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I see very few men at the Salvation Army store in my hometown. The ones I do see usually have something absurd draped over their arm—say a retro red vinyl jacket or a pair of chartreuse and seasick-green checked pants—and it amuses me. Obviously, these boys are dressing up for some costume party. Or maybe they want to be subversive, but usually they just look like dorks.
Anyway, this isn’t for them.
This is for the men who shop at Salvation Army for much of their serious wardrobe. Whether it’s biz-cazh, cazh-cazh, or formal wear, here is your guide to the exciting world of thrifting.
It can take a long time to sift through all the shirts, but stick with it. You can usually find something good, because there are countless sexually repressed men in this country who are very sensitive about a shirt’s color or pattern.
If it’s an Oxford or other button-up you’re after, check the buttons. Give them a quick tug and make sure they’re all there. Unless you are good with a needle and thread, or you know a good woman who likes doing that sort of work, abandon any shirt with a button disability. It will only let you down.
Also, check for sweat stains along the pits and collar, as well as cigarette burn holes and other discolorations. Mind you, the sweat stains might be absent, but the shirt can still smell funky. So be brave and stick your nose up in there to make sure. If you can’t bleach the shirt, you will never be rid of the smell. The same admonition applies to sport jackets and suits.
Sweaters appear in abundance and many are still in good shape. You will just have to ask yourself why that sweater was ditched, because, reader, I can never instill in you good taste. Wool sweaters, especially merino, tend to pucker down by the waist, and many at S.A. suffer from this malady.
For my money, the Salvation Army is the best place to find vintage clothing, and especially t-shirts. Consequently, I avoid “vintage stores,” which often try to sell me a Cheap Trick t-shirt for $75. I also avoid fake vintage. For instance:
The price? $50.00 for a new vintage Red Wing t-shirt at NHL.com.
Cf. the $2.00 real vintage Red Wing t-shirt my friend found for me at S.A:
The search for pants challenges the thrifter far more than the search for shirts does. Good jeans, for instance, are extremely rare (unless you like 40-inch-waist bellbottoms). I’m not saying don’t look; just don’t get your hopes up. I think most men wear out their good pairs of jeans, and their wives feel bad about dumping them on thrift stores. Consequently, I buy my jeans new.
On the other hand, searching the khaki and slack racks can lead to great buys. My true inseam is only 27 inches long. I don’t know if that is long or short for my height (5’6″), but it is damn near impossible to find slacks with less than a 30 inch inseam in a typical retailer. Not so at the Salvation Army. All manner of altered and tailored slacks are available. You just have to try on a few pairs to get lucky, and in my experience, you make your own luck. And reader, you should always try it on.
Write that down: Always try it on.
I am fundamentally opposed to ties. Still, sometimes I have to wear one just like any other schmuck. It astounds me how quickly ties go out of style, and nothing reveals this more than a look at Salvo’s tie selection. Last year’s “power ties” are at their last pit stop before the dump, and that’s how it should stay. Don’t be fooled.
That said, you can often find a traditional red, blue or black tie lurking unnoticed at the back of the tie racks. If the tie looks nice still—and don’t count on this happening very often—you will have found a useful, formal tie that will look good for a long time.
Bring cash, unless you know your local store takes credit/debit cards.
Don’t be in a hurry. You won’t ever find anything good that way.
If you do happen to be in a hurry, then always get behind the youngest customer at the check out. The older ones will haggle over a quarter.
And whatever you do, don’t let something go if you really want it. You might not believe it, but I’ve had folks try to take stuff out of my cart or off my arm, claiming they had found it first and that I stole it. Don’t let them bully you, stiff-arm you, or otherwise inspire you with fear if you don’t give them what you rightfully found. Just tell them “tough tiddy” and be off. Or go tell the manager.