comingouttothechurch said: thrifting clothes doesn't seem to be too complicated. but finding great shoes for less I haven't figured out yet. what am i missing?
Shoes can be really hard to thrift, because there aren’t a lot of guys who are buying really quality shoes. And most of the shoes are going to be black, which you should have but you can only buy so many.
The first thing you should do is look for quality before even looking at the brand name. A lot of the cheap shoes are just going to feel very light compared to a quality shoe. Check to see if the leather is good, or if it’s corrected grain, which has that slick feel and odd sheen.
Second, a lot of brands that today have a bad name were once pretty good. If you find Florsheim Imperials or Florsheim Royal Imperials that have their tag on the inside side of the shoe (instead of on the insole), then you should get them. Older Johnson and Murphy Aristocrats are pretty nice. You’ll find those way more often than you’ll find Allen Edmonds (which are still fairly common) and above.
Finally, persistence. I have a lot of shoes now, but I’ve also gone thrifting so often. And I mean full work days worth of thrifting sometimes. You’ll start to get a feel for which stores get what type of goods. I have a few places on my rounds that are good for shoes but not much else. Try to get a feel for them and you can get some great finds.
Of course I find a cotton unstructured blazer and linen sportscoat when autumn has kicked in.
I’m going to make a confession right now:
I’m awful at shining shoes.
It’s not that I haven’t tried. I shine all my shoes that need it (i.e. not suede or Chucks), and I try to do it every month or so. And it’s not because I hate it. I find it kind of relaxing. It’s a good way to tucker myself out before I go to bed.
No, I’m just bad at it because I glob on polish. I never had anyone show me how to shine shoes, so I had to go into this blind. I would load up a rag with as much Kiwi as it could hold, and go to town on the shoe. If I couldn’t see a thick layer on the shoe, then I simply didn’t do a good enough job.
And the result? A lot of my shoes look like shit.
So I decided that instead of weeping, I should be proactive. I found a guide on how to sort of start over with your shoes, and I really liked the results. I liked it so much that I’ve already done it to at least 5 pairs of shoes. And I decided to give you a guide on how to turn back time on your shoes.
READ THIS: I’m going to give you a set of warnings to protect my ass at the end of this article. But this one should be said twice: Don’t even think about doing this to a pair of cordovan leather shoes. If you put too much polish on those, you just have to buff until your arm falls off. From what I’ve read, you don’t want to even get cordovan leather wet, so this would pretty much ruin your super nice shoes.
Here’s all the stuff you’ll need for this project: Wax polish in the color of your shoes, saddle soap, Ronsonol lighter fluid (the tutorial recommends fluid containing naphtha, but mine said distilled petroleum and worked fine), horsehair brush for buffing, horsehair dauber (or a rag if you want), a sponge, a little container for water, old t-shirt for polishing, and some cotton balls. Optional (and not pictured): edge dressing and leather conditioner.
Here are the shoes I’ll be working with. I have no idea who made them. I found them about a year ago while thrifting and I really love the way they are cut. Unfortunately, they took on that kind of sheen that only corrected grain leather has, had gnarly white wrinkles from excess wax, and were miscolored throughout from, as far as I can tell, at least one application of black polish from the previous owners. Oh, and there’s a layer of dust on them to show you just how long it’s been since I wore them.
The first thing you want to do is get the sponge slightly wet (not dripping), work up a lather with the saddle soap, and then really wipe it into the leather. I’m sure you’re a bit nervous about getting your shoes wet, but from what I’ve read, it’s not the end of the world. The shoe trees will help pull excess moisture, and the saddle soap also has some moisturizing elements. You want to get a decent layer on, then let the lather dry on the shoes for about 15 minutes. (This is a great time to also use an old toothbrush to get in the welts).
As you can see, this step alone has already pulled up a decent bit of excess polish. And we haven’t even gotten to the rough stuff. Speaking of the rough stuff, I probably don’t have to tell you not to use the Brill-o pad part of the sponge.
After 15 minutes, get a damp rag and wipe the shoes off, getting rid of any lather. While still wet, we’re going to do the real polish removing. With a tremble in your step and fear in your heart, get out the Ronsonol and pour it into a cotton ball.
