Tuesday, September 8, 2009


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Thanks so much for being a part of the Thrift Store Confidential Team!
See you soon and Happy Saving!

All best,

Friday, April 10, 2009

Austere Times? Perfect.


The New York Times
Published: April 10, 2009

Full Story

SAN FRANCISCO — Millions of Americans have trimmed expenses because they have had their jobs or hours cut, or fear they will. But a subset of savers are reducing costs not just with purpose, but with relish. These are the gleefully frugal.

“I’m enjoying this,” said Becky Martin, 52, who has cut up her 10 credit cards, borrows movies from the library instead of renting them, and grows her own fruits and vegetables — even though her family is comfortable.

Ms. Martin is a real estate investor, her husband is a plastic surgeon, and their home sits on the 12th hole of a Cincinnati country club.

“It’s a chance to pass along the frugal lifestyle that my mother gave to me,” she says, noting that her sensibilities seem to be rubbing off not just on her sons, but also on her husband. “We’re on the same page financially for the first time in years, and it’s fabulous.”

Americans’ spending is down and their personal savings are up — sharply. The savings rate in the United States, which had fallen steadily since the early 1980s, dropped to less than 1 percent in August of 2008. It has since spiked to 5 percent.

“It’s huge,” said Martha Olney, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in the Great Depression, consumerism and indebtedness. The rapid reversal is even more remarkable, she said, because in recessions consumers usually save less money. Not this time. “It implies a re-emergence of thrift as a value,” she said.

The gleefully frugal happily seek new ways to economize and take pride in outsaving the Joneses. The mantra is cut, cut, cut — magazine and cable subscriptions, credit cards, fancy coffee drinks and your own hair.

In San Francisco, Cooper Marcus, 36, has started choosing recipes based on the ingredients on sale at the market. Mr. Marcus canceled the family’s subscription to Netflix, his premium cable package and a wine club membership. He uses a program on his iPhone to find the cheapest gas and drives out of his way to save 50 cents per gallon.

“It seems a little crazy,” he laughs, then adds: “I’m frugal and loving it.”

Kellee Sikes, 37, a consultant in Kirkwood, Mo., no longer uses paper napkins. Ms. Sikes uses organic cloth ones until they get threadbare and then uses them as cleaning rags. When they are no longer useful, she puts them in the in-ground waste composter in the backyard. She plans to start burying her dogs’ feces there, which saves on the cost of sending refuse to a landfill.

“I recently heard a phrase: ‘Never waste a crisis,’ ” Ms. Sikes said. “I love it. This is a chance for us to re-examine what’s important.”

Indeed, the recession has given penny pinchers — once closeted in a society that valued what one had, not what one saved — license to speak up.

“There is no joy in other people suffering, but this validates the choices I’ve made,” said Vicki Robin, author of “Your Money or Your Life,” a guide to saving money that was a best seller in the 1990s and was re-released last year.

Currently, there are dozens of Web sites and blogs devoted to celebrating conspicuous cutting, like Dollar Stretcher (www.stretcher.com), All Things Frugal (allthingsfrugal.com), Frugal Mom (www.frugalmom.net), and on and on. The Web site meetup.com, which helps people of like interests gather offline, lists 57 “frugal living” groups around the country, including eight formed in February and nine in March.

One part of the gleefully frugal movement, frugalistas — frugal fashionistas who refuse to sacrifice style — may have been popularized in Britain before crossing the Atlantic. But Americans have taken it on as their own.

A Virginia group, the Frugal and Fabulous Moms, tells prospective members: “If you are a coupon-clipping, deal-seeking, stylish and fabulous mom that loves a great deal, then this group is for you!”

A San Francisco group met one Sunday last month for an exercise in fashion frugality: a clothing swap. About 80 women exchanged clothing, shoes and accessories and they are planning another event for April 20 where they hope to have 400 participants.

“When a woman gets a compliment on a dress she got at a swap or the Salvation Army, she feels almost proud,” said Suzanne Agasi, organizer of the event and operator of the Web site clothingswaps.com. People at the event “feel like they’ve scored,” she said.

