Thrifting Tips from a Non-Pro

I’ve been frequenting thrift stores since I was 14. Value Village was a block away from my high school and my friends and I often ditched class to spend hours trying on polyester dresses and sequined blouses with shoulder pads and would usually walk out of the store with bags and bags of loot. Those were the golden days; the fount of decent thrift finds was plentiful and, at least for a short while, our obsession with cheap vintage clothing was funded by our weekly allowances. By the end of high school our cherished Value Village as well as Tucson’s other thrift store goldmines were getting picked over by out-of-towners who would take our precious wares to Austin and sell them for ten times the original price at vintage shops. My taste in fashion also changed and I started preferring cheap and easy-to-shop-for Forever 21 clothes over one-in-a-million candy-striped button-ups and puffy-sleeved party dresses. These days, my wardrobe seems to be made up evenly of new apparel and Goodwill finds. I recently found a fantastic thrift store buddy though, and I feel like I’m reliving my high school days in some ways. I’m by no means a vintage expert, but I’ve picked up some pretty good techniques over the years for making a trip to the thrift store worthwhile. Here are some basic rules I follow when I’m in the mood to hit up second hand stores.

Have an idea of what you’re looking for
Before I go thrift store shopping, I look through my closet to get an idea of what I need and what I have too much of. That way, I can keep an eye out for a specific item I’ve been craving and avoid adding to my collection of high-waisted velvet skirts (I honestly don’t understand how I’ve accumulated so many). It’s always good to gather some inspiration before you shop. Look at your favorite fashion blogs or the websites that you shop at and pick an item or two to look for. Is winter approaching and you need a comfortable cardigan? Are you on the prowl for a simple black dress? When you have something specific to look for, it’ll give you a starting point when you walk into the store and start feeling overwhelmed by the endless lines of racks and people pawing through them. Having a direction to head in right off the bat will help you avoid feeling like you’re wasting your time.

Donate often
I believe that if you give, the universe will give back in some shape or form, so boost your thrift store karma by donating your clothes on a regular basis. The process of cleaning out your closet will help you gauge the types of clothes that consistently get unworn and neglected, as well as help you rediscover some items that you forgot about. If you start donating your clothes regularly, you’ll find yourself buying less crap that will make you question your sanity when you find it lying on the floor of your closet months later. It’s a win-win for you and your local thrift store.

Try on everything
Instead of debating whether you or not you love something while you’re looking through the racks, grab everything that appeals to you and make your buying decisions in the dressing room. Just because something looks drab on the hanger or not quite your size doesn’t mean that it won’t look awesome when you put it on. Be indiscriminate as you thumb through the racks and save your eagle eye for the fitting room. You’ll probably end up finding something that surprises you.

Don’t fall in love with something before you try it on
If you find the absolute best article of clothing you’ve ever seen (and God knows you will), don’t start planning your happy future together until you see how it looks on you. Murphy’s Law dictates that you’ll find the dress of your dreams in one size too small. I know this tragic situation all to well: everything about the article of clothing is perfect, except for the fact that it won’t button up or cover your butt or allow you to breathe properly. But since it’s the BEST THING EVER and you never want anyone else to wear something as awesome, you decide that you can tolerate the way it flattens your boobs into an awkward square shape. You tell yourself you’ll wear it after you lose those ten pounds you’ve been trying to get rid of. It’ll be inspiration, right? WRONG. Seriously, this mentality is the #1 reason why so many girls have the cutest fucking things hoarded up in the back of their closets that they never wear. If something doesn’t fit you, it isn’t meant to be. You can do better things with it than never wear it, like put it back on the rack and let someone else die of happiness when they bring it to the fitting room. Maybe if we all stopped hoarding the best items in the thrift store, we’d all find our perfect clothing matches more often.

