Yes! You Can Machine Wash Wool Sweaters (Mostly)

One actually can machine wash most wool sweaters (even the ones with a “dry clean only” tag). The gentle cycle might seem to be the way to go but it’s not gentle enough.

First: Never wash mohair sweaters, those with more than 10% angora fibers, or with special coatings/finishes. Also, don’t wash wool sweaters with an open stitch or with embellishments (beads, spangles, etc.). If you’ve got the yarn sample that comes attached to the tag of many new sweaters, use it to test whether a particular sweater can be washed. Snip off about an inch of the wool, pop it into a mesh bag, and wash it according to the instructions below.

Second: When washing wool sweaters, you want to protect them from agitation. With rare exception, wet wool shrinks when agitated or tumbled in the dryer (with or without heat). Mesh bags are your friend and absolutely necessary. (If you have no mesh bags, hand wash your sweaters.) Also, big, cotton towels are necessary. Thin towels are actually better than thick ones. They cause less fluff/frizz.

If the sweater is not very dirty, use the Dryel or Woolite system of dry cleaning in the dryer. Use this method to clean embellished sweaters. Be certain to put each sweater in a separate mesh bag. Don’t turn embellished sweaters inside out. Use the spot cleaning spray and the corner of the drying cloth to gently clean any spots/stains. Use the minimum amount of dryer time according to the directions on the box. (NOTE: When using Dryel, place mesh bags inside the larger zippered bag and pop the cleaning sheet in with the mesh encased sweaters.) If it’s a heavily or intricately embellished sweater, or has fragile decorations, take it to a specialist. Glass beads beak. Plastic spangles melt. Fringe becomes tangled.

To wash a wool sweater, turn it inside out and put it in a mesh bag. Do not put more than one sweater in each bag. It’s better to wash two or three sweaters in a small load than to try to wash more sweaters in a large one.

Place a large towel on the floor for each sweater. (If items are small, you can put several on each towel.)

Let the machine fill to wash load height with cold water. Add about 1/2 the recommended amount of vegetable based detergent as it fills. Woolite is popular but doesn’t rinse as quickly and thoroughly as Method, Mrs. Meyer’s. Seventh Generation, and other organic and/or vegetable based detergents. You want the detergent to rinse thoroughly in a very brief.

Once the machine has filled, close the lid and let the water and soap agitate for 30 seconds or so. Then open the lid and add the mesh encased sweaters. Push them down. Shut the lid and let the machine agitate as you count to 30. Stop the cycle, advance the program to spin and let the machine spin as you count to 20. Stop the machine, advance the program to rinse, allow it to add water normally, agitate for a count of 30, and then spin as you count to 20. Repeat the rinse/spin cycle. Open the machine, fish out the mesh bags (they’ll be very wet) press the water out of each sopping mesh bundle by hand. (Voluntolding someone with strong hands is very useful but don’t wring them. Wringing = shrunken, misshapen sweaters.)

Drying SweaterOpen the mesh bags, lay out each sweater on a towel. Gently shape and smooth each sweater to the right shape. Sleeves may be folded over the body (see image). Roll the sweater and towel together. Step on the towel to press out additional water. (You can also just use your hands but it’s kind of fun to dance on your clothes.) If necessary, re-roll sweater in another dry towel and press out more water. Dry flat, if possible. If not, be certain to press out all the water you can and drape over a couple of back-to-back chair backs or a padded/towel wrapped hanger bar.

Don’t forget to let the machine finish the spin cycle so that there’s no standing water left in it.

These instructions are for top loading machines. If front loaders can be stopped, advanced, and restarted, this would also work. Just put the detergent in the bottom of the machine, add the mesh bags, and follow the directions above.

I prefer to machine wash sweaters because dry cleaners often reuse the same solution over and over. (I had a cream sweater that became darker and darker, each time I had it cleaned. As I waited to collect my clothing one day, I noticed the dry cleaning solution was very dark, did some research, and discovered dirty solution was being deposited on my clothing. I began washing the sweater and it’s now cream coloured again.)