Warning: Lighter fluid is flammable. So don’t, I don’t know, smoke during this or do it over your BBQ pit. You should probably also have a fan going, or do it in a ventilated area.
So, with a cotton ball that is pretty saturated with fluid, start wiping down your shoes. You want to really put some pressure into this, as it needs to saturate the leather and grab the old wax. You want to pay attention to wherever the shoe is unevenly colored. If there are dark spots, rub a little longer and harder there. You’ll see the color start to come up.
This is a very terrifying step the first time. But I can tell you from first-hand knowledge, this is fairly gentle on your shoes, unlike acetone, which will strip those bad boys of dye in a heartbeat. But you are stripping away the polish and by proxy a little bit of dye, so be sure to pay attention to what you are doing. If you rub for too long, you will pull away dye, although I was able to fix it when that happened to me. Also, don’t put the fluid directly on the shoe.
What you’ll be left with is a shoe that’s a little lighter in color, hopefully even throughout, and dull. The shoe on the right has had the polish removed, while the shoe on the left has not.
You probably want a lot of cotton balls. They are going to get filthy with old polish, as you can see in this picture. And while I have your attention, I’m going to say this: From what I’ve read, you can dispose of cotton balls that have been used with flammable materials in your garbage. However, you want to make sure that they are not dripping with fluid. They won’t be very wet by the time you finish both shoes, but let them sit out for an hour or two in your house and they should be good to go.
Once you have both shoes stripped, you’re ready to polish your shoes. But you don’t want to make the same mistakes, so let’s briefly go over my revamped process for shining shoes:
Fill your little container with as hot of water as you can get out of the tap. Then, barely dip the horsehair dauber in the water, and lightly brush it over the polish, getting a very thin layer.
When I say “barely dip”, I mean you shouldn’t have water dripping. In fact, tap it against the polish tin top to make sure you don’t have extra water. And when I say “a very thin layer”, I mean you should barely see any on there. In fact, when you clean off your brush later, if you wipe it in the sink, you should only barely dye the water instead of leaving wax all in the basin.
From here, you want to brush the polish and water onto the shoe, using a circular motion. You’ll probably want to put more water and polish on maybe 3-4 times during an entire shoe, making sure you are getting very little polish. You just want the tiniest of layers on your shoe. And at this point, you want to keep rubbing the polish into the shoe in a circular motion, until the water goes from medium streaks to miniscule droplets.
You should keep going until the polish feels really greasy and brushing it provides resistance. Once you have both shoes coated, you want to wait until the polish is dry. About 15-20 minutes.
After it’s dried, you want to get your horsehair brush and then brush the crap out of the shoe. You are knocking off all the excess polish and shining the shoes. The left shoe is with the dry polish, and the right is after buffing. (I have two horsehair brushes: One for polish removal buffing, and the other for quick buffs before and after wear).
The final step is to get your old cut up t-shirt and put a major shine into the shoes. You just want to grab it and rub it into the surface of the shoe until you get your desired level of shine. You’ll also get the last bits of polish onto the shirt.
This is the final product. While it’s not perfect, the shoes have lost the unnatural luster and have taken on a healthier shine. The color is a lot smoother, the wrinkles aren’t as harsh, and they actually feel a little bit softer.
I’ve done this with a few different types of shoes. I did them to pebble grain shoes, not to get a good shine, but because the old polish was cracking and I didn’t like the dark patina that had developed from the wrong color polish. Corrected grain leather shoes really benefited from this, as it took away a lot of the plastic sheen they have and became softer. I had one pair of shoes that I thought was corrected grain, but it turns out they were just poorly treated by me and the previous owner. Not only did it go back to a soft, nice leather, but I was able to pull off a ton of black polish and see how pretty burgundy they really are.
I had a pair of Allen Edmonds good quality leather that had a shiny toe but a dull body. While this procedure did dull the toe somewhat, it also allowed the rest of the shoe to pick up a nice shine. Now the toe matches the rest of the shoe and will age and shine together. Finally, I’ve done this with black, burgundy, chocolate, and medium brown shoes, so it looks like it will work all around.