If you can’t decide whether to buy something, give it some time
Sometimes after trying an item on, you still can’t decide whether to dish out the cash for it. Maybe the price is higher than you’d like or there is a small stain in the fabric. Maybe it’s amazingly flashy and incredible but you’re not sure if it’s quite your style. Even if the article of clothing is $1.99, it can be tough to resolve to purchase something if you aren’t fully sold on it. If you’re unsure, walk around with the item. Look at other racks and knick-knacks, and eventually work your way back to the fitting room and put it on one last time. As you try it on, imagine what you already have in your wardrobe that you’d pair it with. Does it need a belt or blazer over it? What is it missing that’s preventing you from loving it? If you’re shopping with a friend, ask her to try it on. You might just need to see it on someone else to realize how awesome it is. If you still can’t decide, imagine how you’d feel if you put it back on the rack and left it. Would you come back to the store fifteen minutes later and frantically search for it? Would you be upset if someone else picked it up and bought it? If not, fuck it. Don’t buy something you don’t want or need. You can buy a beer with the money you save. Although thrift store finds feel like one in a million, there are plenty of items out there that you’ll love. You just need to find them.


A Love Letter to the Internet

I am at what I would call a pivotal time in my life right now. At 23 years old, I’m past the busy-work of childhood, the insecurities of adolescence, and the indignation of early adulthood. I’ve learned most of the facts, numbers, and definitions that I’ll ever know, but some would say I have close to no experience. I know things but I don’t know things, you know? I don’t think this is too different for most twenty-something Americans. A lot of us occupy a nebulous grey space that lies awkwardly between being nothing and being something. A bunch of us also spend a lot of time on a nebulous grey space that is both nothing and something: the Internet. The Internet defines my generation and I’m okay with that.

My generation is unique because we can barely remember a time before the Internet. Unlike our parents, we don’t see the Internet as an innovation but a fact of life. We’ve also watched it expand and evolve. We remember Yahoo! chat rooms (remember Yahoo with the exclamation point?), Geocities, and Hamster Dance, unlike the generations who have come after us. Children growing up with the Internet today can’t imagine ordering pizza using the phone book, life before Facebook, a time when the noun blogger wasn’t in Webster’s, or, most recently, reading things on fucking pieces of paper. My generation has seen the scope of the Internet firsthand, and we know that it will always get better. It’s the one childhood friend we have that hasn’t had babies and become totally lame and we actually still talk to. The Internet is important to us.

Looking back on my use of the Internet, I can see a trend. As a kid, I obsessively searched for Sailor Moon pictures and printed them at my mom’s office, which was the only color printer I had available to me at the time. I loved making collages of whatever I was into and websites were my main source for images. I also tried to make and maintain my own blogs, but would always get bored and neglect them within a month. When I was a teenager, I probably had ten LiveJournal accounts and loved lurking on a multitude of communities. Whenever I found a photo or drawing that I liked, I would drag it into a folder on my Desktop titled “Good Stuff.” Now, not much has changed. I have a collection of blogs and news websites that I keep up with daily and my Tumblr neatly contains an assemblage of text and visuals that appeal to me. And I still try to put my own writing and art out there when I can.

As a college graduate attempting to find my place in the world, I now realize that what I’ve been doing on the Internet for years has influenced the tangible things I do in “real life.” The photos I have saved on my computer have inspired many of the designs I produce for my graduate classes. The images I expose myself to inspire the articles I produce, and the bloggers I follow online motivate me to be a better, funnier, more coherent and straightforward writer. The bottom line is that I know what I like, and I think that's helped me figure out what I want to do. John Waters said, “Without obsession, life is nothing,” and it’s so true. Our obsessions shape our identities, for better or for worse. And no obsession seems too strange or silly when you can find people across the world with the same one. The Internet lets us to cultivate our obsessions, to create virtual sanctuaries, shrines, and altars to all that we adore. The Internet allows us to create communities based on our obsessions, and expand those obsessions in accordance with what we are exposed to within these communities. Have you ever re-watched a favorite film or flipped through a book you hadn't touched for years and, days later,  serendipitously saw stills from the movie or quotes from the novel popping up all over Tumblr? That happened to me a couple months ago after I re-watched Edward Scissorhands for the first time since my childhood. We have somehow managed to create a collective unconsciousness centered around our obsessions, a kind of sixth-sense. And the tangibility of our obsessions wholly depends on how we translate them into our day-to-day lives. When we allow our obsessions to crossover into our writing, our art, our outfits, our conversations, we can put them to use. Our generation will, without a doubt, be defined by our obsessions, including our fixation with the Internet, so why not embrace it?