Do realize, some sweaters must be dry cleaned by a specialist or spot cleaned and never placed in a dryer. If at all possible, test a bit of the wool before washing. Also, some sweaters, even ones marked “machine washable,” suffer reduction or fall apart when washed or dry cleaned.

2015 A to Z Challenge Reflections

At the end of each annual A to Z Challenge (that’s what the month of April is all about), bloggers write a post reflecting on the experience.

I launched Glam Of God! That’s a huge goal met. I encountered many other bloggers and some of their readers. ‘Twas lovely. Blogging two posts each day, one here and one at Loved As If was hard work. And again, ’twas lovely. I’d do it again. Well, maybe I’ll limit myself to one post or write more posts in advance. The A to Z Challenge is a great way to make my way through a writing project even when other things are calling my attention. That, along with meeting other bloggers, is what I love.

I do wish it was easier to follow the blogs. Perhaps next year I’ll program a spreadsheet and tick off the blogs I’ve already visited. Except I happen along an interesting blog and want to return (or, worse, subscribe) and then I’m overwhelmed with visits. It may not be an A to Z Challenge issue but a personal issue. If I program that spreadsheet, I’ll make it available to any who want it.

Thank you for such a lovely challenge. I’m looking forward to next year. Who knows, I might have a theme.

Z is for Zori

Fashion is cyclical and regional. Garments and shoes are in today, out tomorrow, and fashionable again after a few years. Often regional garments, worn for 100’s of years, inspire designers from another area of the world. Zori are perfect examples of the fashion cycle that draws from many regions and eras.

z is for zori 2Zori are classic Japanese footwear, the forerunner of flip flops. Whether made of rubber, leather, cork, or other materials, flip flops are pretty much the same zori design the Japanese have been wearing for a very long, long time. In fact, these zori are available at Japanese shops and online right now. (I bought a pair when I first moved to NYC.) The materials are slightly different but they’re still zori (and still stylish and fashionable).

Z is for zori antique (1)These antique zori were made for a child. Notice the shape at the toe. Haute shoe designers have been making variations on this shape over the past several years. Some of their designs are covered in silk, like these. It’s the same fashion, reworked and re-imagined for today.

z is for zori (1)These zori inspired sandals have a sculpted sole, a Roman thong, and boots/socks, which would make them more stable. They’re are not my personal taste, though I do like avant garde. But these combine more elements than I’m happy wearing at once. And I’m afraid of them. But many women love them; I’ve yet to see or read of women falling because they wear shoes like these.

z is for zori flip flops (1)I do wear sandals such as these; they’re just embellished, leather zori.

Fashion has always been cyclical and has drawn from various regions and historical periods. (Zouave jackets took their design from uniforms worn in the 18th and 19th centuries. The basic design is still available today, often as an open cardigan.) So, if you love a garment or shoes, if the quality and condition are good, if the fit is good, even if what you love is out at the moment, keep it. We often love things because they tell the world who we are. That’s personal style. So even if you don’t want to wear it today, soon, it will either be vintage or back in style.

Y is for Young Clothes

When I was a junior in high school, the incoming freshmen thought I was a teacher. I was not yet 14, but wore dresses (or skirts), jackets, and real shoes everyday. I carried a real purse and a structured book bag, wore makeup, and carried myself as if I were an adult. (Sometimes, I’d have lunch in San Francisco with a friend in college, order a glass of wine, and not even be carded.) I felt so grown up in my adult outfits and wanted nothing to do with young clothes. When a freshman was surprised to see me in a student activity, I felt uncomfortable and began wearing jeans and tops more often. (It was certainly easier to change for water ballet and dance.)

Shortly after her 25th birthday, my roommate decided to stop wearing short skirts. I was purging my closet of several pieces I no longer wore and offered them to her. “No thanks,” she responded. “I want my skirts to be no higher than 2 to 3″ above my knee. Short skirts just feel uncomfortable now. I’m getting married and I want to look like a woman.”

At 25 she wanted adult clothes, not young clothes. I was a bit nonplussed. As a young child of four, I had first noticed that women wore different clothes. They even wore dresses that fit at the waist! (Those itched me.) In old movies, there was a difference between what adults and those under 18 wore but the world had changed and women wore what they pleased. And it pleased my roommate to dress like an adult woman. I felt intrigued and decided that perhaps I would wear adult clothes when I reached 25.

