Thursday, November 12, 2009


Years ago I worked for a United Way organization that gave Welfare folks computer training and classes for GEDs. As the Receptionist, I was usually dressed nicely and one day was asked to go with a group of students to a local thrift shop and help them find clothes to "Dress for Success".

I was kind of a snobby shopper, always buying my clothes at THE MALL, blowing nearly all of my paychecks in "real" stores like Macys, Filenes, JC PENNEY, Cherry &Webb, Vickys Secret, etc... I ordered garbs from Coldwater Creek, Chicos and Chadwicks catalogs.... I remember thinking, "how will these poor girls find anything nice to wear at a thrift shop?"
It's a stigma many people have about 2nd hand clothing stores, and if you think this way, I hope to change your mind. As I helped one gal after another find perfect workplace attire, I began noticing familiar labels with not so familiar low pricing.

A TALBOTS Blouse for $2.99?! A CHICOS Jacket for $5.99?! A KATE SPADE Handbag for $20?!  Even a "fake"would cost tons more!  Those clothes were in excellent condition, some brand spankin new, and bought for pennies on the dollar. What a grand awakening for me! I have been a loyal fan of thrift shops ever since.
As I create this blog, I am wearing a blue sweater that has the name "BETTY" scrawled in black marker on the inside neck tag...Whoever Betty is (or was), I thank her (or her next of kin) for buying with good taste and generously donating her sweater. It is my favorite.
1. LOOK OVER THE GARMENT CAREFULLY. Check it out at different angles under the light for stains/spots, rips/tears, broken zippers, missing buttons, faded colors, and ewww...imbedded smells. Some of these things can be fixed, and some can not. I always wash or dry clean anything bought in a thrift store before I wear it.
2. TRY ON CLOTHES. Size is not always exact. Did you know that a Size 12 from 1980 or earlier is a Size 10 in 2009?! (Nature is cruel!). Wedding gowns are what they call TRUE SIZE, which any bride will tell you is a size smaller than what you normally wear. True of some designer garments also, especially European stuff. That size 12 you wear now would have been a size 14 twenty five years ago. Remember this when buying vintage clothing. If the clothes are within the past 2 decades, you can safely assume they will fit your current number size.
A "Large" in Junior is very different from a "Large" in Misses. In thrift shops, all Larges are generally lumped together. Be on the lookout ...Someone may have washed an item in hot water, it shrunk, so even that "MISSES Large" can be more of a tight MEDIUM now.
Chico's has their own "multi-sizing" system. A Chico Size 0 is anything in the super skinny range up to 4 Size 1 is Size 4 to Size 8. A Chico Size 2 is Size 10 to a Size 14. Size 3 is 14+.
Bring a tape measure if you are too lazy to try things on. Measure the inside leg and the length of sleeves on any outfit.
Petite will fit a non-petite person, but beware they tend to be cut slightly shorter in the arms and the waist is cropped closer to the bustline. The pants are always shorter than "normal". I believe Petites are most common in thrift stores because elderly women wear petite, and their clothes are donated after they uhh...emmm... well ...
Men's clothes often wind up in the women's racks. You can tell it's a man item when a MEDIUM looks like it would fit a gorilla (it did), so try on all your clothes and save yourself the post thrift shop heartbreak of having a garment way off size.
3. BUY IT WHEN YOU SEE IT. Don't wait until next week when you have more cash flow. Even if you hide it, it won't be there, because I will have found it and bought it by then.
4. LOOK IN OTHER SIZES. People stash clothes in the darndest places. Perhaps they think it will go on sale soon, or they want to hide it until they have the cash to come back to buy it. I always check the surrounding racks for hidden treasure...and I find it.
5. WILL IT LOOK GREAT ON YOU? Don't just buy it because it's a good deal. Make sure it's a flattering color for you and it fits. If you get it home and it is not so great, DONATE it back by putting it in a charity bin! Besides the main players, Planet Aid,
D A R E, Local Charities and Schools have collection bins and will benefit from the sale of your clothes. I donate most of my off season clothing. I know I will enjoy replacing them next year.  : )
6. BE CAREFUL WITH SHOES. I don't like to buy shoes at a thrift store, not only because of hygeine issues, but because used shoes have molded and shaped themselves to someone else's foot. "New with tags" shoes, roller blades/ski boots/ice skates or special event high heels are the only exceptions. (They mold to NO ONE's FEET!).
7. ASK THE SALES CLERK ABOUT SPECIALS OR SALES. Some places have color coded price tags, or color coded plastic thingys that hold the price tags to the garment. Some have a "Today all pink tags are 50% off" kind of sale, or "All sweaters $1.50 today". Salvation Army does a "Family Day Sale" where all OTHER colors but the one mentioned are on sale. Goodwill in Northampton has a one free book a month card. It pays to ask when you walk in the door.