“My behavior has become less strange and more of a resource,” said Katy Wolk-Stanley, 41, a nurse in Portland, Ore. A practicing penny-pincher for the last decade, she is now spreading her gospel. Last May, she started a blog with tips and tactics for cutting back called The Non-Consumer Advocate.

She knows whereof she blogs. She darns socks, dries clothes on a line she recently hung inside her house (even though it takes a few days for the clothes to dry inside), washes and reuses plastic bags and takes used clothes and furniture people leave on the street — like the slightly torn Garnet Hill duvet cover she found recently.

“It was wet, and covered with dog hair,” she said. “I washed it really well a couple of times and mended it.” Her quest for money-saving ideas “is very energizing,” she says. “You see opportunities everywhere.”

Ms. Wolk-Stanley says she is not cheap. She’s sensible. Why spend on new things when there are viable alternatives? And she contends she does not judge others.

“If everyone followed this advice, it would be catastrophic to the economy,” she said.

Indeed, economists call it the Paradox of Thrift. While saving is desirable, if everyone does it then consumption falls, businesses fail and the economy grinds to a halt. Professor Olney, from Berkeley, said that the increased rate of savings would most likely slow down the pace of recovery but she also said that a higher savings rate was not inconsistent with a strong economy; from the 1950s to the early 1980s, the savings rate hovered around 9 percent, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Although the children of the Great Depression raised the spendthrift baby boom generation, Ms. Martin, from Ohio, echoes other penny pinchers in hoping that the recession spawns a new generation of frugality. Already, her 14-year-old son has picked up her lead. “He is not beyond stopping and pulling things out from someone’s trash,” she said. He found one sectional sofa left on the sidewalk that he resold on the Internet for $200.

“I’m very proud of him.”

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Design on a Dime Opening Night Reception
Thursday, May 07, 2009 at 6:00 PM
The Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 West 18th Street

Be the first to shop from
rooms created by more than 40 of
the country's finest designers

Housing Works Thrift Shops’ 5th Annual Design on a Dime fundraising event will kick off with a VIP reception on May 7th, from 6–9 pm at the Metropolitan Pavilion (125 West 18th Street) Guests will get the first public look at the room vignettes, enjoy exclusive preview shopping, cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and live entertainment.

Featuring a special appearance by Jaclyn Smith and Ty Pennington.

Visit the website for more information!


TSC INSIDER TIP: Now, it is true that tickets to this shindig start at $150 a pop, and most TSC readers, myself included, can't afford such a steep price. Yes, it's going to fabulous and full of glitterati, and all the proceeds go to a fantastic cause. However, for those of us who won't be attending, didja know that there's a free public sale THE NEXT DAY?!

Design on a Dime Free Public Sale

Friday, May 8 - Saturday, May 9

The Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 West 18th Street

Shop spectacular rooms by the country’s top designers. Featuring brand new housewares, furniture, linens, and furniture, all available at charitable prices.

Open both friday and saturday, 10am – 6pm.

Linkage here!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Joanie Loves Tchotchkes!


When I was 19, a rebellious wild-haired thing in central Oklahoma, I stood in my dear friend Jerry’s kitchen, nursing strong black coffee in a large Mexican mug, looking around at strangely carved wooden things, old tins and antique ceramics that held spices, cutlery and exotic wooden spoons. The rugs were old Navajo, and the plates were mismatched bone china. In short, gorgeous. Jerry’s one of the most well-traveled, and most stylish bohemians I have ever known. His dinner parties were things of legend, and everyone envies his easy, laid-back aesthetic. At that moment, my concept of the world being larger was suddenly tangible; each piece reflected part of Jerry’s personality and his travels. To my mind, this personal, carefully-cultivated eclectic expression will always beat the hell out of the pristine, cookie-cutter “aesthetic” that now enjoys such ubiquity. Jerry took me to Dallas to nose around thrift and pawn shops, and my love for collecting my own treasures began.