Man-Made Monsters

She cooked eggs when she couldn’t sleep because it reminded her of her father, and his memory comforted her. When she was young, he often prepared breakfast late at night. She would be slouched over homework, watching one of the four channels that worked on the family’s TV, or even bundled in bed reading, and he would call out from the kitchen, asking if she wanted eggs and coffee. She always refused the coffee due to her sensitivity to caffeine, but he asked every time regardless. They sat at the dining room table at 11 or midnight, sometimes even later, and ate their eggs with toast. Always sunny-side up, the toast for breaking into pieces and dipping into the yolks. “Dip-eggs,” he called them, as if that moniker was universally recognized. They usually had school in the morning; he taught a class at the community college and she was in high school, but the eggs and his coffee felt like a necessary bedtime precursor, like the Shelley and the Atwood he had read aloud to her when she was younger. She fell asleep listening to the stories of monsters and handmaids, the gloomy visions of women uneasy with the world, and he didn’t find that unusual. Just like midnight dip-eggs. Breakfast before bed was natural, even essential, and she held onto it, claimed it as her own long after she had bought her own Teflon pan and wrote essays about Frankenstein for her college English classes. The smell of fried eggs and buttered toast made her feel safe and contained, like she was not floating aimlessly but rooted to a constant whose presence was sometimes faint and unseen, but always felt, like electricity or thunder in the distance.


New Year, No Fear

Most of my memories from college are fleeting and blurred from intoxication or sleep-deprivation, but one of the few specific moments I can remember is from a 1 am fire drill in the dorms when I was a freshman living with my best friend. It was a school night, probably a Thursday, but Amanda and I had some friends in our dorm room drinking forties and watching Fantasia clips on YouTube. We hadn’t been the only people still awake in our rooms that night, but it was apparent that most people had been asleep prior to when the fire alarm went off. Some walked out into the November night wrapped in their comforters, which they obviously stripped off their twin-size mattresses along with their bodies, and other people were wearing only their boyfriend’s boxers and an old shirt, shivering in the cold-for-Tucson weather.

An image from that night that stays with me today is of a girl whom I made eye contact with on the stairwell as we descended out of the building into the street. She was shoeless, wearing a Christmas-themed fleece pajama set and glasses, with white spots of Clearasil scattered across her face like freckles. Looking at her, I was grateful to be in fully dressed with makeup and styled hair to counter my drunken demeanor. I was thankful that the fire alarm hadn’t woken me up because I knew that if I had already been in bed, I would’ve looked exactly the same as her. The glasses, the childish sleep clothes, the tired face free of makeup and riddled with anti-zit cream—these were all aspects of myself that, at the time, I considered to be extremely private and embarrassing. I know that no matter how urgent the fire alarm sounded, even if there actually was a fire, I would have slapped a bra on, changed into something presentable, wiped the crusty white dots off my face, and patted some powder and blush on my face before rushing out of my dorm room. I would have done these things because for as long as I could remember I truly believed that it would be shameful and humiliating for other people to see me in my most unprepared states. That’s why, prior to this point in my life, I never wore my hair in a lazy bun or left the house wearing anything but clean, well-fitting clothes. I wanted everyone to think that I never looked sloppy or careless or anything but perfect because that’s how girls are supposed to seem, right? At least, that’s what I thought other people expected of girls, including myself. Especially myself.

I remember this moment so distinctly because the sleepy smile the girl flashed my way struck me as so fearless and unapologetic. She might not have realized she had fallen asleep with white blotches on her face, or maybe she did; the point was that she didn’t give a shit. Her smile seemed to say to me, “I might not look put-together right now, but so what? I was sleeping. What do you expect?” The only word I choose to use to describe this girl as is brave. I hope that someday, someone else will secretly think of me as brave. At the turn of 2012, I originally opted to avoid resolutions, but I think bravery is something I would like to see in myself this year. I think that’s the only New Year’s resolution any of us should try to stick to. There are a lot of ways to define bravery and act as such, but for me it means being capable of smiling at a stranger with a dime-sized white splotch on the tip of your nose. Let's all strive for that, if anything at all, shall we?


