Every Saturday between May and October you'll find me rising early and heading out to the local estate and tag sales. I join a stalwart crew of shoppers who plan their attack the night before, plot their route on a map, and scour Philadelphia's Main Line for treasures. We could hit as many as 20 sales in one day during the height of the season.
But when the list of sales in the classified section shrinks in late fall, and then virtually disappears as the weather turns frigid, I look for other ways to satisfy the rummaging urge. I look to the consignment shops and thrift stores that dot Lancaster Avenue from Downingtown to Bala Cynwyd. (The shops in Philly are a breed unto themselves. I'll tackle them in a future column.) Whether these suburban treasures are upscale, designer-only shops, or funky little church-lady establishments, there is something very appealing about these places that have capitalized on the thriving resale market.
Long before eBay made its mark as an online resale mecca, people were outfitting their families and feathering their nests with donated or consigned goods. The stock is often brand new and donated by retail businesses. Some items are gifts that arrived in the wrong size or color. I have even heard of compulsive shoppers, who regularly bring piles of clothing, unworn, to consign.
Consigners pay a small yearly fee and keep a portion of the sales price from each item. I have found everything from furs to fondue pots, wedding dresses to wedding presents on consignment, and the savings are unbelievable. I don't mind the fact that the clothes, accessories and home furnishings I buy are "previously owned." Someone thought enough of them to choose them, and then did not simply discard them. They went to the trouble to bring them to a resale shop. The sense of history that these things have acquired only adds to their value for me. And, if I can get Prada and Louis Vuitton at 50 percent off retail, I really don't mind!
So recently, during that last snowstorm, I went shopping in search of sweaters to keep me warm. Why does the urge to leave the house seem to become stronger the more difficult it is to do? I'm not sure, but I bundled up anyway, shoveled out the car and left. Within twenty minutes, I was in sweater heaven at the Junior League Thrift Shop in Bryn Mawr. Every sweater in the place was half off.
Junior Leaguers in Philadelphia are required to donate $100 worth of clothing or goods to the shop each year. The proceeds are used to fund the service clubs' various projects. Label-conscious leaguers have loaded up the shop with J. Crew, Banana Republic, Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap, Ann Taylor, Express, Ralph Lauren and countless other brand names that would make any hip, stylish young professional swoon. It's not all work clothes, and not all for young shoppers, but the shop does maintain an aura of stylish conservatism. (The Hilton sisters do not donate here, but I know where they do!)
The rack that held the evening attire was bending under the weight of the many gowns, dresses and slinky sheaths. The mens' and childrens' racks reflected similar taste and quality, with even more Ralph and lots of Tommy. I got the feeling some of those crafty club women were raiding their boyfriends' or husbands' closets to help meet their yearly donation quota. Everything was spotless, new looking and current. No size-three old lady coats with little fox paws on the collar here. Those are at the church thrift down the street.
So what did I get? I got a sweater for every purpose! Nine in all. I wear mostly black, gray and white, and I prefer suits and separates. I live in jeans when I'm not working. In the winter, I rely on vivid sweaters to keep me warm and add a little color to my life. I picked up a wasabi-colored chunky cotton cable knit, with a shaped body, loose turtleneck and extra long sleeves for $4. It will be great with jeans. I found a pumpkin-colored, fine gauge sweater, with a lowered keyhole neck and ties, also for $4. A black Gap ribbed turtleneck for $4, and a grey, merino wool J. Crew sweater vest for $5 also looked good. A Jeanne Pierre traditional oatmeal colored cable knit for $6 will be cozy under jackets. I needed a sweater to keep at work and one to wear around the house, so I grabbed a lightweight fuzzy black Gap mohair and acrylic blend with faux shell buttons for $3 and a heather gray V-neck Express wool sweater, also $3. The find of the day was a Banana Republic cropped wrap sweater in multi-colored gray, blue and green wool and nylon for $7.50. And I couldn't resist the hunter green merino wool V-neck, also from BR, to wear with a suit for $4.
I grabbed two sweaters for my daughter and one Ralph Lauren beauty for my husband and got out of there spending less than $60. Not a bad day!
You can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a list of my favorite shops in the area, with addresses and phone numbers.