Over the years, my favorite homes, and I mean in every demographic, from poor artists to the obscenely wealthy, have shared this personal cultivation of treasures. Some can afford to ship back textiles and furnishings from their travels, and others (like me) (for now), are completely satisfied picking up little knickknacks that remind them of a beautiful place or moment.

Once these treasures begin infiltrating your home, I’ve found that there’s a definite yen for more. Suddenly, the round white lamp from Target or Macy’s doesn't seem so appealing. The Ikea plates seem somehow less, um personal.

Enter your local Thrift Store!

Alongside the antique Chicory and coffee tins I bought in Aix-en-Provence sit several lovely little American tins from Angel Street and OKC’s Junior League. My buffalo lamp from Westport is a huge prize. As I look around my (small) but lovingly developed little apartment in NYC’s Upper East Side, so many items have come from thrift stores, well, I could open my own. (But don’t touch my buffalo lamp!)

Granted, being chockablock with tchotchkes doesn’t turn everyone on. And there is such a thing as going too far, to be sure. However, don’t discount eclectic little treasures. At your next soiree, instead of paper plates or run-of-the-mill plates, try setting your table with mismatched china and a funky vase full of peonies. Collect little frames and paint them all the same color (glossy white or matte black, red lacquer or gunmetal gray?) to create an instant, elegant display for your photos. Antique tins and canisters don’t have to stay in the kitchen – they can hold car keys, spare change, cotton balls, sewing supplies – use your imagination! Crazy little lamps may look horrible in their current state of, well, avocado, but a fresh coat of glossy paint and a new shade can make even an ugly hula dancer look like a chic statement. Embroidered sheets can be made into lovely, sweet pillows, and stacks of old books make beautiful bedside tables.

The point is, before you spend hundreds of dollars to make your rooms look like pages in a catalogue, use your noodle at your local thrift store, and make your home, well, your own.

Thanks for following, and please post your own photos!
All the best,

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Introduction to Thrift Store Shopping

Thrift Store Confidential's Guide to Shopping in Thrift Stores

No matter what part of our social spectrum you inhabit, you’ve no doubt at least felt a twinge of curiosity when passing your local thrift shop. A part of you may feel uncomfortable, in the “by the grace of God there go I” kind of way. Some of you may even feel lured by the little antique you saw in the window, but shiver at the thought of walking in. There are probably horrible things in there. Somebody from your local PTA may see you. The cashier looks like an inmate. You might get cooties. Whatever the reason, you’ve never walked in.

Now, however, as the economic crisis touches every family (and we all have to buckle down and notice every dollar’s worth), there may be a renewed interest in slyly discovering what second hand shopping is all about.

I’ve already addressed, in several posts now, how to shop for specific items. But this one’s about actually walking in the door.

Granted, not all thrift stores have the beautifully selected items that places in New York City like Housing Works and Angel Street do. The local Salvation Army and Goodwill may look like a foreboding, fluorescent prison laundry. The cashier may well be a recent parolee, and the entire store may look like the photo at left. EEEEK!

However, there’s good to be had and treasures to discover, no matter where you are!

Today I’ll use as an example a subject of one of my forthcoming webisodes. Let’s take Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style as our roadmap. Tim (and I dearly love this kind-hearted, tasteful soul), has wisely discovered that women need only a few basics in their wardrobe, what he calls his “10 Essential Elements.” Not everyone can afford to walk into Macy’s and scoop these pieces off the racks.

With an open mind, I’d like you to consider taking a couple of hours and Tim’s list to your local thrift store, just to look at the possibilities. It’s a game, with no downside. You don’t have to buy anything, and there’s no pressure. Just take a look.

The list is below, and it’s brilliant. With these pieces, you can look pulled together and feel more confident in any situation. I’ve made a few notes after each item that will help you in your hunt for these items second hand.

But first, let’s talk a little about walking in the door and getting over the psychological roadblocks of second hand shopping.