Should you do this to your shoes? I don’t know. I have a couple pair of shoes that look fine, so I’m not going to bother putting them through this. If the color is fine but there might be a little bit of extra polish, you might want to try buffing them a ton first. If you aren’t going to use this opportunity to improve your polishing skills, you should just skip this. While I haven’t damaged any of my shoes(knock on wood), I definitely wouldn’t do this to any shoes multiple times. You shouldn’t even use saddle soap more than 3-4 times a year, so I wouldn’t do this whole thing to shoes except in extreme cases.
If you want to improve any corrected grain shoes, keep in mind that it’ll make them look a little better and feel softer, but you’re not going to get Aldens out of the process. If you are thinking about doing this to your cordovan leather shoes, stop it. I already told you no.
Finally, while I haven’t had any catastrophes, you are taking a risk with doing this. I’ve rubbed a little too vigorously and found myself with spots in the shoes where too much dye has been leeched out. Your heart may stop for a minute, but all you need to do is pay extra attention to that area when applying the polish. If it doesn’t even out after the first application, apply a little extra polish just to that area, give it an hour to really get in there, and then buff it out. However, don’t blame me if you try this and wreck your shoes.
While this is a bit of a risky operation, I’ve found it has given several pairs of shoes new life. I’ve put several shoes back into rotation through this process. This could be especially handy to those readers who thrift or eBay their shoes, as you’ll find a lot of poorly maintained shoes. This Hail Mary just might save the day.
Good thrifting article. I will say, however, that thrifting seasons really depend on where you live. Alex has the luxury of having four seasons. Here in Atlanta, we have two seasons: “Ughh, it’s hot” and “damn, it’s cold”. There’s usually two weeks of nice weather between those. So for me, I find that October and May are pretty hot months for thrifting, since that’s about the time the shifts hit full force.
Also, I find that the time of big seasonal shifts (hot-to-cold or vice-versa) actually leads to great on-season finds. People getting out their winter coats find they don’t fit right and go to the donation center. Same with Spring/Summer.
As for shopping off-season, I find that it works but only in minor ways. People are always buying polo shirts and sportscoats, so the seasonal items are still in a constant rotation. The items you really want to consider off-season are shorts in the winter and sweaters in the summer. No one is even thinking about putting on a sweater at this point, so you have that whole section to yourself and you can still find some really great things.
So I’ve written a lot about thrifting on here and most of the info has boiled down to one main point; GO! As often as possible.
But I understand what’s possible for an underemployed grad student may not be possible for say… a new father, or someone who works nights, or someone who simply can’t…
If there’s one thing that has to be said, it’s that thrifting is a completely different game than just buying your clothes. We’re more treasure hunter than deal finder and our finds are a result of timing, perseverance and luck. It’s really little doubt that we would follow different rules from the average shopper.
Now, for the normal person, if they needed a pair of burgundy loafers, they will figure out how much they want to spend, find the best brand in that price range, and either go out to the store to buy it or find it online. The savvy shopper will wait to find a sale or deal and then buy the good. It’s an easy, A-to-B-to-C process.
Of course, that’s not the process I go through. If I want burgundy loafers, I have to hope that someone donates a pair to one of the stores I go to, that it’s in good condition, in my size, and that I get to the store and find it before anyone else does. And on top of all that, I have to hope it’s a good brand.
I’m at a point where I can be real picky with my purchases. I’m not sweating any type of clothing so if I don’t get something I’m questing over, it’s okay. I have the luxury of time to find the perfect item. But if you are trying to build your wardrobe, particularly with staple items, through thrifting, I’m going to suggest something other bloggers won’t:
If you find it, buy it.
Let me clarify that I’m not telling you to buy the ruined, oversize, or otherwise imperfect stuff that you come across. If you’re looking for just a plain white dress shirt, you can leave the one with the collar ring and cigarette burns where it is. But you don’t have to wait until you find a pair of Allen Edmonds before you buy a pair of shoes. Because if you wait for the best brands, you won’t have any shoes at all.
There is no shame in buying an Old Navy coat, or the newer Florsheim shoes, or a Gap shirt. Sure, you can’t brand-whore very easily with them, but you know what? If it fits well and it’s in good shape, then you just checked something off your staples list. If you are burdened with the choice of brands, you should go with the best one (assuming the quality is better).
