Here's what it was like to thrift in New York

Here's what it was like to thrift in New York

Hey team - sorry for the lack of pics here, we’re just doing our best in these winter conditions! I have a shoot lined up next weekend and some of my NY purchases will be in that, so keep your peepers peeled…in the meantime, check out the NY Thrifting highlight on my Instagram page for photos of some of my finds, and for my “somewhat helpful” map and list of shops!

I promise I will stop bringing up this trip every five minutes…right after I write this one leetle blog post about what it was like to buy the secondhand clothes of American ladies.  One of the key things I wanted to do while in New York was going “thrifting”, as our buddies across the ocean call it, so I did some research in advance and blocked out some time in the itinerary and went for it.

For whatever reason, whenever I go on holiday my brain stops accepting that clothes cost real money and so I often find myself standing in fancy shops looking at dresses I’d buy in New Zealand and flinching from the price (I think this is because I have to do a currency conversion in other countries, and that focuses the mind somewhat).  I am a holiday op-shopper, and I am here to recommend it.  You go to different spots, you find awesome treasures, you meet cool people.  It’s A+.  This year I’d already thrifted in Sydney (finds included burgundy leather trousers, a white shirt with both puffy sleeves and broderie anglaise details) and Melbourne (finds included a highly embellished black angora jumper, a heavy satin shift from Cos) and was well into the swing of things.

Be prepared

The first thing to do when you’re going to a large metropolis is to do your research.  I relied on karenbritchick on Youtube in particular; I also did some Google research and relied on a bit of noseying around.  Build a list of promising shops (including their opening hours!) and then move on to step two: adding them all to your Google Map.

This is really useful, because it will allow you to create little markers on the map for each shop, which in turn will allow you to visualize the most efficient way to hit up as many shops as possible.  Once you’ve done this, you can overlay public transport lines and then find nearby cafes for a lunch or coffee break to keep you powering through.  That’s right – you are building a reasonably extreme local map so you can hit up those op shops like a ninja.

The key thing I learned in NY was to check opening hours – lots and lots of thrift stores didn’t open until 1pm and closed around 8pm.  As a New Zealander, who generally expects shops to be open between 9/10 am and 5/6 pm, these hours were a surprise.  Luckily I figured this out the night before, so no time was lost.  It ended up being perfect because it meant I could pop into Manhattan in the morning and then hook back to Brooklyn in the afternoon.

I knew I would be shopping in New York, so I also pulled a fairly extreme trick.  My carry on suitcase fits inside my full size suitcase so, on the way over, I packed my carry on, then put it inside my full size suitcase and checked it as one bag.  That’s right!  I had an entirely empty, full size suitcase when I arrived in New York.  I’m a damn genius.

Finally, dress comfortably but well.  Perhaps I am a weirdo but the people working in thrift stores in New York are extremely fashion forward and I wanted to look like I knew a look when I saw it.  I also wore a belt every time I went thrifting, by pure coincidence, and that was very handy for fitting room styling sessions.

Vintage vs Thrift

Much like in New Zealand, the market is divided pretty clearly between “vintage” and “thrift”.  The thrift stores (amongst which I count Crossroads and Goodwill) sell mostly contemporary fashion, with a few more vintage items in the mix.  The prices are lower than the curated vintage stores, but still very high by Wellington standards.  I had factored this in, thanks to my research step, but was still surprised by just how much you might be charged for some fairly average stuff.  

The volume of second hand clothes available in New York is just…crazy.  There are hundreds of items in stores which, thankfully, are generally sorted by size (and item – so all the shirts are together and then sorted by size).  The shoes are sorted by size too, which is wonderful because it prevents you from the surge of hope when you see an amazing pair…only to discover they are two sizes too small (*cries*). 

Ultimately, the volume really worked in my psychological favour, because I felt like there was so much opportunity to find really amazing things that I didn’t go too fast on my purchases.  In fact, at one point I seriously questioned whether I had needed to bring a second suitcase (surprise! I did).

The vintage was, also similarly to New Zealand, demarcated along “vintage” stuff from the 90s (no shade, but that is not vintage) and actual proper vintage.  The latter was far more expensive (think hundreds of US dollars) but was extremely fabulous.  I touched all of it.  I tried on one outfit that I was supremely tempted by, but in the end I passed on USD235 for a dress and coat.  I don’t regret it.

It’s really clear in the Google results for each store what exactly you can expect.  I focused on thrift rather than vintage, because my first priority with vintage stuff is New Zealand made vintage. 

What I bought (and what I did not)

I really wanted to buy fun things that I would be able to wear for a long time, which would remind me of this trip and which I either couldn’t easily get at home or which would be excellent buys regardless.  From memory/my insta highlights, here’s my list of what I picked up:

A pretty shirt from Maje (fancy) that I can wear all year round

A plain black pleated skirt

A pair of olive green dupion silk trousers that fit perfectly

A pinstriped denim wrap shirt with white floral embroidery (sounds mad, is great)

Hot pink dupion silk dress and matching jacket

Silk jacket in blue with cream and olive embroidery

Slinky long sleeve Anna Sui x Urban Outfitters top in a very 90s print

Liberty print cotton button down shirt

Blue Calvin Klein shirt in a heavy drapey satin with a pussy bow

A silky summer dress (sorry, in summer storage, can’t even tell you the brand)

A sparkly Cynthia Rowley sweater

A brand new tshirt from Nordstrom with a hazy rose print all over it

This list is no surprise to me – an unnecessary weighting towards shirts and tops.  If I buy any more of those pleated skirts I love I will, in fact, turn into a pleated skirt.  There’s always one strong gamble item – in this case, the silky dress, which has a pretty scandalous cut and I do not know where I think I will be wearing it.   The dress and jacket were in rough-seeming condition but have now been drycleaned and are well worth the $30 NZ I spent on them.

(Also, if this list seems long to you, please know I rejected about four times as many items again.)

Surprisingly, I didn’t buy a single bag or pair of shoes (the latter makes me sad) and I didn’t buy any jewellery.  I looked at a lot of bags and shoes, but the options just weren’t great.  I have a very common shoe size so I think while there were lots of shoes, they were all heavily worn.  And I always struggle with bags at second hand shops.  There are some gems out there for sure, but it’s so unreliable.   

Regrets/what I would do differently

There’s only one item I regret not buying, and that’s an INSANE gold vintage coat I tried on.  I rejected it because it had a split seam in one armpit that I didn’t think I could repair, but now I realise I should have bought it anyway (for approximately $40 NZ) and if it couldn’t be saved, just removed both sleeves and worn it as a long vest.  Damn it, past Megan.

I didn’t go to L Train Vintage, which annoys me because I know it is meant to be great and I just totally blanked on it.  I probably could have just done with another half day of thrifting overall, but I didn’t want to give too much time to fossicking around in abandoned clothes – you only get to New York from time to time, and there is far more interesting stuff to see.

I really wanted to find a vintage trouser suit in New York, which I didn’t manage to track down.  I probably should have planned for this specific item, instead of planning geographically, because if I’d spent a day focusing on shops that were likely to sell vintage suits I’d probably own one now.  Again, it kind of stopped being a priority once I was in New York (hot, summery) and then I got home and rued my own foolishness.  Ah well.  

All in all, thrifting in New York was great fun – mostly, I just feel great that my curiosity has been assuaged!  Yes, there were more clothes and therefore there were more finds, but I guess because I have had some awesome finds in New Zealand over the years I don’t feel like it was so supremely better than what we have here.  I mean, I definitely plan to return to New York at some stage, and I will definitely go thrifting there again, but until then…I no longer lie in bed at night and dream of hoards of vintage.