Coffee heat rising

Second-Hand Rose: A Thrift Shop Score

I’m wearing second-hand hats,
Second-hand clothes,
That’s why they call me
Second-hand Rose…

In the fading upscale shopping center across the street from the restaurant where my business group meets for breakfast each Thursday morning, you’ll find a wildly successful thrift shop called My Sister’s Closet. Yesterday I decided to drop in and see if I could find a decent-looking suit, of which I have had none. Not for decades.

Working at the Great Desert University’s scholarly editing office, we had no contact with the public. And before that, in the classroom…well, there’s no need to dress to the nines to teach undergraduates. So for the past 20 years, give or take, I’ve dressed like a graduate student. I live in Costco jeans. Occasionally I would go out and buy an Eileen Fisher outfit—it’s one of the few brands that fit around my fading body—but there’s not much call for clothes like that around here. However, now that Tina and I have decided we  need to market The Copyeditor’s Desk aggressively as a business-to-business service, it looks like I’m going to need something acceptable to wear in public.

Problem: I can’t afford to buy expensive business suits.

As an aside, The Copyeditor’s Desk, Inc., which receives the proceeds of Funny about Money as well as the editorial enterprise, did pretty well last month. Thanks to Funny’s new ad agent, Crystal of Budgeting in the Fun Stuff, total revenues from blogging and from editing grossed about what I would earn teaching four sections. That’s still a very modest amount. But if the business made that much all the time, 12 months a year, it would come to significantly more than I earn as an adjunct, where I’m technically allowed to teach only three sections a semester—providing income only nine months a year. If we could permanently ratchet up the editorial income by landing a few business clients who would hire us on long-term contracts, I wouldn’t have to teach at all. Or, if I taught one or two classes on top of that dreamt-of income, I’d have enough to pay the bills without worrying much.

Hence the project to acquire a credible-looking business outfit. We’ll be joining more business groups and looking for other ways to peddle our wares to companies and medical practices that need business or technical editorial services. To succeed at this, we need to look like we’re already prospering.

I’ve never shopped much in second-hand stores, mostly because I truly dislike plowing through acres and acres of ugly junk clothes in a (usually futile) search for something that looks decent and fits. However, Scottsdale is filled with the sisters of Mrs. Gotrocks: ridiculously upscale or aspiring women who either have high-powered jobs themselves or who support their husbands’ careers by appearing conspicuously at public functions brought by groups of society matrons. These women wear outrageously expensive clothes, and they don’t wear them long. If you have something striking, about the third time you put it on all the other hens start to cluck, “Doesn’t she have anything else to wear?” So, I figured, a place like My Sister’s Closet, right in the heart of darkest Scottsdale, would have plenty of their leavings.

And yea verily: I was right, in spades!

The store organizes its gleanings in two categories: designer fashions and all the rest of the junk. They have entire racks of St. John separates, suits, and dresses.

St. John, for the uninitiated, designs clothing that fits women d’un certain âge: like Eileen Fisher, the company targets well-heeled women over 50.

Not many designer clothes come in size 12, today’s equivalent of a real-life size of about 14. So fat have I become! My mother wore 14s and 16s in her old age, and I’m beginning to look just like her. But lo! among the “S” and “XS” tags, I came across a gorgeous amethyst knit skirt and jacket in a fatlady size.

Normally I can’t wear knits: they display every ripple of cellulite on my body. But, drawn by the color, I hung it on the shopping cart rack anyway. Back in the “business attire” section, I found more normal manufacturers: Banana Republic, Talbot’s, and the like. Picked up a few skirts, pants, and jackets there, too.

As usual, not one of the mass-market costumes fit around my capacious rear end. They made me look like a beer barrel with feet sticking out.

(The shoulder pads don’t have bumps in them. That’s the skirt-hanger clips showing through; soon as the photo was snapped the two pieces were hung separately.)

I finally tried on the St John suit, as a last-ditch effort.

Astonishingly, the skirt fit! It hid the paunch and made me look almost human! The jacket fit pretty well, too. That’s just amazing!

The skirt and jacket came to a hundred and a quarter, more than I expected to spend on second-hand clothing, but both pieces were impeccably clean, no stains, no sign of wear—the thing looked brand new. So I grabbed that.

But that’s not all. I also stumbled across this incredible Coach bag. It really is, I think, brand-new. Not a scratch, a smudge, or a sag to be seen, anywhere! It’s exactly the right size–holds the iPad, a wallet, and a few pieces of junk with room to spare—and the handle will go over one’s shoulder. And, astonishingly, the cream color exactly matches the dressy Naot sandals I bought last spring. Voila! Shoes and a purse to go with the swell “new” suit!

So, I spent a little over $200—about what I’d spend on a normal trip to J. Jill or B’Gauze—and came away with something that looks a great deal dressier and more professional than cobbled-together sportswear coordinates. And that actually fits. And to boot, I got an apparently unused used Coach bag!

Yesterday afternoon I wore this costume to a meeting with a prospective client. Hope he was duly impressed…

When I got home, I googled up St. John’s website.

Holy mackerel! I almost fainted.

A comparable bouclé knit blazer is $1,295! The skirt, a mere $375. At Nordstrom’s you can find a couple of Milano knits for an economical $995, and one bouclé jacket is marked down to $774.

Can that be? I bought $1,670 worth of overpriced clothing for $125???? Or, to put it another way, to get a suit, new, that doesn’t make me look like a potato sack tied in the middle, I have to pony up over fifteen hundred bucks?

The sales clerk told me that if you consign, they’ll give you credit toward their clothing purchases. So you could, in theory, get even better deals. Or take the money and run.

Unfortunately, they don’t accept things like Costco jeans. Except for the surviving Eileen Fisher skirt and tops (one of which, BTW, is perfect with the “new” St. John suit), I don’t own anything worthy of this outfit’s elevated taste.

But I do own the occasional discretionary $200. 😉

Lyrics: Grant Clarke, James Hanley, “Second-Hand Rose.” Performed by Fanny Brice and later by Barbra Streisand.

5 thoughts on “Second-Hand Rose: A Thrift Shop Score”

  1. Great! Now you have a “rich lady” suit to go with your new rich lady status. It’s funny–I’m in process of selling off my St Johns, because I’m still able to wear my teacher clothes. Nancy Pelosi is noted for her St Johns, as are many women in government.

  2. In Los Angeles St. John holds an annual sale to get rid of all their leftover inventory. From what I hear, the line to get in is a mile long , and the ladies who don’t want to stand in line for hours hire starving college students to stand in line for them.

  3. LOL, I’ve been in that store. Was your meeting at The Good Egg? Or at the Hilton? The suit is a great buy! Love the handbag, too. I had the impression My Sister’s Closet is very picky about what they consign, so I would expect anything in there to be clean and free of stains, holes, etc.

  4. Welcome to the world of upscale thrifting. After shopping at a quality consignment shop you will never look at regular clothing prices the same way!

Comments are closed.