dissolve a couple of the darker spots.

Unfortunately, a good portion of the discoloration remained, so I squeezed some dishwashing detergent into a large bucket with some hot water and tossed in the jacket, hoping to dislodge the remainder of the stains. I let it sit in the bath until the water cooled, then pulled it out and was saddened to find that the dark areas remained.

You know the look you give when you're watching a movie and a doctor or someone else is frantically giving another character (who is obviously dead) CPR, hoping against hope to bring them back to life? That's roughly the same look my wife gave me as I pulled the jacket out of its second soak and I was trying to think aloud of yet another way to remove the stains.

Yes, it's probably about time to let this one go.

I'm sure I'll try to wear it a few times while working outside on a crisp spring day, just to make myself feel like I didn't completely waste 4 dollars.

If that doesn't work, though, I'll chop those buttons off and save them for another project. They are indeed very cool.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Recent find: Vintage framed photograph

Thrift stores are a veritable treasure trove of weird art castoffs. On any given day you can run across huge framed movie posters, any number of French-cafe styled artwork from Target, random original paintings and plenty of other bizarre crap. Over the years we've found cool signed prints by lesser-known artists on the cheap, and a friend of mine even ran across a beautiful original Utagawa Hiroshige print once for a whopping $5.

Sometimes it's a simple thing that catches your eye, though, and that was the case this week with an old framed photograph.

As I mentioned above, it's nothing spectacular, but for $4 it caught my eye. It even has a bit of a personal connection as the words "Danish fisherman rescue" were scrawled on the back in pencil (my second-generation American step-father has a lot of close relatives in the old country). From the age of the print and the crazy life vests they're wearing in the picture, I'm guessing it's from the early 1900s.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Wooly for winter

The worst winter in years has decided to continue to stick around, so my wardrobe hasn't shifted a great deal over the course of the past couple weeks. The daily outfit basically consists of some sort of dark pants, a dress shirt or oxford with a tie, and a sweater of varying weight over the top.

This last week was particularly pesky, with a couple daytime highs that didn't even get close to double digits. One morning I had to take our car into the dealer to get a recall issue fixed, and the temp when I left the house was -20 (Fahrenheit) with the wind chill.

To combat this, I broke out one of my warmest combos, which included 100% wool Gap (which look nicely vintage) pants ($4) and one of my rather standard Arrow dress shirts ($1) with one of my favorite sweaters. I'm not sure why I'm so fond of the older military-style black cable wool sweater (I see them all the time, but mine was well worth the $1 I paid for it), but there it is. It has thick padded patches on the elbow and a padded area on the right breast area, as well as epaulettes on the shoulders.

By itself the sweater seems a bit on the serious side (which is perhaps obvious given it's intended purpose), so I decided to pair it with one of my more playful vintage silk ties. I'm not sure if it works. I think it does.

Even with the wind temperature what it was, I actually found myself getting slightly on the warm side as I scraped some ice of the windshield of the car before making my morning journey.

Wool. For The Win.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Objects I Love: Green ceramic birds

Although I find a good portion of the whole Art Deco aesthetic to be garish beyond belief, there were certainly design elements and flourishes of the movement that were (and are) incredibly beautiful.

Mostly, I enjoy the swooping, yet bold lines, and the focus on geometry. It's when the designers (whether it be in architecture, furniture design, or art) went overboard with sheer ornamentation that I generally found myself turning away.

That's a bit of a broad discussion to lead into a simple post on some ceramic birds, but there we go. These were picked up at a local thrift store a couple years back for under a dollar each and have lived on various shelves in our house since then.

There are several unique things about the birds, none of which make them particularly valuable or interesting, but nonetheless have always drawn my eye to them.

One is that while close, they're not perfectly symmetrical. They're just "off" enough to give them a slightly more handmade quality, which I tend to favor. Additionally, the color of the paint is amazing and works in perfect compliment to our red dining room.

The second odd thing is that although they certainly look the part (and even have a sort of bold shape that hints at it), they are not bookends. They're hollow and light and seem rather fragile, defeating ideas of placing anything of substantial weight between them.

When my wife first spotted the birds, she was incredibly excited, as they looked to have a lot of characteristics in common with the very collectible (and great) Teco art pottery. Alas, there are no markings on them, save the 98 (or is that 86?) cent prices written on the bottom in red grease pencil that we still haven't wiped off.

Like many things in our house, these probably end up falling much further to the kitsch end of the spectrum than the collectible. Trying to explain why I like them so much is much like trying to explain why a child enjoys playing with a box more than the toy that it was packaged in. Sometimes it just happens that way.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Over the years, my wife and I have found a lot of great books at thrift stores. We've picked up signed copies of antique books and nearly new copies of recently-released tomes that we'd been meaning to buy but hadn't yet gotten around to.