8. CHECK OUT OTHER STUFF. There are BOOKS, DVDs, CDs, TOYS, JEWELRY, KNICK KNACKS, FURNITURE, KITCHEN STUFF, LAMPS, HOLIDAY DECOR', SPORTS EQUIPMENT, CRAFT SUPPLIES, LINENS and many other types of items in a thrift store. Many are new merchandise received as unwanted gifts or things that were bought on impulse. I remember throwing all kinds of cool household stuff into a charity bin just to get rid of the clutter! Talk about a CLEAN HOUSE episode! Niecy would have been proud of me. ;-)
9. RE-SELL ITEMS FOR PROFIT.  I bought a jar of buttons for a craft project (paid $1) and found that some of them were made of the coveted Bakelite.  I sold them on eBay for $25! items you buy in a thrift store?! What a great idea huh? Craig's List and eBay are great money making sites, and local papers often give free ads to sell items worth up to $250.
10. COSTUMES AND SPECIAL EVENT CLOTHING. Got a little kid who needs a suit or a party dress for one special event? Need a tie in a hurry? Want an elegant dress for a special celebration or to attend a wedding (even the wedding dress!)? Looking for a costume? Check out a Thrift will be amazed.
A chain store like SAVERS, Goodwill or Salvation Army get bulk clothing in all kinds of condition from donation bins and bulk weight purchases. While some chains do launder and dry clean their clothing, most do not. You are likely to find 50% damaged or stained clothes in a large chain thrift store like The Salvation Army, because of the vast amount of items they process "by the pound" and the manner in which they transport and handle their goods.
CONSIGNMENT SHOPS are run by great people with a keen eye for fashion and quality. The clothes are clean and in good repair. They will be more than happy to assist you in locating a particular type of garment in a certain size or color or brand, or search their outside resources to locate it for you if they do not have it in the store presently. Chain thrift workers will usually not be so specific, knowlegable, or helpful.
Most consignment shop clothes are modern or new, clean and pressed, stain and rip free, have all their buttons and zippers work. They are usually sized on the racks by number and are well organized. Consignment Shop pricing may be slightly higher than chain thrift, but quality clothing is plentiful. Also, none of that icky "baby poop" smell you find with many lower end chain thrift stores.
12. GOODWILL IS A FABULOUS CHARITY! Goodwill gives jobs and training to folks who are in transitional phases of life, or who are un-employable by general industry standards, or they are only available to work limited hours. Goodwill also has an ONLINE site that gives FREE Computer training! You can learn EXCEL, WORD, ACCESS, POWERPOINT and all of the Office Suite programs. I am so grateful to them and encourage anyone out there to go to this site and start learning.
13. THE SALVATION ARMY IS A FABULOUS CHARITY! Whenever there is a neighborhood tragedy or horrible flood in the community, the Salvation Army is the first to render aid. They help everyone and have got to be the nicest people on the planet. Their food pantries and free meal programs feed countless thousands of hungry folks. Their Grace Hospital is amazing ...a hospice where the dying go for their last days. The staff are incredible people, subject of a compelling movie called "Dying With Grace" that came out a few years ago. Worth hunting down to watch.
14. THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX ON USES FOR CLOTHING. I attended a class in Pittsfield this summer making rugs from used T-Shirts with Crispina. My rug is beautiful and it hardly cost a thing. You can make crafts and household decorations with materials culled from used clothing. Just think of the insulation they make from 2nd hand jeans.
15. MOST MEN DON'T LIKE USED CLOTHING. They may buy ties and belts, and perhaps a book or DVD, but I think it's more of a chick thing going to thrift stores for serious clothes buying. There are a few artsy men who dig thrift shops, but it has been my experience dragging one not so enthused man along, that most men do not want to wear other men's clothes...especially pants. (It's a guy thing). The worst part is, after they have exhausted examining the Knick-Knacks, Books and DVDs, they hover over YOU, rushing you to get going...just take my advice and leave DICK at home.
16. BRING CASH OR YOUR CHECKBOOK. Many shops do not accept credit cards. Not because they want to inconvenience you, but it is amazing how high the fees are for vendors to accept credit cards. When you are selling shirts in your shop for $1, you cannot afford $1.50 for the credit card transaction to go through! Some shops that DO accept credit cards, will have minimum limits on your purchase to do so.
17. BE PROUD (NOT ASHAMED) OF YOUR PURCHASES. You have contributed to Charity, Recycled for the benefit of the planet, and Re-used perfectly good clothes, saving tons of money while being a local hero supporting local small businesses. KUDOS to you!
18. WANT TO LOOK ONLINE BEFORE YOU GO? Here is a very high end Consignment Shop located in Pittsfield. It's called USBLUESWARE and has an online site to peek at their fabulous new or nearly new top designer merchandise...

