Why a thrift store is the best place for last-minute Christmas shopping

Thrifting is a fun hobby to have.  Sure, I understand the allure of buying something from a store or getting it made, but you never know what you’re going to find when you walk into your local Goodwill, Savers, charity shop, or vintage store. It may seem daunting or even a hassle if you’re not used to it, but if you look at it instead as a fun, low-risk gamble and not just an opportunity for cheap clothes, I think you can have a good time.  And what better time to check them out than this holiday season!

First off, let me say that I’m a terrible gift giver. It’s not laziness or apathy, but it probably has to do with how specific I am; I just want the person to either love the gift or have some genuine enjoyment out of it.  As a result, I used to either give gift cards, cash, or exactly what the person wants. But lately, thanks to a plethora of fun white elephant exchanges with friends and family, I’ve tried to adopt a new view on gift giving. Something quirky or even funny.  It’s much better than simply giving them something that they would buy for themselves anyway. So the next time you’re out thrifting for menswear, try looking for out for these cool pieces, perfect for your close friends or that next joke white elephant swap at the office.

Thrifted Clothing

Obviously clothing is a no brainer, since you’re already there and chances are not everything is going to fit you.  I’ve written about how to thrift for clothing, but this time try to match the measurements to your friends, that way it feels more like a score even if you don’t get something for yourself.

There’s always a plethora of oxfords and other dress shirts that can be great stocking stuffers for friends who don’t necessarily dress too well; you could even throw in complimentary tailoring if you feel the need to be extra charitable.  Tweed jackets, corduroys, and shoes are also a good buy if you get lucky. And if all else fails, a good repp or foulard tie can usually be found on the way out. I can’t tell you how many times my friends always ask me to find things when I’m out thrifting!

One last thing to look out for (if you have streetwear-oriented friends), are cool 1980s-1990s T shirts.  You probably know the ones I’m talking about: stuff from old company parties, band (both rock and brass) festivals, or just ones with “totally radical” graphic design.  Perfect for lightwash 501s (which are also good to find while thrifting), tucked into chinos, or as a fun PJ shirt.

Glasses and Decanters

I’m not a big drinker, but I like the opportunity to make it look like I am. Instead of buying fancy glassware or china, I like looking at the aisles for interesting containers or decanters.  It was a big hit in my college days when I would put apple or grape juice in the decanter to have a non-wild night with my friends. As you get older, juice turns into the fermented versions and getting a unique one is usually the way to go until you’re in a position to get an expensive one.  Or you can get one for your own holiday parties; just don’t forget to clean thoroughly after bringing it home.

Books

While a majority of books found at thrift stores are cookbooks and outdated advice books (which can be hilarious in itself), you can definitely find some grails. Obviously I tend to look for older editions of classic books or general ones centered around history or culture that my friends will find interesting; the best ones are usually ex-library books, still “mint” in the wrapping.  

Coffee table books are common to find and can be given to friends who have interests in those topics. I’ve come across a few menswear books (like Dressing the Man, by Alan Flusser) but painting, photography, and architecture compendiums are the usual faire. Again, older ones tend to be more interesting, if you can find them that is.  

Unique Toys, Bric-a-brac, and Accoutrements

I used to think that bric-a-brac was something reserved specifically for grandparents, but I’ve come to love it! It’s something completely unique that you really can’t find anywhere else that makes for a fun story or at least a funny reaction.  One of the most common ones are 80s-90s toys that my friends and I can reminisce on about your youth. I tend to prefer menswear related ones, like a cool wooden statue of a dandy gent that brings to mind the old esquire mascot.

Depending on your thrift/vintage store or antique mall, you could also find things like vintage cufflinks/tie bars, cameras, and even watches.  Other than that, nice models of airplanes, bookends, or figurines can be equally as nice. It’s just always worth a look!

Records

Lastly, we have the music. More and more people are getting record players and  collecting vintage LPs. While you may not find that crazy-rare jazz record at a Goodwill, you can find some hidden gems; I personally have found the old 1960’s score to Mary Poppins and the first Pink Panther film! Usually, random jazz recordings, orchestra compilations, or obscure 1970’s groups are what populate the racks.  I’m not a huge physical music collecting guy, but it’s fun to find something with great album artwork and to listen to music that you can’t really find online.  Just be sure to inspect the record for any scratches before you buy them!


Examples of My Favorite Menswear Deals When Thrifting

Even though I find myself drawn further and further into the world of contemporary classic menswear, I don’t think I’ll ever leave vintage behind. It’s less about cosplay or wanting to live vicariously in a different age, but it’s more about getting certain details that I wouldn’t be able to find or afford otherwise.

If you’re familiar with my blog or social media, you’ll know that I attempt to bring vintage pieces into a modern context, making them wearable-yet-eccentric pieces. I decided to write about a couple of my most interesting pieces in today’s article and a bit about where I got them.