Today, adult women and teen girls wear similar clothing all of the time: Tees and cute tops, jeans, cardis, workout (yoga) wear, sneakers/trainers, jean jackets, short and/or long skirts, cute dresses, flip flops, etc. A few months ago, I discovered the television program, Burn Notice and was struck by Fiona’s outfits. They’re beautiful and fun and most are suitable for any teen girl as well as 37 year-old Anwar or even a 57 year old woman with a slender body. Ms. Anwar’s wardrobe was chock full of expensive designer pieces. But similar designs are available at Urban Outfitters, Torrid, Forever 21, and every other trendy shop in any mall. Quality has become the difference between adult clothes and young clothes.

Does it matter? Ought there be a difference? At least sometimes? Each woman must decide based on her life.

A dress code memo circulated in the early Summer each year at my last law firm. Women were reminded not to wear spandex, flip flops, jeans, and spaghetti straps. Each year, those very garments slowly crept back into the firm. I was one of those who read the memo, determined I was not guilty of wearing the forbidden garments, and tossed it in the recycling bin.

One Summer afternoon, I was asked to join a working meeting. It was rather warm so I left my jacket hanging from the back of my chair and took the elevator to the conference room/reception level. When I entered the floor, I found myself in a throng of suited attorneys and other visitors. Wearing a cute cotton top, cute trousers, and thong sandals (not flip flops), I was in compliance with the dress code (jackets were only required for court and client meetings). But in the midst of all those suits, I felt like a child at an adult-only cocktail party. How I wished I had worn my jacket. It didn’t matter one bit that there were other women in the working meeting dressed as I. All that mattered was that I felt like a child.

If my job were to blow up cars and be a sniper (which just might be cool), a cute top, cute trousers, and thong sandals might be appropriate (though stouter shoes would make running away easier). When I worked in law, the appropriate outfit was one in which I was seen as a peer; after that day, I never left my seat without my jacket and stopped wearing thong sandals to work. If I were a teacher, appropriate would be an outfit that expressed authority (without severity) and indicated that becoming an adult was a great goal. I’d want my students to desire to be like me.

young clothes (1)So perhaps the issue isn’t young clothes vs. adult clothes. Perhaps the issue is learning to dress appropriately for the various functions in our lives. For casual occasions, I might wear an outfit similar to this one (with longer shorts) but I wouldn’t wear it to work in a law firm. Neither would I wear it to church or on non-casual occasions.

It’s no longer the 1960’s or earlier. We don’t have the same societal rules and the rules we do have, such as “business casual,” don’t really help. They encourage us to wear these spandex pants today because they’re so comfortable, or slip into these flip flops (which are leather so almost real shoes) because they’re right here and easy to put on. But we can learn what is appropriate for our lives and when wearing young clothes isn’t a good idea.

X is for XXL (& Other Plus Sizing Headaches)

Kristin and Sheridan are two intrepid, young women who wear plus sizes. They ordered clothing online and revealed the disappointing results on BuzzFeed, even mimicking the model’s poses. Their comments are hilarious and their experiences showcase many plus sizing headaches. I highly recommend the piece.

This series of photos comparing trousers on a model to the way they really look is a perfect example of what all woman face. But women who wear plus sizes can expect additional plus sizing headaches:

 xxl model xxl kristin xxl sheridan

xxl model back xxl kristin xxl sheridan back

These fit the model but they don’t fit Kristin or Sheridan. That’s not surprising because “plus size” models are significantly smaller than most women who wear plus sizes. According to Plus Model Magazine:

The term ‘Plus Size’ is an industry standard that applies to any women who is over a size 12. To be even more specific, the fashion industry identifies plus size as sizes 12-24, super size as sizes 4X-6X and extended size as 7X and up.