I grew up in Oklahoma City, during the height of the oil boom. Everywhere were instant millionaires, with the most fashionable women shopping at upscale boutiques like Big Daddy Rat’s and Baliette’s, and getting their hair done at Johnny’s Wash & Wad. It seemed everyone was a cross between “Urban Cowboy” and “Dynasty.” During all of this, my mother, really one of the most gorgeous and graceful women to ever plant her feet on red dirt, was a divorcee with four children to raise. She worked as a legal secretary for the State Attorney General’s Office, and I (and everyone else) marveled at her classic style. However, money was always, ALWAYS an issue, a precious spice that was used sparingly, and only when necessary. We saved quarters for laundry day and hit every garage and estate sale in Nichols Hills (the upscale neighborhood at the time).

Mom shopped in thrift stores, and took me with her. Since the age of 4 I’ve been able to tell the difference between cashmere and angora, wool and polyester, and it’s a skill I can’t thank her enough for now that I’m on my own.

By the time I hit puberty, I was deathly embarrassed at having to go with her, afraid that some kid from school would see us and use it as another reason to torture me. Worse yet, what if I showed up at school wearing another kid’s clothes?! MELTDOWN! It wasn’t easy for Mom, either; trying to maintain a low profile with a chunky, surly girl throwing fits in the parking lot was a challenge!

Long story short, we made it through the tough times, Mom looking amazing, and me, well, if not deliriously happy, at least well-clothed. What made this possible was my mother’s critical eye for quality and her fierce determination to make the best of her situation.

This is what I’m hoping to pass onto you. In Oklahoma City, a shop owner told me that she has a few clients who insist on either parking in the back, OR coming in after hours so that no one will see them shopping!

To my mind, this is ridiculous. If you are savvy enough to stretch your budget by shopping second hand, there is no shame in it. Especially now. In today’s economy, being creatively frugal is one of the most desirable traits you can have!

If this has at least swayed you even a smidge, read on, brave warrior. Here’s how to start.

1. Walk in the front door. You can bring a little bag of clothing you no longer want or need with you to donate; the trip has already been worthwhile, as not only will you get a tax-deductible receipt, but you’ll also feel great with the knowledge that someone, somewhere, will be ever so grateful to have something from your closet.

2. Just IN CASE, wear leggings and a fitted tank top under your clothing so that you can slip in and out of anything you might like to try on without getting buck nekkid in the often ill-equipped dressing rooms. Bring a pair of footies or knee-highs to try on shoes, if you find a pair of boots or shoes you might like. You might also bring antibacterial hand gel in case you get the heebie jeebies.

3. Print out Tim’s list below, and begin perusing the racks. This is just a game, mind you. A game that engages your creativity and sense of discovery, and that’s good for your brain. There’s no obligation to buy a single thing!

4. Finally, once you’ve finished, no matter your experience, come here and tell us all about it! I want to hear everything from success to horror stories, and your input will help hundreds of people who are looking at the same thing!

I’m here for you, and I’m rooting for you!
Talk soon and all best,

Adapted for THRIFT STORE CONFIDENTIAL™ shoppers!

1. Basic Black Dress - The basic black dress has been around for a long time. It is often called the "Little Black Dress", and it's true that shorter skirts on the basic black dress, when they hit you in the right place, can be more flattering than a long black dress.

TSC TIPS: Pull out a few dresses in your size. Weed out the ones that are poorly made. Don’t let little things like broken zippers, fallen hems, or unflattering lengths dissuade you. These are easy and inexpensive fixes. Does the dress fit? Does it hug your curves elegantly? Can you reach, bend over, and sit while wearing it? Is the fabric of good quality? If so, you might have a winner! If not, keep looking. If you don’t find anything, move onto the next item on the list!

2. Trench Coat - The trench coat is one of the pieces that is both classic and currently a hot fashion item. Most any store sells this piece now. It is great for fall and you can pick it up in a wide range of lengths.