There are so many 2nd hand shops in the immediate area,
so I have assembled a short list of some.  I have named this group the
This "hop" will allow you to visit 7 thrift stores in one short afternoon. They loop from Williamstown to North Adams to Adams then Pittsfield and return. Make a note of shop hours before you venture out. I find Wednesday is a terrific all around day for sales.
Here we go!

283 Cole Avenue
Williamstown MA 01267
Hours: Tues-Fri 9:30 to 4:00   Sat  9:30-3:00    CLOSED SUNDAY & MONDAY
Williamstown is a touch on the "upper" side, so was I ever surprised to find a terrific thrift store slam dab dunk in the middle of town! This place has 2 separate buildings on the same property. One building houses clothes and the other has household goods. They rely on donations and consignment items.
Proceeds go to NORTHERN BERKSHIRE HEALTHCARE, so you can feel good about your purchase going to a worthy cause. While they do mark individual items down, they don't have any sales like most 2nd hand places do. Prices are sort of fair, but higher than Goodwill or Salvi or the other shops in today's loop.

The Womens Exchange has high end dresses and is one of my favorites for office and party wear.

Love those church lady hats!

Good assortment of leather coats, jackets and fleece tops for the upcoming chilly weather.

Neat fashionable ensembles and quite a collection of handbags.

The "Trouser Room" is chock a bloc full of jeans and office pants.

Good assortment of Plus size and Maternity.
NO children's clothes or toys, which leaves more space for the adults. YAY!

A fairly nice Mens department, divided into 2 rooms.

Sketchy sizing, as everything is labeled either " S" "M" "L" or "XL", but most have no inside tags, so the workers "guessed". It's Russian Roullette unless you try everything on. There is a dressing room.
The staff (mostly older volunteers) are absorbed in the process of pricing, consignment paperwork and hanging up things. While they will answer questions, they are not usually on the sales floor. They quietly check tags, ring your sale up, bag your clothing and send you on your way.

In the HOUSEHOLDS building, (fondly called "EXCHANGE II"), there are 2 floors.

You will find knick knacky stuff pieces,
a linens and bedding room,

Books, funky lamps, wall decor', nut bowls and candlestick holders. Tons of baskets too.

There are also kitchen wares, pottery, christian stuff, and jewelry. There are some electronics, but not much hi-tech stuff and a handful of CDs/DVDs. I found some Dudley Do Right Glasses (a set of 6 for $2!)

and I proudly scored this chair for only $5!

Just up the road a few miles off of rte 2, right on 8A to Eagle Street, you will find our 2nd Thrift Shop in the loop...

11 Eagle Street
North Adams, MA 01247
Hours: Tues - Sat 11:00am-4:00pm  

Yes, there is a Mia, (short for Maria) and she has been running this quaint, space-challenged little shop for almost 11 years. Her mother comes in to iron the clothes, most of which are upscale pieces. She doesn't take junky stuff and it shows. It doesn't take long to discover the Coldwater Creek tops, Jones & Co blazers, J.Jill and Ann Taylor trousers and other quality items she is selling for around $5 each with this 10th anniversary sale...

Office dresses, suits, sweaters, tops, blouses and a small but eloquent grouping of menswear.

I love her belt tree and I even bought a new hat!

Mia has a back room full of track suits, dresses and other clothes.
She has some furniture items, but the cramped space only allows for small pieces and lamps. There is an assortment of books and households, toys and collectables. 

I got a piece of her jewelry too...saw more that I wanted, but hey it's too easy to go overboard!  Oh so pleasant to talk with, Mia is also a generous and thoughtful businesswoman, donating coats and warm clothes to those in need, working with schools and shelters in the area.  Just a GOOD person!
You want to support someone with these ethics.
Everything is half price off the tag amount every day (aces!) this year. A terrific little shop that is a MUST!
Our next thrift shop hop stop is down the road on rt 8 in Adams...

