Fashion magazine writer turned thrifting expert, Patrice J. Williams shares a few of her top secrets on how to get your best bargain deals!
EBONY: Thrifting is pretty much a job within itself. When did your obsession with thrifting begin?
Patrice J. Williams: I had a few different phases with my thrift obsession. The first time was when I was a sophomore at Temple University. I had to attend an induction ceremony for an honor society but I had nothing to wear. I considered not attending, but a few days before the ceremony I stumbled upon a thrift store. I was able to put an outfit together for less than $10, which was perfect for my work-study budget. I thrifted throughout college, but it again became my go-to method of shopping when I was working at a fashion magazine. My salary was just $30k/year, so I really had no choice but to thrift. I found vintage and designer pieces for just a few bucks, which helped me fit in with my fashionable colleagues.
EBONY: How did you come about making this a career, and not just a hobby?
PW: After getting laid off from my job at a magazine in 2009, I decided it was time to create something that was all my own; a brand that represented my values and passion. It wasn’t until having a G-chat conversation with a friend that she suggested I start a blog all about budget shopping, since I was so good at it. That’s when Looking Fly on a Dime was created. After a few years of blogging, the hobby blossomed into a career when I started working with brands and hosting on-air style segments for budget shoppers. With the combination of my fashion background and my passion for never paying retail, I was able to establish myself as an expert in my field.
EBONY: You talk about how being laid off from your fashion magazine job paved the way for this career move. What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about working in fashion?
PW: People really believe that anyone who works in fashion is living a glamorous life and making serious cash. Unless you’re at the top of the masthead or an established designer, you’re barely making it. I remember sitting at my desk and eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while writing one of my monthly fashion stories. I was just making ends meet in NYC, but I was writing about someone else’s rich lifestyle. That’s not too uncommon in this industry.
EBONY: So, tell us in as many brief details as possible: how did you only come to spend $93 on clothes thus far in 2014?
PW: I started my Thrifty Threads 365 challenge because I really wanted to show people first hand that thrift shops can meet all of your fashionable needs. For 2014, I haven’t purchased any new clothes or accessories (except for undergarments) and my thrift shopping budget is limited to $50 a month. So far I’ve spent just over $100 and I anticipate I won’t exceed $150-$175 before the year is over.
After 10+ years as a thrifter, I’ve become a thrift shopping pro. Even in an uber expensive city like New York, I’ve found the places that sell secondhand (but amazing!) clothes by the pound or even the bag, so I’m able to buy clothes for less than $1 per piece. Some months I haven’t gone shopping at all, but when I do shop, I make sure I’m getting clothes that will really benefit my closet. It’s always better to have a handful of classic or statement pieces than a closet full of mediocre garments.
EBONY: Why do you think so many women overspend on clothes, only to realize that they didn’t really need or want them in the first place?
PW: I think so many women overspend on unnecessary garments for a few reasons. For one, they’re hypnotized by price tags. When you see a sale sign, you feel compelled to buy because you think you’re getting a bargain. But what’s the point of a “steal” if you’re never going to wear it? Also, it’s not unusual for stores to make you think an item is more expensive than it is and then mark it down. Another reason women overspend is because they don’t shop for their style or body type. Not every trend or every style is for every woman. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to wear what’s trendy, if it doesn’t work for your particular look, then it’s money wasted.
EBONY: What is your true secret to thrifting for those afraid to begin?
PW: Well, I reveal all of my tips and secrets in the book! I will share these top secrets, though:
Shop with friends: If you’re new to thrift shopping. It turns thrifting into a fun event and your girls are an extra set of hands and eyes, so you have other people helping you shop.
Research sale days: Some people don’t know that thrift shops have sales. Check with your local shop to see what items are on discounted, which means savings on savings. Some stores have set sale days, like Wednesday is Family Day at the Salvation Army and most items are half off. Some feature different color-tagged items each day.
Be patient with the process: Thrift shopping can seem intimidating, so some shoppers are already discouraged before they’ve even started. Even if you’re shopping at a department store, you know it takes time and you might not strike gold on every visit. It’s the same way with thrifting. I always suggest newbies give themselves an hour to shop so they can really take their time, and if you don’t find anything, come back another day.
EBONY: What are the biggest myths about thrift stores you can put to rest?
PW: The biggest myth I hear over and over again is that thrift shopping is dirty. I tell people this: if you’re okay with shopping at department stores then you should be okay at thrift shops. Even at department stores, you don’t know who tried the clothes on before you or if they were bought and worn before being returned.
Another myth is that you have to shop in a big city. Completely false! While larger cities tend to have more thrift shops, you can thrift anywhere and you can even do it online. Also note that smaller shops and cities tend to have cheaper prices and vintage pieces for just a few dollars compared to jacked up prices in major cities.
The last ridiculous myth is that the clothes are old and dirty. I’ve found designer garments and pieces from Theory, J. Crew and Club Monaco with the tags attached.
Purchase Patrice’s book, Looking Fly on a Dime: How to Find Fabulous Fashion at Any Thrift Shop & Make the Cheap Look Chic.