TSC TIPS: No, you cannot wear trench coat three sizes too big for you! I don’t care if it’s a classic Burberry; if you’re a 10 and it’s a 14, it’s not for you. (Though it might be an easy eBay sale!) For women, look for trenches that fall just past the knee. The shoulders should hit at your natural shoulder, the cuffs just below your wrist. Rips and tears at the seams are easy fixes; rips and tears on the body of the fabric are not. Is the lining in good condition? Linings can be expensive to replace, but it’s not impossible if it’s the coat of your dreams. Don’t be afraid of bright colors or vintage pieces – if the cut is sharp and looks good on you, it can be a kicky, lovely addition to your spring wardrobe!

3. Dress Pants - Although it doesn't say black, this is probably what you want to look for. Black is flattering on all figures and goes with everything.

TSC TIPS: Dress pants are kind of fun to shop for; pull out a few pairs, in black, in your size. Check the fabric for rips, stains or threadbare areas. Ideally, you’ll find a pair of lightweight wool pants that flatter your figure. If you have to do the suck in dance to button them, leave them alone. If they fit in your hips and thighs but are too large in the waist, it’s an easy fix! If they’re just too long, this is also not a problem for your local tailor. If they’re too short, check to see how much fabric is under the hem – many times they can be let down!

4. Classic Shirt - The white shirt is a definite classic. But it can also come in many different styles to make it look trendy and not dated or like a man's piece of clothing. Find one that accentuates your best attributes and minimizes trouble spots. For example, if you have wide shoulders, stay away from large collars.

TSC TIPS: For a classic shirt, again pull a few options in your size. Shirts right now are fairly fitted, so it may be wise to look for shirts that have a bit of stretch. Weed out the items that have set-in stains at the color or underarms (although a good soak in a solution of Clorox and Biz bleach will do wonders for white cotton!) If it’s a beautiful shirt but just missing a couple of buttons, that’s no problem. Make sure it fits across the bust and shoulders!

5. Jeans - Everyone has a pair of jeans, but does everyone have a pair of jeans that make them look great? The wider leg, low-rise jean style has been popular (and still is) but a narrower leg is coming back along with a higher waist, which eliminates the unflattering "muffin top" look.

TSC TIPS: Jeans can be tricky, but not impossible. Look for either white, black or darker rinses, as faded jeans can look awfully faded by the time the shop gets them! Again, find a few pairs in your size, check for rips, tears and stains, then try them on. Tiny back pockets look terrible on everyone, but gaps in the waist and excess length can be easily fixed.

6. Any Occasion Top - Find something you look great in that can look respectable under a jacket but bring on the fun after hours.

TSC TIPS: Here’s where it’s fun to look at vintage pieces – they’re often made extremely well with durable natural fabrics, and, when paired with classic pieces, make a kicky and modern statement. Again, check for size, fit, color, rips, stains and anything else not easily remedied by your local cleaner or tailor.

7. Skirt - If you need dress pants then you also need a skirt. A skirt is womanly and can be flirty or businesslike. Nowadays women do not wear many skirts or dresses, which makes a lot of them fall into a rut of dressing sloppily or like men. See number 8.

TSC TIP: For the sake of our adventure, look at pencil or A-line skirts, which are flattering on most figures. Skirts should hit at just above or just below the knee, and should fall nicely across your curves, rather than choking them or falling like sad drapery. Fastenings like zippers and buttons are easy fixes, as are hems. As always, check for fit and quality of fabric.

8. Day Dress - Women also are not wearing as many dresses anymore. It was certainly liberating to go from the '50s when women wore dresses every day to wearing more practical pants for gardening, exercising, and so forth. But the dress does not have to be abandoned altogether. They can be very flattering, and there is nothing wrong with "dressing up" for daytime.

TSC TIP: A belted shirt dress is often a fine option here, as are vintage dresses. A vintage dress is often well made, well tailored, and, when paired with modern accessories, absolutely stunning. Have an open mind and pull out a few options, again checking for fabric condition and quality. Hem length, pulled seams and fastenings (zippers, buttons, clasps) are easy and inexpensive fixes.

