I am currently experiencing the worst thrift store jones of my life. I’ve been here for 10 months and I have the shakes bad.
My mom called it junkin’. She dragged me through thrift stores my entire childhood and I became an addict. She would find me the coolest stuff. The vintage 60s Barbie lunchbox she got me when I was in 2nd grade was to die for; wish I still had it. I guess it started in the 50s, when her grandmother used to take her along on early morning walks through the alleys of West LA to go digging through her neighbors’ discard piles (OK, trash).
Most of my friends tell me they don’t have the patience for it, or the knack. I, on the other hand, abhor retail shopping. There’s just no romance in walking up to a rack of 50 identical shirts. Sure, I go thrift shopping to find funky clothes and treasures, but I get a lot more out of it than that. I paid a buck for my favorite black leather belt (wide, 70s), which I bought at a San Diego thrift shop 19 years ago (and it’s still in great shape). The end of it has dog teeth marks. I love that my belt has a dog tug-of-war story!
Aside. Now, I know this is a girl thing. If you’re a guy and you’ve even made it this far, your eyes are probably glazing over. If you’re a woman or if you’ve ever had a girlfriend, you know women can tell you exactly what they were wearing on a certain day at a certain event. That’s because what we wear is an extension of our personalities as well as an indicator of our moods, the message we want to send, or the level of our self-confidence on a given day. Our clothes and jewelry often have very strong emotional associations. (I won’t go into why this is, how awful it is that we’re victims of marketing and societal this and that, whether it’s good or bad. Another day. For purposes of this entry, it just is.)
So when I’m surfing the racks and shelves, I can’t help but ponder the sociological implications of the kinds of things people donate and what they buy in the first place. The associated experiences and emotions. The history. I sometimes imagine the mindset of a woman when she bought something and when she wore it, and I draw conclusions about who she was. I know for a fact that women shop when they’re in weird moods, which guarantees that they’ll buy fun clothes that they’ll just end up donating, never having worked up the courage to wear them. I count on that. A girl who’s barely courageous enough to deviate from beige will walk into a store and, inexplicably, the only clothes that look good to her that day are red. Or she’ll just be feeling sassy and convince herself that she’ll actually wear that halter top sundress with the giant pink hibiscus print when it gets warm enough. Or she’ll read in Vogue that orange is the new pink and come home with an orange miniskirt and go-go boots, determined to reinvent herself. Women shop mad, they shop sad (their judgment is frequently impaired when they’re doing therapeutic shopping). They lose weight or tell themselves they will. They get divorced and replace their entire wardrobes (check). The results of their inexplicable shopping urges and closet purges are destined for the thrift store.
I relive eras, too. It seems like everybody gets rid of their outdated stuff at the same time. In the early 80s, for the longest time, there was a major owl infestation in thrift stores; everything owl, from incense burners to the macrame wall hangings with the requisite stick of driftwood (remember the early 70s?). We had one. For a while, in the 90s, there was a glut of turquoise (and salmon) howling coyotes (and saguaro cactuses) after everybody got over that horrific, vapid “southwest” look of the 80s. (Bleckh.) Junking offers a truly unique glimpse into other people’s lives as well as insight into our culture in general. It’s so much more than shopping; for me it’s a rich form of entertainment.
Of course, then ebay came along. Now it’s nearly impossible to find cool jewelry and knickknacks in the thrift stores since people have caught on. So I go to ebay for such things. It’s fun and efficient, but doing a keyword search for “poodle” in the jewelry category isn’t nearly as magical as discovering a tarnished sterling poodle face peeking out from among discarded VFW pins and mardi gras beads…
So here I am in Paris with not a Goodwill in sight. Who in her right mind could live in Paris and bemoan the lack of second-hand stores? Well, nobody said I was in my right mind. Alas, the French just do not seem to get the “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” concept. Either that or the rent is just too high for such establishments.
The other day I went to the only thrift store I’ve found in Paris, run by a huge Catholic charity, which might explain why they can afford the rent (Emmaus Boutique: 22, bd Beaumarchais). It was lamentable. Tiny place with drab, crap clothes and stuff for old ladies. [Addendum: I went back (you knew I would) and I actually found a couple of cute tops. This place will do in a pinch. Which I'm in...] A couple of weeks ago, I did discover a vintage shop next door to L’As du Falafel (34, rue des Rosiers), the most popular falafel place in the Marais. Saw a powder blue suede miniskirt (70s) there for only 5 euros, but I was late for a lunch date and had to run. I’m going back this week when I have some time. And when it gets truly unbearable (sometime between right this instant and when I go to LA in July), I’ll be checking out Come On Eileen (Thank you PetiteBrigitte!).
If there’s anyone out there who can tell me where I can go to find second-hand or vintage shops in Paris, please tell me. You can die from withdrawal, you know!