Of course, Susan Levine (President and CEO of MSA Models) tells a different story:

Plus size caters to anyone that is size 18 to 24. A lot of the models are diversified, meaning they can do fit modeling, catalogue or showroom. A successful plus-size model must have perfect proportions for her size and she has to keep her body in check at every single moment so her size doesn’t deviate.
She also tells us:

If you have the right proportions and are 5’8 to 5’8 ½ , you can be a fit model (junior models can be a little bit shorter). Commercial plus-size models can be taller…

What she doesn’t say is what the right proportions are. Whatever they are, the plus size model will be stitched into clothing for photo shoots; runway models are chosen either because they fit particular garments or because they have a certain “look” and their clothes will be altered to fit them. She also fails to tell us that since there is no standard sizing, one manufacturer’s size 12 or 18 will be bigger or smaller than another’s. And there’s even more to the story. According to Susan Barone, owner of online plus size shop Always For Me:

Plus sizes are sizes 14W – 24W. Super sizes and extended sizes are used interchangeably for sizes 26W and above. Sometimes the size 26W is included in plus size.

A 14W is significantly bigger than a 14 misses. (There is still no industry standard for either). And women who wear plus sizes still have unique body shapes, can be petite or tall, or a combination thereof. (Women can even be plus sized on one half and regular misses or petite on the other.) Kristin seems to be plus size petite on top and probably plus size regular on bottom. Finding plus size petites are almost impossible. Sheridan seems to be plus size tall on top and plus size misses on the bottom. Most plus sized clothing for tall women would be huge on her and unsuitable for a young woman. Those in the business don’t even share the same definition for the range of sizes that make up plus sizing. Of course women who wear plus sizes have plus sizing headaches.

When a woman is size 14 (misses) and above, putting together a wardrobe that fits and suits her style is a lot of work. When illness, steroids, and other meds caused me to gain 80 pounds, I went from a 6/8 to a size that only heaven knows. But my tastes didn’t change. I still love J. Crew tops, a variety of skirts and trousers, cool jackets, and dresses. Everything should be a bit unique, even avant garde. I mix it all up and create outfits I love.

J. Crew offers some items in extended sizes which helps. But, even the smallest clothing from plus sized shops is made for women significantly larger than I am. Many shops in the US are extending their size ranges but they haven’t mastered fitting plus sizes. Or perhaps they’re each listening to a different authority. Probably, they don’t understand that women who wear plus sizes are actually many different sizes and shapes.

Since many shops carry nothing larger than a size 12 (sometimes 10), it’s almost impossible to walk into a shop and find anything that fits, at least anything I like. The best answer I’ve found thus far are some of my favourite English shops that sell online: Toast, Boden, Poetry, Wrap, and YOOX, an online discount shop selling lots of British and European designers. Many English (and some European) brands carry some or all of their regular stock in extended sizes and seem to have mastered fit better than American manufacturers. So if you’ve worn their clothing for years, you should be able to continue wearing them. (NOTE: It’s necessary to check if the sizing is US or English. English sizes are 2 or 4 sizes bigger. Each site that ships to the US has conversion instructions where necessary.) There are many online English shops in many price ranges to suit any woman’s taste. Just Google, “online English women’s wear.” English shops have great sales, just like American ones. (Toast has amazing flash and archive sales.)  If the price is quoted in pounds (£), check the conversion rate and subtract 18% (Americans don’t pay VAT).

English online shops aren’t ideal. If you’ve never worn their clothes, it’s still work to determine fit. Some shops ship from the US and often offer free returns. Many do provide actual garment measurements and offer great customer service to help women get clothing that fits. It’s still far from ideal. Ultimately, each plus size woman must determine her body shape (see here and here) and look for pieces that work for her. Searching for pieces from a variety of sources usually brings more success than trying to find everything in one shop. (That’s true for every woman.) And, to avoid plus sizing headaches, women who wear plus sizes will have to find alternative ways to have cute outfits unless results like these are acceptable:

xxl kristin skirt xxl sheridan skirt

Stay tuned for more ideas on finding cute outfits and minimizing plus sizing headaches.

W is for Wedding Gowns

Wedding gowns are the stuff of dreams, often dreams that began in childhood. Every women wants to be gorgeous on her wedding day. She wants to live her dreams and create wonderful, lasting memories. Brides-to-be who want modest gowns often find themselves in a sea of strapless lace and tulle. At least 75% of what she will see will be strapless. Much of the rest will be almost strapless or unattractive.