160 Howland Avenue (Rt 8)
Adams, MA 01220
Hours: Mon-Sat 9:00 -6:00  Sun 12:00 -5:00
Goodwill stores are all set up different, depending on the manager, the building and the location. Some are great, some are nasty. Adams' Goodwill is a smidge on the junky side, but definitely has it's good points.

Dresses are cheap...if you can find one that doesn't look like Utah cult member churchwear.

Sweaters are scarce except for the very BILL COSBYish ones.

Shoulder padded satin blouses from DALLAS days abound and a large bin of T-Shirts for the curious to rumage through tops off the ladies clothing experience.

Great assortment of blazers.

It has an excellent luggage and linen department also,

...and lots of glassware and mugs. Worth a looksee at the dishes. I have found champagne flutes, candy dishes, coffee mugs, rammikins and bean pots in here for really low prices.

A huge assortment of baskets,

...and the best selection of handbags in the loop.
It is smaller than it's sister stores visually, because they put Mens clothes and family shoes in the back connecting building with the sporting equipment and books (good planning methinks!)

 Wow, check out these baseball and basketball cards I found in the electronics department!

No, I don't usually find clothing in here, but I have at least 2 handbags, 1 pc of luggage, a wall hanging, a wicker basket pot and a stuffed turkey (the cloth kind!) from this very store.

They have frames, CDs and VHS/DVDs, clocks, electric knives, air popcorn makers and cassette players. Tons of jigsaw puzzles (that I truly HOPE have all their pieces), kids clothes, ski's, workout machines and lots of baseball hats. I was pretty impressed by their abundant yarn and crochet supplies.

Their jewelry is encased up front, but priced higher than you would want to pay in a 2nd hand store. They have a customer card you can get stamped for every $12 spent and when you fill it, you get 25% off your next order.
On to the next stop...just continue up rt 8 a short ways and look on the left for our next shop...

75 Park Street
Adams, MA 01220
Hours: Tues - Fri 10:00-5:00  Sat 10:00-3:00
I love this shop's name! For nearly 18 years, Nancy Lescarbeau has been running this great little consignment place.

The tiny storefront does not hint to the vast size and length of the inside. The store goes back for miles!
Nancy is a great person, (as are all of the private consignment owners I met on this tour), involved with the Grange, as well as a Professional Business Womens organization, and very talkative and friendly.
The store was originally started with 2 friends who abandoned ship and found their careers on a different path over the years. Nancy has hung on in the best and worse of times.

Recently renovated after a flood in the building, Nancy now has the downstairs open and is busy filling it with household items, linens and baby stuff.

There are strollers and car seats everywhere!

What a cute horse toy! Wish I were 3 again...

One of my favorite parts of this store is the giant WALL OF SHOES.

The other outstanding feature of this place is the back room of wedding dresses and bridesmaid outfits,

Mother of the Bride garb...

...and a shelf of nothing but wedding shoes, mostly dyed in pastels, waiting for friendly feet to stroll them down the church aisle once again.

Wedding dresses can be $40 to $150, and all are in pristine or near to excellent condition. I would like to believe, they have only been worn once...
...same for the bridesmaid dresses and fancy duds.
When I was taking photos, there were 3 well dressed women searching through the racks of packed gowns, looking fearfully at me to not capture them on film. They know they will look like a million dollars at their upcoming event and don't want their cover blown!

This store also has some great finds in regular clothing, office wear, kids and menswear.
Nancy pointed out some nice leather jackets a former "biker chick" was selling. All in great condition.
I was pleased with her jewelry assortment too. Lots of nice earrings. I was pleased to hear that she does layaway for folks who need to pay in small doses.
I bought a 5 panel screen for my bedroom (this blog is costing me money!!!) and continued happily on my way to our next stop...just up rt 8 a few more miles in Pittsfield, 1/2 a mile past the Stop n Shop on the left...

440 Merrill Road
Pittsfield, MA 01201
Hours: Mon-Sat  9:00-6:00  Sun 12:00-5:00
This is a great Goodwill. Not just because mighty Tim is so cool about robotically greeting everyone who enters,  but mostly because they have terrific sales. Famous for their $1.49 sweater sales, I have lucked into them mostly on Wednesdays and always find treasures.

They post the sales right as you walk in. Check this area out before you proceed.

The store is well organised and sizing is pretty close to spot on. Yes, you find the odd Cosby sweater, Joan Collins shouldered dresses, day-glo raglan sleeve nu-wave tops and the "Oops, Darlene spilled coffee on her work blouse again" kind of clothes, but most of this stuff is in pretty good shape, organized by color and size, and you can find a GAP or an Issac M mixed in with the White Stag and Faded Glory stuff.
This store has an excellent blouse and sweater supply, and the Menswear section is not bad. Check out all those baskets up top!