Eventually, you’ll get to the point where you have a very full wardrobe. And you’ll start coming across better and better brands as you get better at thrifting. Once this happens, you can start replacing the items with the good stuff. For instance, the white dress shirts I had? Most of them were Express. They fit well, and looked fine. But now that they don’t fit as well, I’ve been able to take my time and find better quality shirts to replace them with. I’ve now switched Express out for Brooks Brothers and Paul Frederick. Johnston and Murphy tassel loafers? Replaced with Aldens.
I took the time to build a respectable wardrobe, and now I can start strengthening it with my better finds. With the low cost of thrifting as it is, you can afford to buy the same item twice because, well, paying 10 dollars for two shirts is a lot cheaper than buying it new. If you give yourself time, you can have a great selection of clothes. But if you wait too long, you won’t have anything to wear at all.
ThisFits just posted a comment I made about never having paid more than $5 for a pair of Allen Edmonds. While I was mostly intending on it being on the braggy side of joking, it does bring up an extremely important point that I’ve mentioned before, but is worth repeating.
The most important…
This is really the most important thing to learn about thrifting. Sure, it’s easy to think someone like afistfulofstyle or myself score all the time, but that’s because we only show off our wins. Ask me about the full out days (6 hours) where I found nothing. Or ask about the too big suede bucks, torn up Allen Edmonds or the Hickey Freeman suits with the moth holes and piss stains.
To add to this, since I started thrifting, I’ve stopped hoarding a lot of stuff around my house. If it doesn’t fit, it goes to the thrift store. If I’m not going to use it? Thrift store. Haven’t used it in a long time? Thrift store. It has helped keep my house clean, and makes me feel better.
Well obviously I’ll reblog this. Thrifting has a lifecycle. If you take out of it, you should really put back in. I may have a ludicrously overstuffed wardrobe, but I take a small bag to goodwill every few months, if for no other reason that to remind myself of how those clothes got to the thrift shop in the first place.
I spent the better part of yesterday cleaning out my closet and filling up a donation bag for the Disabled American Veterans. I have a ton of clothes that I no longer wear - some because they’ve become too faded, others because they’ve been replaced with things that I like more. Some of my old clothes have been sitting in a box because I always thought I was going to do something with them, but last week I finally came to terms with the fact that I was never going to get around to it and they might as well go to a good cause.
I suspect many readers here are in the same situation. We have piles of perfectly wearable clothes that we no longer use for whatever reason, and it mostly just sits around creating clutter. We all know donating them is the right thing to do, but often have an excuse or two for holding on to our stuff.
For myself, I thought for a long time that I would sell them on eBay or something. Some of the things I know will sell for pretty good prices, but there’s a lot of stuff that I know won’t. For those, I realized they’re just not worth my time to list, pack, and ship them. Plus, I get a tax deduction anyway for dropping off my clothes at a charity (as long as I remember to get a receipt).
I also thought for a long time that I would eventually wear some of these things, and it would be good to keep them “just in case.” As everyone says, however, if you haven’t worn it in a year, you’ll probably never wear it again. It’s just unrealistic that I would ever pull out any of these things when there are pieces in my closet that I like much more.
I also thought for a while that it would just be too much work. I don’t have a car and carrying this stuff on public transport seemed kind of a pain. I did some quick Googling, however, and found this site. You can just go on there, plug in your zip code, choose a charity, and the site it will help you schedule a pick-up. In my case, the Disabled American Veterans sent me a bag and they’ll come pick it up on our agreed upon day.
So for this weekend, I challenge you to do the same. Since, for some inexplicable reason, it never feels right to throw away clothes, here’s a chance to clear out some space in your closet and do some good. The new space will help keep your better garments in shape, and perhaps leave room for some nicer purchases in the future.
Me and afistfulofstyle combining forces? North meets South in an exploration of thrifting.
It’s the mashup you didn’t know you’ve been waiting for! Alex (A Fistful of Style) and Trent (Survival of the Fittest) are doing a collaboration (and another one in the future) on thrift shopping. As one of us is from the Maine, and the other is from Georgia, we’ve noticed that there is a…
In the past, I’ve covered the basics of thrifting, like finding a circuit of stores, going often, and putting things back. Now it’s time for the more advanced stuff, like minimizing the time in-store so you can do more of your circuit in a day.