And most of the gowns, unfortunately, will look very much alike. The overlay will have different embellishments and details but there are only a few strapless, wedding gown shapes that are then decorated in a variety of ways. Strapless wedding gowns are easier to design, easier to alter, require less work, and cost less to produce. (Sleeves and shoulders demand more work and materials a/k/a increased production costs a/k/a less profit.) Many women will settle for wide pieces of lace that are fanned out to make “cap sleeves.”

One of the hardest things to accept is that clothing manufacturers are simply out to make as much profit as possible. Designers do want to make beautiful wedding gowns but they must do so while spending as little as possible. They aren’t thinking of brides (though they might think they are) or offering a genuine variety of styles. They’re asking, ‘What will sell?’ and ‘How little can I spend and how much can I make’? (Materials and labour for a $3500 wedding gown come to about $500 or less. Then, alterations will cost approximately $500 or more.) A wedding gown is an opportunity to make a great deal of money by playing on the fantasies of each bride-to-be and reminding her she is creating memories to last a lifetime.

With rare exception, until about the 19th century, brides wore their best clothing, even if black, to be married. Wealthy brides wore more costly garments as a sign of their status. Nearly all brides (even royal brides) expected to wear their wedding garments again; fabric was just too expensive. In the 19th century, brides began wearing gowns that they would not wear again. Many daughters did wear their mother’s gowns.

Those gowns were memorable then and remain so today. Princess Grace’s wedding gown is still beautiful, relevant, and a source of inspiration nearly 60 years after she wed Prince Rainier Grimaldi of Monaco.

wedding gown grace kellyBrides who want a gorgeous, modest gown, would do well to take a look further back in history. The strapless gown phenomenon is recent and not based on what brides want (after all, they don’t see many alternatives) but on what is easiest and most lucrative for wedding gown manufacturers. In the past, brides can find modest yet truly exquisite gowns.

These antique gowns are as gorgeous and relevant today as they were in the 19th and early 20th century.

wedding gown antique 1 wedding gown antique 2 wedding gowns vintage 3

These vintage gowns from the mid-20th century are still extremely modern and relevant. Each is covered but not excessively so. Each is unique. Each suits a different personality, a different wedding. Each is memorable.

Wedding gowns vintage 1 (1)wedding gowns vintage 2wedding gowns 50s (1)wedding lace-boho-vintage-wedding-dress-with-sleeves-open-back-and-beautiful-skirt-detailing (1)

An actual vintage gown may not be right for many women. But, vintage wedding gowns can serve as inspiration. There are modern bridal companies making gorgeous, vintage inspired gowns. Just Google, “vintage inspired wedding gowns” and your city to find images online and bridal shops that carry wedding gowns like these:

wedding gowns modern 1 (1) wedding modern 2 (1)wedding modern vintage-inspired-modest-wedding-dress (1) wedding modern vintage-inspired-wedding-dress-2012-bridal-gowns-steven-birnbaum-collection-callie__full (1)

And stay tuned for additional posts about wedding gowns and accessories. In the meantime, Anthropologie has a line of vintage-inspired, “build-your-own-gown” pieces that provides another source for inspiration. Why not mix an antique corset with a new skirt and a lace “topper”? The pieces can easily be taken apart and worn again with other clothing. Since choosing and buying a wedding gown is a big job anyway, why not have one that is not only modest but perfect for your taste and style?

V is for Vintage

Vintage clothes are like fine wine, they improve with age. These garments were beautiful then and remain so now. Even when there’s no “retro-inspired” version being shown on the runways, vintage still looks fresh, beautiful, even luxurious.

Current fashion often samples looks from the past. (When I worked at Loft in 2000, we sampled embellishments from the middle ages and styles from the 1950’s and 60’s.) So vintage clothing remains stylish and fashionable for many, many years and will continue to do so. And vintage is quality. Many vintage fabrics are no longer manufactured. To reduce the cost of materials and production, many design and construction techniques are no longer used. Those techniques helped clothing fit.