9. Jacket - A jacket does not have to be masculine. Find one with a proper, fitted shape. Women's jackets should follow the silhouette of a woman's body and accent the hourglass curve at her waist. It is also a perfect piece to put with the skirt or dress pants, and white shirt. Or make it casual with a pair of jeans.

TSC TIP: Take a look at my post on “JACKETS AND BLAZERS” for in-depth advice on these pieces!

10. Sweatsuit Alternative - As mentioned before, women wear fewer skirts and dresses these days. But some women have taken casual to the extreme and spend days on end in sweatsuits. It is possible to be casual and comfortable without looking like a slob. Find a comfortable material (that's why this doesn't say jeans again – denim is not as comfortable as a nice soft cotton) that you would want to wear every day. It could be khakis, cords, a cotton dress, or much more.

TSC TIP: Here, the sky is the limit. Check for khakis, using the “dress pants” tips above, or cotton/jersey dresses that can be belted and worn with flats or heels. Use your imagination, and your good judgment!

Most importantly, HAVE FUN, keep an open mind, and realize that by perusing these second hand racks, you’re doing yourself, and your community, an incredibly good service!

All the best,

Friday, March 13, 2009

Maintaining a Positive Outlook

This post is a little off topic, but I think it's pretty important, and actually integral to the spirit of Thrift Store Confidential.

Maintaining a positive outlook during prolonged crisis is one of the trickiest things to do. Every ounce of media is focused on our recession; some of my favorite chain stores are e-mailing me several times a day, it seems, with a new sale or markdown special, the Glamazines are full of articles on "Budget Finds!" (only $220 for an organic t-shirt? Really?) and literally every person I know is worried about their job stability. Overnight, it seems, costs of basic necessities are going through the roof, and the national sense of outrage at the people who have profited from years of bilking consumers is at an all-time high. (Thank you, Jon Stewart!)

Deep breath.

It’s everywhere, this panic. It seems that no one is immune to it; my friends are artists, bankers, accountants and designers, and despite the disparity in occupation and lifestyle, everyone is in the same basic place – it’s a feeling of freefall and abject anxiety.

What the hell does this have to do with shopping in thrift stores?

Well, it’s about seeing the world differently than you used to. It’s about engaging your creativity, which responds beautifully to even the smallest effort. Especially in what Shakespeare called “these lean and pursy times,” the world is not going to step up and hand you a lovely life on a silver platter. This short time of ours is largely what we make of it, and what we make of it depends largely on our outlook.

There's an enormous shift in the paradigm of life as we know it; the status quo that was...no longer applies. I predict that tiny, heretofore unrecognized acts of selflessness and community will begin to occur, because, well, it makes us feel better to be connected to something during a time of crisis.

So. If you have some free time, why not take a little bag of used clothing to DONATE to your local thrift store, and while you’re there, take a look around. Someone, somewhere, will be grateful to have things that you no longer want or need, and maybe you’ll find some little something that pleases you in a retail therapy sort of way, without the extreme guilt of a shopping spree.

Sometimes the smallest things can make the largest difference.

More to come.
All best,

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Today I want you to consider looking at shoes in thrift stores.

I know what you may be thinking. “Eeew! Somebody else’s feet have been in those!” While this is certainly true, would you feel the same if they were classic Chanel pumps, amazing Louboutin sandals or just totally sassy Halston wedges? For SEVENTEEN DOLLARS?

Maybe not.

Truth be told, we all have our breaking point. I know men who have scorned thrift stores for being what they see as “desperately low class,” who change their tunes in a heartbeat when they realize that there’s an Armani jacket on the racks!

I spoke to a friend the other day; she’s a recent thrift store convert, or what I like to call a “Second Hand Virgin.” She’s a drop dead gorgeous actress; the kind you totally envy: intelligent, calm, savvy, and always beautifully put together. Last week, she bragged to me about her experience with buying a pair of shoes at Housing Works.