Embracing Narcissism (Or Not)

Like a lot of women, I’ve been battling self-hate for what feels like my entire life. Whether it’s my body, my clothes, my attitude, or my intelligence, I constantly feel sub-par and inadequate and like everyone knows it. On top of that, I’m a perfectionist, so embracing my flaws has never really been a viable option. I underestimate myself in everything I do, and the thought of loving myself grosses me out. I am the anti-narcissist.

As a feminist, it’s especially hard for me to reconcile my feelings of self-loathing with my fuck-societal-standards-mentality. I know that when I scrutinize my weight or frown at my complexion in the mirror I’m falling victim to the sexist expectations of femininity that are perpetuated by the media and society in general. Sometimes I hate myself for being a bad feminist because of my self-hate. It’s a vicious cycle.

While I believe that acknowledging the conflict between my self-hate and feminism is a step in the right direction, self-acceptance is my ultimate goal. That’s why I’ve been really fascinated with the fat acceptance movement, specifically its effect on global communities of women via Tumblr and LiveJournal. I was familiar with the concept behind the movement for years before I watched The Fat Body (In)visible and started reading some of the blogs of the women who made/are featured in the documentary. Following Jessica, Margitte, Majestic, and other fat acceptance bloggers Tumblr has really shaped my views on the movement because their blogs illustrate fat acceptance in action. They prove that accepting and appreciating bodies of all sizes isn’t as ridiculous as society, science, and the media have made it seem. These blogs have also created communities of readers and activists alike who participate in a constantly-evolving dialogue about bodies. I think it’s safe to say that these blogs have helped numerous girls struggling with eating disorders and self-hate, as well as helped to further the fat acceptance movement as a whole.
Despite my gratitude for these bloggers and the movement itself, I can’t get behind the idea of self-love fully due to my anti-narcissist attitude. You don’t have to be terribly perceptive in order to catch-on to the self-centered undertones of the blogs I listed above. It seems like in order to love your body, you need to be obsessed with yourself and use the word “I” at least in every sentence. I can’t get behind that. Why can’t we maintain a consciousness and respect for ourselves as well as other people? What if my self-love starts with accepting other people first and foremost? After all, Narcissus, the boy who dies after falling in love with his image reflected in a pool, isn’t the only person who is harmed by his narcissism. In Ovid’s story, the nymph Echo pines for Narcissus in vain because he is too occupied with his own image to notice her.


Fuck Me Gently with a Chainsaw

Who says that guys are the only ones who get hard-ons for films with lots blood, guts, and violence? It’s fine for women to want bad boys, but what about bad boys (and girls) with other people’s blood splattered all over their faces? I don’t know about you, but I get a serious goreboner for violent characters in films. I’d totally jump Norman Bates’ bones and I’m not ashamed to admit it. The combination of a ridiculously attractive actor and blood-spurting badassery really gets me. I call it ultraviolent beauteousness, “gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh,” to quote my all-time favorite Kubrickian sexpot, Alex DeLarge. I can’t be the only girl who swoons over a foxy film character with a bloody past, so I’ve compiled a list of my top three ruthless, ass-kicking pussy-throbs (that’s a word, right?). P.S. There are spoilers. You've been warned.

Alexander DeLarge
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
It’s too easy to fall in love with Alex (Malcolm McDowell) in Kubrick’s brilliant adaptation of Burgess’ novel A Clockwork Orange. First of all, he’s beautiful, especially if you’re into Brits (which I so am). He totally rocks those iconic falsies, bowler hat, and codpiece like no one else could. He also looks good in tighty-whities and his butt is wonderful (gratuitous ass-shots are very much appreciated). Alex is the perfect combination of boyish adorableness and ruthless aggression, and his arresting stare with which the film begins is emblematic of this. He is at once cold and inviting, relaxed yet intent, alluring yet frightening. He masturbates while listening to Beethoven and beats a man while performing the classic tune “Singin’ in the Rain.” Alex is as passionate about art as he is about violence, and I can’t help but find that charming as hell. He’s a lout and a murderer, but he isn’t a mindless criminal. Alex is a disturbingly sympathetic character, and I think that might partially be due to his pretty face. He looks overwhelmingly good with blood dripping from his nose, and his weapon of choice – his cane rigged with a bowie knife at the tip – complements all of his ensembles nicely. Alex is an aesthetic feast for the eyes and ears, and his appeal relies on the balance between his need for violence and his love for art. After experiencing the Ludovico technique, Alex loses his allure. He wretches at the thought of physical violence and crumbles upon hearing his once-beloved Ludwig van. He’s so boring and pitiful. It’s at the height of his virility, passion, and aggression that Alex is, in my opinion, his most attractive. And boy is he attractive. No other film character has captured my heart like Alex. 