For example, many vintage skirts had six or more seams. Each seam was 1/2″ to 5/8″ instead of 1/4″ to 3/8″ (the standard today). Those wide seams allowed women to let their skirts out to get a better fit. And those design and construction techniques sculpted a woman’s body so that women of various sizes looked amazing. (They also wore corsets and had great posture. Both really affect the way a woman’s clothes look. Corsets are a bit much but great posture is worth cultivating.)

vintage ladies in 1950s

It’s worth doing a bit of internet research to discover the huge variety of vintage clothing. Garments from the 19th century through the 1980’s are all vintage now. Pinterest is a great place to start. Follow my boards, Beautiful Vintage and The Age of Haute Couture, and search for other vintage boards. An hour on Pinterest will expose even neophytes and newbies to a variety of vintage designers and garments. Glamor Daze has a wealth of information on vintage clothing through the 1960’s. And check out some of the many, many online vintage shops. Keep such research in the shopping education category and don’t look at price tags.

A few of things to keep in mind:

  • Some vintage is very expensive. But reasonably priced vintage clothing can often be found at thrift shops, flea markets, in small, dusty antique shops, at vintage fairs, and even online. Use the internet to learn what attracts you first then keep an eye out for reasonably priced pieces. (I’ve found dresses for $4 to $10 and jackets for $25. My 1960’s Spring coat cost $10 and is gorgeous.)
  • Ignore size labels. I once got a gorgeous 1940s sundress because the first woman who looked at it balked at the size 16 on the label. What she didn’t know is that sizing for women’s wear changed after the 60’s. That 16 is a modern 6/8.
  • Availability of sizes depends on the vendor and the area of the country, even the world. One vendor may have mostly small sizes, another will only have large sizes. Vintage requires a bit of effort and patience. Just keep your eyes open and eventually, you’ll have several pieces.
  • Head to toe vintage can easily look like a costume. Mix pieces from various periods. (ie. Try a 1960’s Chanel style jacket with jeans, a cami, and a sheer 1950s blouse.) The one exception is very formal occasions. (Stay tuned for W is for Wedding Gowns on 27 April. I’ll be highlighting many vintage gowns.)
  • For those who sew, vintage patterns are often inexpensive. Keep in mind, some pre-1950’s patterns don’t have instructions printed on the pattern pieces. Inexperienced sewers may find them more difficult.
  • Remember, there are also vintage shoes and accessories. Vintage furs too!

U is for Unmentionables: Underpants

Nearly every woman wears underpants*. Yet many of us behave as if they are (or should be) unmentionables. While underpants are only for the wearer’s eyes and for those very few to whom she chooses to reveal them, there are underpants issues worth mentioning. (Bras and other undergarments too, but those are different posts.) Lingerie affects a woman’s mood. A new bra and pants feel wonderful. Lingerie, including underpants, also affect the look of a woman’s clothing. If they’re visible either because of fit or because the colour or pattern can be seen through our clothing, then we might as well put our underpants on view for all to see.

A woman I knew complained about having VPL.** A friend and I suggested she wear thongs. She complained they gave her wedgies. We told her to try a larger size because when thongs give wedgies, it’s usually means a woman is wearing the wrong size. (Like Homer Simpson.)

“But where will I get support?!” she finally demanded.

After much laughter, we explained that support comes from shapewear.*** Underpants don’t provide it.

And they don’t. In general, underpants provide a layer that protects a woman’s clothing from bodily fluids and stains and protects her skin from uncomfortable fabrics. They’re utilitarian and can be pretty. So, unless her faith prescribes certain undergarments, each woman can wear the underpants that work for her without concern that she might be immodest. It is not more virtuous to wear large pants nor less to wear thongs or any other style.

U is for Unmentionables: UnderpantsFit is the important issue with underpants. Like all clothing, on models, underpants look great.

In reality, our underpants tend to look quite different because we’re not models, we don’t have seamstresses slashing and sewing and photographers posing us to get the best shot, and we each have different body shapes. A woman with a flat, heavy bum and hips will probably want a different style than a woman with a higher, smaller bum even if both women have cellulite.