If you’re new to thrifting and vintage shopping, check out this Guide to Thrift Shopping

Outerwear is probably the easiest one to incorporate since it usually functions as a finishing layer for an outfit. If you go on eBay or get lucky at your local goodwill/vintage store, chances are you’ll find something interesting. One of my most favorite pieces of outerwear is a 1940’s, single-breasted overcoat, made from a brown wool with an extremely faint green windowpane. Made by Curlee Clothiers (a sought after yesteryear brand by collectors), it is half-lined and has a long length, two details seldom seen on modern overcoats. It’s served me during this past California winter and definitely did its job when I visited NYC last December. It really was a lucky purchase at one of the LA vintage stores I frequent; they had just put it out when I walked in!

Another random find was my 1950’s brown leather double rider at the Dapper Day Expo, a community event that celebrates classic style at venues like Disneyland and LACMA. Unlike other 50’s jackets, the one I found was cropped short, lacked any epaulets or “punk” elements, and was generally similar to the ones found in the 1930’s. Despite it looking rather 1930’s to my eyes, the dealer said that due to the nitty gritty details (buttons/zipper/labels) itthe jacket was actually made in the 1950s, making it was way more affordable than a 1930’s buco. In the fall, it has been my go-to casual jacket, perfect to wear with turtlenecks, denim, and flannels.

Wearable vintage tailoring (like jackets and trousers) is a bit harder to find, especially if you’re used to getting things custom, but there are still times when you come across something cool. From Paper Moon, I was able to obtain a pair of 1950’s chocolate brown nubby rayon trousers. Thanks to their full cut and interesting fabric, they make a great summer trouser that is just a bit different than a regular linen or cotton pair. For trousers, I couldn’t pass up a lightweight flannel cinch back, made for college students in the 1950’s when cinch-back chinos were a short fad. You can thank eBay for that one!

One stand out piece that I almost always gets a fun comment is my 1930’s belt back jacket. It’s made in USA, out of a soft, broken-in white linen that has soft construction, making it widely different than a majority of the tailoring in the same era. Despite the bi-swing back and the fact that it’s ventless, it comes across as very contemporary on account of its subtle waist suppression, natural shoulder, and relatively normal sized lapel. It’s become one of my favorite pieces to wear in the summer. It was actually a lucky bid on eBay as similar jackets go for high amounts while it only cost me $200 years ago, purchased with my first paid internship income. I’ll always wonder if it simply passed under other collectors’ radars.

Apart from that linen jacket, I also have a few 1940’s Palm Beach garments: a jacket purchased from Reese’s Vintage Pieces (a guy with the biggest non-warehouse stock, selling out of his Pomona home) and a full suit sold by a theater wardrobe on eBay. This material is inherently special due to the fact that the patented PB fabric (a mix of wool, cotton, and mohair) is no longer in production after the brand was sold and the factory closed; for future reference, anything Palm Beach post-1950s isn’t the original fabric. It’s not really an open weave, but it drapes well and wears pretty cool, offering up a heartier alternative to normal cotton jackets. Like my linen jacket, my PB jackets softly tailored (perhaps even more so) and fit really well with a more contemporary wardrobe. The small detailing like swelled edges, lapel width/shape, and button stance offer the vintage charm that you can’t really find anywhere other than a willing custom tailor. My odd jacket gets plenty of wear, while the full suit (and it’s full cut) only get worn during more appropriate events.

In addition to these summer jackets, I think the obvious “unique” pieces are my collection of tweed sack jackets obtained from eBay, Etsy, and NYC’s own Sean Crowley. Not many affordable makers make interesting checks and plaids in soft shoulders and 3-roll-2 stance, so vintage is always my go-to for fun cold weather jackets. Two are from Brooks: a 1960’s grey/blue plaid and a 1970’s light brown/red plaid. The grey might get more wear than the brown due to the silhouette differences, but my favorite has to be my green check one. There’s no way I’d be able to find something similar without going bespoke. I just can’t wait for it to be cold again!

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the smaller stuff like my sweaters and ties. I have two 1930’s sweaters (that have seen better days) that I think are completely different than the knitwear you find today. Not only do they have a shorter length, which is necessary for high waisted trousers, but there is something about the specific colors and design that mark it something that only vintage could create. There are also a few fun Cuban collar/sport shirts that have gotten plenty of wear during this past hot summer season.

As for my ties, I generally cycle between 1960’s reps and 1930’s brocades, but my favorite one has to be this fantastic blue abstract print/foulard. It was actually apart of a lot of ties I purchased from a local vintage guy; I didn’t even expect to love it as much as I did! Like most ties of the era, it has a short length (again, great for high rise trousers) and a more shapely blade, ending in an untipped edge resulting in a lightweight, unique tie that is unlike any other out there. I often have to stop myself from wearing it too often, not just to prevent repeat outfits, but to ensure that it lasts as long as possible. One of the reasons I love it is how similar it looks to the tie’s you’d expect from Drake’s.

