Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Honesty and Frugality

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.


fuchsy said...

like your blog Meredith, I'm an english Mum who has had to work to look after my children all my life...., now grown up,..... but I have always hated waste! i love charity shops, i think you call them thrift stores, some great finds to be had there!

we used to go to jumble sales a bit like your bale opening and have a great time finding treasures

Laura Talbert said...

That bale-diving sounds like fun! I wish there was something like that around here.
I had a friend once who was the epitome of style, and I don't mean the Gap or Limited kind, but Gucci and Anne Klein. She bought all of her clothes at thrift stores way before it was considered chic to do so. It was through her that I began to shop thrift way before I "had to" for budgeting reasons. It is so much fun!
I can't resist, when someone compliments me on something I'm wearing, to tell them I got it at the Goodwill. I don't really think of it as bragging, but more about educating people on what CAN be found outside the mall. Some have been encouraged to give it a try themselves=) And so the legacy of my friend lives on......

Monica Wilkinson said...

Bargains are so fun! And part of the fun is sharing what a bargain it was with others. This energizes all of us! Keep sharing! :)

Anonymous said...

Meredith, I realise this is an old post, but I've been going through your archives, reading some of your posts out loud to my husband. We're planning a big move to the States (we're in New Zealand) and we're trying to learn how to live frugally in a different country. Your site has been so helpful and inspiring. Although I lived in the States until I was 21, I was one of those mall-shopping, GAP wearing kind of girls. With three kids and a husband starting seminary, that's just not possible! But I'm inspired by you to continue to make saving money and still enjoying life my career, while supporting my husband in his education and our family goals. We're excited to get to Goodwill :)