It’s wisest to identify what is personally most important (no VPL, no wedgies, etc.) and then try a variety of styles until you find those you like. Try seamless pants, stretch boy briefs, thongs, tanga pants, bikinis and every other available style until you find ones that work. Sometimes try-ons over underpants are allowed. Other times it will be necessary to buy a style at a discount shop or on sale. If they’re not great, they can always be saved for emergencies. (You do have emergency underpants, don’t you?) And remember to have a few pairs of beige or flesh coloured underpants to wear under white and pastels. Also, it’s wise to have black underpants that won’t be seen under dark coloured clothing.

Underpants are like every other garment. There’s no standard sizing so one manufacturer’s small will be bigger than another’s size 3. One thong will fit while another will droop and yet a third will cause an endless wedgie. Building a wardrobe is a bit of an adventure even when buying underpants. Go forth and conquer.

  • In England, underpants are called pants.
    ** Visible Panty Lines
    *** To avoid yeast and other infections, don’t wear shapewear (including control top tights) everyday.

T is for Thrift Shops!

ThriftStoreSome women won’t enter thrift shops. I wouldn’t until I changed jobs, made much less money, and desperately needed clothes. A woman I knew shopped at the Salvation Army and always looked amazing. One Saturday, I stopped in. While softly asking God, “What am I doing here?” I looked through the women’s clothing and found unworn garments with price tags attached. There were several items I’d have bought at retail. They fit. For less than $20, I had much needed additions to my wardrobe.

Eventually, I discovered I could have a much better wardrobe for less money if I used thrift shops in addition to other discount resources. Over time, I learned a few important lessons:

  • Dress so you can try on clothing and remain covered. Not every thrift shop has dressing rooms. Wear heavy tights or lightweight leggings and a close-fitting cami/tank under a long sweater or tunic. Wear easily removed shoes to make trying on jeans and trousers possible. You can pull a skirt or trousers under the sweater/tunic and fasten it while remaining covered. Remove the sweater/tunic to try on tops.
  • Shop as if you’re at the most expensive shop in town. Have exacting standards. Don’t just buy a garment because it’s cheap. Buy pieces in good condition, of good quality, that fit and work for you. Just as you’d never waste $600 on a badly-made, ill-fitting jacket in an unsuitable colour, don’t waste $5 on a jacket that’s wrong for you. (Often, when we have only $5 for a garment, it’s $5 we can’t afford to waste.) Thrift shops get new items all the time. Be willing to leave with nothing and come again on another day.
  • Try not to bring the kids. I think a great gift any woman can give another is to babysit her children so she can have an hour to shop. Or perhaps a friend could entertain the kids in another area giving their mother some time to shop. And there’s always dad.
  • Remember, you’re wardrobe building. If you expect to find a black skirt or a blue shirt on a particular trip to a thrift shop, you’ll often be disappointed. Pray and ask God to lead you to what He has for you and then ask Him to help you remain open to whatever that is. (I’m not kidding.) Then look for pieces that will work with other items in your wardrobe. (A camera phone and little snips from existing clothing can be very useful here.)
  • Keep an eye out for high-quality and/or vintage items! This is where educational shopping becomes invaluable. Once you’ve experienced beautiful, well-made clothing, pieces of similar quality will be easier to spot. When someone donates a shirt made in that silky cotton you discovered at Barney’s, you’ll know you’ve got a special piece. Thrift shops are also great places for vintage finds. A jacket from the 50’s that appears almost new will be of better quality (and way cooler) than almost anything manufactured today.
  • Immediately wash or dry clean everything you buy. Feel free to use Dryel but turn the dryer to high and run it for an hour to kill any moths, silverfish or other pests and their eggs. (Place delicates in mesh bags first.) I air dry the clothing I wash, then place dry garments in a hot dryer for an hour to sanitize them. The dryer only shrinks wet clothing and, if items (especially delicates) are placed in a mesh bag, the dryer won’t cause fading or harm your things. (Dryer lint is actually a thin layer of your clothing.)

Thrift shops are great resources. Many areas have several shops with each attracting donors who bring similar merchandise. One shop may be great for children’s clothing, another for women’s wear. But even when only one shop is available, with a little care and attention, it can be one of the cornerstones of a great wardrobe.

Please use the comments to share your experiences buying from thrift shops. And stay tuned for more on having a great wardrobe even on a tiny budget.