Last year, a short time after my birthday, I decided I would go a year without buying any new personal items I didn’t absolutely need (I authorized second-hand things for myself). And since I blogged about it, I know you are all dying to know how I did. So I’ll tell you.

I failed.

Last year, I bought two new shirts (for investor meetings and other professional kinds of things). The shirts I figured were kind of a need because of the difference in the way professional women dress in Paris and the fact that I went down a size after I got here. I also bought a dress that served no practical purpose… And three pairs of underwear I didn’t really need. (TMI? Sorry.)

When I had to schedule my trip to California for before my birthday because of a commitment on the 20th, I knew it would mean that I would be further breaking my promise. And, in fact, I bought three pairs of Levis and a pair of shoes. Well, Mom bought me the shoes, but I would have bought them anyway if she hadn’t offered, so I’m counting them too. The same Levis I paid $36 for there (511’s and 510’s) cost over 100 Euros here. I simply refuse. Wouldn’t you?

I did a lot of guilt-free, thrift-store madness while in California. In Santa Monica (best Goodwill ever) and Burbank (It’s A Wrap, where you can get wardrobe items from Hollywood TV shows. Lots of kitschy daytime soap clothes and some really nice stuff at unbelievable prices). I got a red t-shirt there (not just any t-shirt; it’s long, fitted and low-necked) that was on Hannah Montana (which I’ve never seen, BTW). Hit the Goodwill Superstore with my son in Bakersfield. Did you know there was such a thing? I didn’t. But of course there is. We’re talking about America.

(I really think the Goodwill logo is well done.)

I dragged my son through thrift stores throughout his childhood. He can still handle them (unlike my brother, who was also subjected to thrift shopping as a child and is so scarred he won’t go near one now), although it’s not his favorite thing to do (can you tell?). But he’s a good boy and he indulged his mom.


Got tons of treasures in the various stores, including a long, red, designer wool sweater, that looks brand new and will be perfect for cool Paris days over jeans ($7). A cuddly, light green, cotton pea coat ($7). I’ve been needing a mid-weight jacket since I got here, and the weather was nice enough for me to wear it today! Two pairs of adorable high-heeled sandals ($5.50 total). A long cotton drawstring skirt with a happy Hawaiian flower print in pinks, greens and oranges ($3.50). A gorgeous, slinky sweater in a very unusual shade of green ($3.50). And LOTS more. All for less than a hundred bucks. That’s what I’m talking about. Besides, if shopping is not treasure hunting, it’s just boring.

I bought some used things last year in Paris too, although the thrift shopping here is pathetic compared to the States. (Maybe because French people have less of a tendency to throw away perfectly good clothes? Or to buy more than they need? Or to buy on impulse? Or to experience radical weight changes?) I got a sweater, which I made into a skirt, and lots of used books, which I turned around and sold back to Shakespeare and Company when I was done with them.

I actually don’t feel too bad about how I did. How many Americans can count a year’s new purchases on two hands, do you think?

Here’s a juicy tidbit for you: “In 2002 The New York Times reported that of the approximately 2.5 billion pounds of clothes donated to charity in America each year, as much as 80 percent is shipped globally.” (Source: The Afterlife of American Clothes. Great article.)

Wait!! I want to dig through that pile before you send it off!

Apparently, a lot of those clothes go to Haiti, where creative entrepreneurs refashion them into new, one-of-a-kind pieces. (As a teenager, I did a lot of that myself and I still do on occasion.) Would I totally love to be able to buy that stuff? Heck yeah. It would tickle my green streak and my inner francophile too. Hopefully some brilliant entrepreneur will one day help these unlikely couturières to sell their creations online…

I’m trying to figure out a way to see Secondhand (Pepe), the documentary about this Haitian industry and “the cultural-economic history of used clothing from the turn of the century to the current era of globalization.” The DVD is currently sold out !See Below! but I’ve contacted one of the authors to ask if they will be available again! If you’re interested, let her know.

[March 24: Vanessa (one of the authors) says the movie is now available on Etsy and you can also get t-shirts (they hand picked second-hand t-shirts and printed the movie logo on the back—limited number!)]

As you might guess, demand for second-hand clothes peaked in the US during the Great Depression. I bet there will be more people treasure hunting alongside me next time I’m in California… Sucks for me.