Black Mamba/Beatrix Kiddo
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2 (2003 & 2004)
Tarantino has always been one of my favorite directors because he writes badass female characters and casts smoking hot ladies to play these roles. I practically worship Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction (and have consequently adopted her hairstyle), but I have to admit that her role as Beatrix in the Kill Bill series is the bloodiest and therefore best. Beatrix is set on revenge, and she gets it by slicing off arms, legs, and heads, plucking out eyeballs, and making a dude’s heart explode with her hand. Kill Bill is an absolute bloodbath, and at the center of all the slaughter is the incredibly strong, fast, talented, and fearless, “roaring and rampaging” bride-to-be, Beatrix, codename Black Mamba. And she’s hot. Beatrix is coated in sweat, blood, and/or dirt for the majority of Kill Bill yet she still looks better than most girls do after a jog. Part of Black Mamba’s appeal is definitely her iconic black and yellow jumpsuit, but I find her determination the most attractive. Beatrix endures a shot to the head, rape, being buried alive, and numerous samurai-sword showdowns and hand-to-hand combat in order to stop being an assassin and become a mother. In order to do so she must kill Bill, which repeatedly seems and almost proves to be an impossible task. Most of the action of Kill Bill is unbelievable, but Beatrix’s character is surprisingly relatable and realistic. Her feud with Bill is an extreme representation of something that causes great pain for any person: heartbreak. Beatrix is a symbol for humanity’s ability to endure and carry on, and while that concept might not turn me on, it’s an idea I can get behind. And the excessive amount of blood and gore and sexy, ass-kicking women in Kill Bill helps to drive that message home.  

The Driver
Drive (2011)
It’s really rare for me to walk out of a movie theater and not want to kill myself for having wasted upwards of ten dollars on some bunk blockbuster. Seeing movies is expensive and often not worth it, so I was thrilled after seeing Drive in theaters a few days ago. Drive has everything that I’m crazy about: a great soundtrack, a slow-paced yet exciting plot, HOTTIES (Ryan Gosling and Christina Hendricks, anyone?), and just the right amount of gore. Before I talk about how charming and beautiful Ryan Gosling is as the Driver, I have to admit something. I never found Ryan Gosling attractive prior to seeing this film (I know, the horror!). I have an extreme aversion to vanilla celebrities and I always found Ryan Gosling a little too vanilla for my taste. But then I saw Drive. Gosling’s portrayal of the Driver is flawless. He’s a man of few words (very few words), which makes him soft and childishly adorable yet mysterious and brooding. He maintains a straight-faced and calm persona even while being pursued by cops or driving backwards down a highway at 80 mph. But sometimes he loses it, and when he does, it’s fucking scary. He transforms from his persona as the shyly-smiling “kid” to an unnamed man of mystery who doesn’t think twice about staining his white and gold Scorpio Rising-inspired jacket with a another man’s brains (and continues to wear it! Dreamy!) right in front of his love-interest. The Driver’s character hinges on the balance of his paradoxical traits. Just as he maintains his double-life as a getaway driver and a stuntman, he similarly balances his innocent tenderness toward Irene and Benicio with his blood-thirsty brutality toward those that threaten the people he loves. Did I mention how good the Driver looks with blood all over his face? I squealed when he walked out of the motel bathroom after killing Cook’s men with a shotgun. That’s a really good look for Ryan.


To My Dear Readers and Aficionados (All 2 of You)

I apologize for the lag in posting. School, work, and a social life (what??) have left me with very little time to write this week. I am currently working on a post, but it requires some research aka movie-rewatching (FILM POST, WOOT!), so you can expect that to be published in the next few days (unless I'm afflicted by an ungodly post-birthday hangover).