In reality–like many things in life–my favorite vintage pieces are usually the most recent ones that I’ve acquired. It’s always nice to have something that’s a little bit different than the staples that most people tend to recommend, coming with a unique buying experience that feels rewarding after careful hunting. Whether you get a vintage leather jacket, overcoat, or even just a tie, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. Do you have any fun vintage pieces yourselves? Let us know by commenting below!

Have you scored any good deal recently? Let us know on the Official Thrift / Discount Store bragging Thread!

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Beginner’s Guide to Thrifting Menswear

Ethan Wong has already shared his love of thrifting menswear with our community. In this piece, he details how he chooses the pieces worth saving, and lays out a guide for thrifting that any men’s clothing hobbyist can follow.

We created a downloadable PDF guide with a checklist that you can consult whenever you’re out shopping for thrifted goods.


It’s no surprise to anyone that I can’t afford to always buy bespoke or MTM clothing, considering how much I love menswear. Instead of buying cheap knockoffs from fast fashion retailers, I almost exclusively buy thrifted and vintage pieces for my wardrobe. With a good eye and some education, I’ve found that it’s a great way to acquire quality garments for an extremely affordable price. Here’s some a brief guide that I live by when I go thrifting.

  • Check your local thrift stores

    • You never know what you’re going to find!
    • Wealthier places may have better pieces (contemporary, designer/brand), but they may already be popular with other pickers.
    • Not all thrift stores operate on donations; some receive general shipments of clothing.
  • Stay cognizant of promotions and holiday deals

    • Some stores have rotating promotions around certain colored tags or item categories.
    • There’s almost always sales during holidays that can apply to clothing!
  • Put your education to Use

    • The amount of stuff you see at a thrift store can be overwhelming; use the “touch test” and run your fingers through the racks. If something feels familiar (wool, flannel, tweed, cotton), it’s worth inspecting!
    • Your knowledge of brands and manufacturing can come in handy. A Purple Label RL suit will be much different than a Lauren by RL one.
  • Check interior labels and tags

    • Fabric labels will let you know if there is a semblance of synthetics (ie; polyester) within the garment, as well as any other blends. I typically go for 100% wools.
    • If you’re in America, union tags will be present on anything made pre 1980s. Different union tags correspond to different years, so this can be helpful when encountering vintage suits and sportcoats!
    • Font can play a difference. “Artsy” labels are usually earlier while stiff, corporate ones usually denote the 1960s-1970s era.

 

  • Consider the design and cut of the piece

    • Shoulder padding varied throughout eras and especially from designer to designer. Make sure that the jacket you get has the right amount for you, because that is something you cannot fix later.
    • Vintage and quality made garments usually have half-lining or less; most mass produced stuff post 1970s will be fully lined.
    • Always look at button stance and configuration. If the last button on the suit is below the pocket line, the overall buttoning point will be too low and results in an extremely dated look.
    • Trousers with a long fly (11in or more) will usually mean that they feature a high rise.

 

  • Focus on Unique Pieces, not Workhorse Stuff

    • Keep an eye out for cool details like patch pockets or belted-back jackets!
    • You can always find a quality navy suit at any store, so try to find pieces with great patterns like herringbone or houndstooth since they’re pretty common in thrift stores.
  • Be Aware of What You Can and Can’t Tailor

    • Make sure the shoulders fit!
    • Inspect the garment carefully for extra fabric allowance.
    • Sleeves and chest can always be taken in, but letting them out/down depends on how much fabric is available.
    • You can shorten a jacket by less than 2”; anything more will ruin the balance and proportion of the garment.
    • Trousers are the easiest to alter, provided that you take in the waist and taper the leg. Like jackets, making them bigger depends on the fabric allowance.
    • Tailoring will always cost more than the purchase price, but it can be worth it to make something wearable!

thrifting menswear thrifted menswear guide to thrifting styleforum

  • If you like it, buy it; if you don’t, pass on it.

    • Buy it when you can, since someone may take it when you put it down!
    • They add new things everyday, so you can always come back if nothing catches your eye.
    • Normal wear and tear is expected with thrifted pieces, but pass on anything with holes or major non-seam rips.

This is typically how I approach thrifting. It takes some time to get used to, but it’s really fun if you have the education, eye for detail, and a great tailor. It’s how I’ve gotten great stuff like a 1960’s olive green ivy jacket, the infamous 3PC brown chalk-stripe suit, or even a Camoshita suit. Whether you want to build a wardrobe or find some statement pieces to experiment with, it’s always worth it to check out your local thrift store from time to time!


You can keep up with Ethan’s thrifting and vintage adventures on his Instagram (@ethanmwong) or on his blog Street x Sprezza.