1a) Know what you don’t want
One of the things that really traps you in a thrift store is browsing through everything. While it’s fine to do if you just stopped in to kill some time, if you want to try to do a thrift day, it’s best to know what you don’t want.
This tip really only applies to places that sort by color, instead of size. If you have 10 white shirts and aren’t looking to add an 11th, you should skip the white shirt section. Hate shorts? Don’t bother going down that aisle.
Couple this with
1b) Don’t browse/be a label whore
Now, I know this might seem crazy. You’re going to thrifts to find the rare gems and top-tier items, right?
Well, I’m not. While those are bonuses, I’m much more interested in good-looking clothes that will add to my wardrobe, whether it be Ralph Lauren Purple Label or Old Navy. When you are at this low of a price point, you can afford disposable items if you think they look good.
With this in mind, looking through each piece individually is a huge time sync. What I do instead is walk down the aisle until a piece catches my eye, and then I look at it to find the size and maker. I mean, does it really matter if I find a Thom Browne shirt if its ugly as shit?
2) Learn the feel (and look) of quality
This tip really applies more towards suits and shoes, but one way to quickly go through these section is by feel. Unfortunately, a lot of suits you find in thrift stores don’t have tags. When going through the suits, besides doing my quick pass to see if I like the color/pattern, I’ll also rub my hand on the jacket so I can feel what the fabric is made out of.
The feeling of wool is very distinctive from polyester. And if you can eliminate the polyester suits from your search, you’ve just saved yourself a lot of time. You can also do a visual inspection by holding the fabric close to your eye and up towards a light. Polyester will be smooth, while wool (and other fabrics) will have split ends and a general fuzzy quality. Linen and silk also have very unique feels, as well. The only fabric that I have trouble distinguishing is cotton, which generally speaking is visually distinctive.
I would say that shoes are also something that you can look at and know if it’s any good. If they are beat to hell or torn, you can skip them. Shoes are definitely something worth looking for the maker, but I find that feel also works to show off quality. If the shoe is lighter than it looks like it should be, it’s usually a lower quality shoe. Also, just touching the leather can give you a good indication if it’s quality or not. Avoid the overly slick, light leather shoe, as those tend to be low quality leather.
3) The “Hold” test
This tip requires some work at home before you get to the thrift store. Find your best fitting shirt/jacket/pants and hold it up to your body. Note where, on the shirt and jacket, the shoulders line up when held like this. Now, when you are at the store, instead of just depending on the label, you have a much more accurate system to see if the item will even fit right. I find this method helps eliminate a lot of the shirts/jackets I find, even those marked with my “correct” sizing. Once you find one that looks about right, you can try it on and make sure it really fits.
For pants, line up the, ahem, crotch and see where the waist hits so you can gauge the rise of the pants. After that, hold the waistband against your body and note how far it goes around your body. I find that I have alter every pair of pants I buy to make them fitted, so trying them on is a waste of time (not to mention having to get a dressing room for it). So, once I’m comfortable knowing that the pants will fit me around the waist and aren’t too high-rise, I just go ahead and buy them. I find this method really accurate, even with pant sizes that should be too small. The only time I really try on pants is when I’m convinced they are too small or if I’m afraid they are too big to cut down to size.
These are the things I actually do when I go thrifting. When I go, I can be in and out of the store in 20-30 minutes. While that’s not that important when you are just going to one thrift store, but if you are trying to hit 5-6 in a day, it can really add up.
These are some great tips on thrifting. I can’t stress enough the importance of finding your thrift circuit. I have, no joke, 4 circuits that I hit every few weeks (well, up until lately. Hopefully again soon).
I’ve been bouncing around some ideas for a thrift topic as well, so hopefully i’ll get that out there today.
I’ve been getting some messages about my various thrift scores. And thought I might do my civic duty and help people get better at thrift shopping.
I wrote a thrifting primer on my old blog a while back. That’s still good advice and I stand by it.
But thrifting ain’t easy. Some try to copy…