The wall of Books is fun to explore.

...and no one can beat this store's holiday assortment of trim and trinkets.

The vast variety of holiday theme mugs makes one want to have a "cocoa party"!
This store sells new items as well, including incense and spices.

Kids clothes, kiddie books, and stuffed animals are everywhere! A great store with fair prices.

Keep up your energy, because the next store on our list is huge! Drive up to the intersection and take a left on DALTON Road. Up about a mile on the right is our next destination...

501 Dalton Road
Pittsfield, MA 01201
Hours: Mon-Sat 9:00-8:00  CLOSED SUNDAY There is an "aroma" when you walk in. The crowds are a bit red-neck and haggard looking. Kids are wailing in several languages, running around wild. Funny smelling men in old clothes looking at 8-track tapes, people not using their INSIDE voice. yadda yadda yadda... a big place with an awful sound system playing scratchy music on the overhead. "Sal's Boutique" my friends and I used to call this chain.
My main issue with this place is that Salvi STAPLES their pricetags to the front of the sheerest silk scarf, to the threads of the most intricately knitted Faire Isle sweater, to the finely threaded Ann Taylor Suit Jacket...without regard to damages in the attempted removal of said tag later at home by angry assistant innkeepers who write blogs like this.

They also TAPE price tags to the front of real paintings and photographs, destined to be pulled off with part of the image on them, ruining the painting. uugh.

There is a terrific selection for PLUS size clothing.

The clothes are not exactly treated well...straight out of the streetside bin, swabbed off the truck floor, or grabbed from a passing garbage can. There are stains and rips, missing buttons, broken zippers, perspiration get the sense that someone pulled off their clothes and threw them into a bin and they hung them up on the rack for sale.

...pills and other icky evidence lodged in the handbag zipper have to be VERY careful checking out these things.

Some items resemble "vic" clothing on COLD CASE or wonder about their history.
BUT WAIT... I got that great little black dress here for about $10 that everyone complimented me on at last year's Xmas party...and that wide belt that really polished up my sweater look this past month was only .50 cents! You gotta dig, tolerate the low life...for the bargains are worth every creepy moment you hang out in here.

Geriatric supplies, crutches...

Kid's stuff galore!
Plus points? The sheer amount of selection. Unusual offerings. Great sales.

Danger Danger Will Robinson...You MUST wash anything you touch in this store, (including your hands).

On Wednesday's "Family Day" where one color tag is the only one NOT on sale, it is fun to scout around for all the tag colors that ARE on sale for 50% off. 

Sigue to the parking lot and a few squirts of hand sanitizer.
Ready for our next stop? Me too, and how!
Just up the road a few miles is our last stop, and one of the best places!

534 Tyler Street
Pittsfield, MA 01201
Hours: Mon-Sat  10:00-5:00  CLOSED SUNDAY
This place looks tiny, and may seem a little cloistrophobic when you first walk in, but it is jam packed with the most beautiful clothes I have seen today, at ridiculous low prices. MIMI's Closet is run by Nicole, whos Mom is called "Mimi" by the grandchildren. Nicole also sells AVON, so there is an added bonus right off the bat!

The clothes are spotless, folded, pressed and grouped by type and color all around the store.

Stunning dresses with high end tags, barely worn or new with tags.
Great care has been taken in the display and treatment of these clothes. What a breath of fresh air after the last place!

There are two rooms, one of which has households

... and childrens clothes

...with a section up front for baby stuff. (adorable items when I peeked in).

The other room houses mens and womens clothes,

... as well as brand new SCRUBS ($10.99) in really cute patterns.

Nicole makes sure to have a lot of quality PLUS size clothes also. No Pooh sweatshirts here!

Whimsical new holiday attire and stationary. Everyone needs a "Hottie" cap!

Shoes and jewelry too!
Mimi's Closet has it all, just be patient and search through the racks! You won't be disappointed.
Back to Williamstown up rt 7 for a few miles now, but stop in at LANESBORO JUNCTION on the way for a looksee at their country charm items! Grab a brownie at the A FRAME BAKERY too!

So how about getting a few friends together for a Girl Getaway? Imagine a full day of thrift shopping, then spending the night (comparing your purchases) at the 1896 House Brookside (on a weekday) at a super low price, then enjoy a great continental breakfast together as a group next morning at our '6 House Pub!
Sounds like a great plan to me!
Happy Bargain Hunting!

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