The Fabric Forest

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A thrift store is a naturally dynamic world, with a constant influx of the unknown and an incessant purging of the unwanted. Any moment may yield a glimmer of Fendi drowning in an ocean of Gap, everything marked $3.99. The objective is to find the glimmer.

Entering the fabric forest stirs the primal instincts. There is something about sifting through acres of clothing that triggers an unbreakable state of flow. Time warps, the background subsides, and the static of my internal narration dissipates. The adrenaline rush funnels the entirety of my concentration into the hunt. The sensation is invigorating, yet soothing. The Zen of foraging transcends any previous worries and becomes my purpose.

Secondhand shopping is the culmination of my passions: planning, fashion, and saving money. I’ve been obsessed with frugality since I was old enough to set foot in a store: my mother trained me to refuse retail and relish scavenging Macy’s for 80%-off steals. But I eclipsed her prudence when the book Secondhand Chic introduced me to thrifting. I discovered that I could acquire designer duds at unbelievable prices. It was the dawn of an enhanced lifestyle; I understood the potential of every dollar. My fingers drift through the aisles, scanning the surface of the fabric, testing the weave of the fiber, and grasping for the subtle cues of quality. While I can power through rayon blindfolded, I admit that the shades of smooth in worsted wool still elude me. So when touch fails, I look to sight. The most apparent sign of mediocrity is a lack of effort in orienting and aligning patterns, particularly pinstripes. For denim, an underbelly of unruly hemming is a reflexive rejection. I admire superior construction because it translates into a supple, second-skin fit that Forever 21 can only materialize as a scanty corset. And the irresistible prices only intensify the allure. The mere prospect can compel me to tread five miles through a heat wave, satisfying hunger and exhaustion with zealous anticipation.

After years of experimentation, I’ve cultivated the perfect weekly schedule. Mondays demand a trek to St. Vincent’s, as tags of the oldest color drop to $1.20, regardless of whether the item is Esprit or Lanvin. Tuesday mornings are prime time to (literally) burrow through the West Hollywood 2 Dollar Store’s latest mountain of liquidated film apparel. Holidays are when consignment stores have sales, though I never attend because being spoon-fed bargains is no fun. Weekends are irrefutably garage sale days, the ideal neighborhoods being Beverley Hills, Marina Del Ray, and Silver Lake. Glassel Park’s flagship Goodwill has an unpredictable outlet where clothing is sold $1.49/pound, but competition is fierce; the little-known paradox is that the ostensibly pricier retail side is more time and value efficient. The secret is to respond to new arrivals first, and then scourge through outerwear, denim, dresses, and sweaters (in that order). I was in disbelief when I scored prime access to a fresh rack of Burberry Brit, lustily tagged $5.49. In stark disbelief — until I realized they were men’s shirts.

Though less euphoric than thrifting, reselling sharpens my marketing skills. After outwearing an item, I return it to the cycle of reuse. Effective selling demands quality products, thorough research of market value, inspiring prose, artistic photos, and Zappos-level customer service. Not to mention a roomful of boxes and bubble wrap.

Although I’ve toyed with the notion of becoming a secondhand personal shopper, I imagine that the thrill could expire; the fun would become routine, and I’d lack direction. Although I haven’t settled on a lifetime cause to champion yet, I plan to channel my talents into a social enterprise. I’ll utilize my financial resourcefulness to source furnishings from estate sales, outwait customer service to negotiate discounts, and collect coupons until my interns are off their ramen diet. Strategizing and micromanaging every avenue to success ensures the utmost efficiency. But regardless of my successes or failures, my foremost aim will always be to spread the kind of jubilation I felt scoring Escada for $5.

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