My family rarely shopped for clothing at the mall. We went to an old building downtown where, every Saturday, the owner would forklift a bale of compressed clothes to the floor and break it open. A crowd of thrifty women would dive into the pile, pulling, sorting, and sometimes shoving politely. This is where I discovered my love of vintage linens and old chintz. We never knew what would be in those musty bales, which hailed from Chicago. The coats from Marshall Fields always drew attention. Someone had purportedly bought an old lady's coat, only to find its lining completely stuffed with money. There was a woman who bought all the mink stoles and collars for her luxury teddy bear business. There was also my sister.
My sister was the quintessential Homecoming Queen and class president. Her sense of style and natural friendliness made her popular in every group. It was torture for her to shop with friends buying every back-t0-school Limited outfit with parents' credit cards. She would watch the trends, pick through the bale, and somehow emerge with a wardrobe one season ahead of her peers. Accusing someone of dressing from the bale was an insult that made even the most confident girl cringe with embarassment, yet my sister would admit it without guile. Before you knew it, giggling teenagers were seen at the edge of the pile every Saturday.
I was always proud of my sister for her honesty. She made secondhand shopping cool for all the girls who couldn't afford Gap (and even those who could). I know it's considered tacky to brag about your bargains, but I do it a lot here at Like Merchant Ships for teaching purposes--and also because it's fun. After all, this is a frugal living blog! One of my great passions in life is to demonstrate creative reuse, to find quality beyond our means by spending below our income. Even if you aren't ready to dive into the bale, maybe you'll begin to think outside the box.