She said, proudly, “I was sort of walking through the shoes, thinking, 'eew'. Then I saw a beautiful pair of Italian lambskin pumps in my size (she’s like a 6, God bless her), and I thought “how many times have I been in shows where costume designers have put me into used shoes, which I have happily worn?” She said she thought of me at that moment, and got over herself and bought the shoes! Not only did she buy them, she absolutely rocks them.

So. Down to brass tacks. How exactly do you shop for second hand shoes?

First, don’t be like me. Granted, my closet is full of Chanel, Prada, Louboutin, Blahnik and Choo, but half of the beautiful little monsters don’t quite fit. I can’t stand to see them sitting there, whimpering on the racks, so I buy them. I’m an 8, and I own more shoes than I care to admit, in sizes ranging from 7 to 9 ½! I do have a great cobbler and a (VITAL ACCESSORY) shoe stretcher, so some of them actually do work. But for the most part, they’re just window dressing, yearning for someone to take them out to play.

To begin, scout around with an open mind, bring a pair of knee highs (or grab a pair of footies next time you're in a shoe store), and see what's out there. Once a pair of little lovelies catches your eye, ask yourself these questions:

1. Are they in style? Right now, for spring, we’re looking at dressy pumps, sweet flats and wedges, in nudes, metallics and bright colors in ladylike shapes. Don’t discount vintage. They’re edgy and can pull together an outfit in a flash. Maud Frizon are some of my faves.

2. Do they fit?! Well, Duh, but you'd be surprised at the amount of pain a "nearly comfortable" pair of shoes can cause after a couple of hours. If they’re just a little tight through the instep or toes, [[[INSIDER TIP TIME!]]] Buy a shoe stretcher and a can of “shoe stretch” from your local cobbler, let them stretch overnight, and voila! New shoes. If they're too short lengthwise, move on.

However, if they’re too BIG, you’re in a tricky spot, but not impossible. If they’re peep toes or sandals, you may have to just leave them for the next savvy shopper. Short of paying $25 to have the soles shortened at the toes (which, by the way, can be done), you’re out of luck. However, if they’re only a smidge too big, Foot Petals (or your drugstore alternative) make a wide array of products, like toe, heel and strap pads, that can help out. Blisters are awful things, though, so choose carefully.

3. Are they in decent shape? Are they structurally sound but just need a little cosmetic repair? Great. I always buy scads of leather insoles (either by Tacco or when I travel to Spain) to keep on hand and just drop them into my new finds for a pair that are automatically refreshed. Heels and heel caps aren’t a big deal, and can be replaced for very little dinero. If they’re made of fabric, check to make sure there are no noticeable rips or tears. If they’re leather but look a little drab, remember that they can be shined and touched up by your friendly neighborhood cobbler for just a few bucks. But, if the heels are wobbly or the seams are coming apart, best to just move on.

4. Can you walk in them? This may seem like a fairly stupid question, but c’mon, ladies. You know you’ve shoved your feet into at least one pair of new, beautiful little monsters thinking “I’ll wear them to dinner with that little black dress!” but they never seem to make it out the door. (In your heart, you know you’ll break your ankles.) The same rules apply here. I don’t care how beautiful they are – if you can’t walk in them, and you already have a couple of pair of what I’ll discreetly call “boudoir shoes,” just pass.

5. Finally, a word for men. Men actually WEAR their shoes until they’re, well, dead. It’s rare to find a pair of men’s shoes in a second hand store that are not circling the drain. However, if you DO find those elusive Cole Haan wingtips that are in good shape, save for a shine and new heels, check the tips above, and BUY THEM. Then RUN. You’ve just gotten away with murder!

I encourage you to just start SCOUTING your local thrift store, if you haven't already. Take 20 minutes, keep an open mind, and simply peruse the racks. I can guarantee you'll be pleasantly surprised at what you'll find!

More to come – thanks for reading, and be sure to share your stories and finds!

Here's lookin' at you, you savvy thing, you!
All the best,