Then, not two weeks after starting this blog, my wife runs across the following title for a dollar and gifts it to me one evening. Coincidence? I think not.

As expected, there's a ton that I didn't know, and I've found myself guilty of trashing many of the ground rules (or at least, suggestions) within. That said, this little pocket book seems like it will be a great resource for me as I try to expand my knowledge base.

After all, it's a marathon, not a sprint.


Monday, February 8, 2010

One off: Blue gabardine suit + puppy

My wife is also an aficionado of thrift store shopping, and a part of that is a side business selling some of the things she finds in order to fund the purchase of her other clothes. I've done the same thing for years with music (buy low and sell higher to fund more purchases).

At any rate, sometimes there's an article of clothing that's close to fitting me, and I get to be the model. This particular suit was a sweet dark blue gabardine number from the 50s that ended up being just a bit too large on me. C'est la vie.

A small terrier completes the ensemble

I coupled it with one of my many skinny sharkskin ties (this one was $1) and a plain white dress shirt. Oh, and my vintage Florsheims, which were purchased for $2 and re-heeled and cleaned up for $13. Easily one of my better finds (they'll make a re-appearance later with more detailed pictures).

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sweater weather

Winter has been particularly ruthless this year in my neck of the woods, and while it would be easy for me to pile on my heaviest clothes day after day for ventures into the tundra, it simply wouldn't work for me. The main reason is that the temperature control system in the building where I work is, shall we say, charming?

Temperamental might be a better word, and because of that I've learned to not wear any one layer of clothing that is too thick in order to compensate for cold temperatures outside, because I know that once I'm inside it will often have to come off. Instead, I've taken to dressing in multi-layered outfits that can be peeled off and still look semi-respectable if I have an impromptu meeting or run into a higher-up that might wonder why I was either sweating profusely indoors on a winter day or kicking it in a white t-shirt and slacks as I wait for temperatures to stabilize.

A fairly routine outfit has become a dress shirt or an oxford of some sort coupled with a tie and a light to medium weight sweater which I then cover with a coat of varying weight depending on the temperature. If it gets hot in the office, I can take off the sweater and not look too silly, but a light breathable wool usually suffices for a wide range of temps.

Not one, but two dummys. Zing.

This week, I turned it down to brown with a pair of dark Eddie Bauer chinos ($2.00), a orangish-brown Puritan v-neck sweater ($3.00 - featured here), a cream-colored J Crew dress shirt ($1.00), and a shiny tie ($1.99) that really popped out the color in the sweater.

The tie itself had a cool enough design that I hated to hide it, but alas, I did.

I'll break this out in spring again, in full glory.

Most of my ties are silk or wool, but I've let a few synthetics slip through into the massive collection simply because there's something in the design that I love. This is one of them. And really, who am I to argue with Beau Brummell?

Just knight him already. Mr. Brummell is not to be trifled with.


Monday, February 1, 2010

The loneliness of the long-limbed thrifter

Everyone who does a majority of their clothing shopping at a thrift store knows that it's a poop shoot just about every time out. Heck, part of what makes it so fun is the thrill of the hunt and the hopes of finding something amazing in just your size for an absolute steal. It's more than a bit addictive, really.

Being a rather tall fellow, I've had issues finding clothing that fits right ever since I was a kid. For a time, it seemed like I could never find shoes large enough (I finally settled into a size 13 or 14) and sleeve lengths and inseams are a constant source of frustration.

sadly, 35 inch sleeves are too short, so this $1 BB oxford found its way into the re-trade pile

Although I've gotten much better at eyeball tests over the years, I can't count the number of times that I've pulled a pair of pants off the rack giddily and held them up to my waist, only to find that the hems hung somewhere in my lower calf area. Sometimes I'll even double-down and look inside to see if there's enough fabric to let the legs out a couple inches, only to be crushed again.

Shirts are another matter, and even more consternating than pants, as different makers vary so wildly in their sizing. I have several shirts in size 16 with 36 inch sleeves that fit remarkably, yet I've tried on others in the same size that fit nicely in the shoulders yet come up a full four inches too short in the sleeves. It's come to the point where if I find a nice shirt that actually fits, I frantically scan the rest of the store hoping that several other items arrived in the same lot (and to be fair, I've occasionally been rewarded for doing so).

Hell, we all come in different shapes and sizes, and I'm sure that just about everyone has fable-worthy stories of the unobtainables; A pair of killer pants that came up a couple inches too short; an amazing jacket with a stain that was just far too creepy to buy; the most beautiful wingtips in the world that made you reconsider the fine art of foot binding.

In the end, though, we all just go out again, hoping for the next great score.