How To Second Hand Shop Hop


My sister is an expert at doing the Second Hand Shop Hop.

The girlfriend can get curtains, lamps, picture frames and a coffee table and completely transform her personal space in a new color scheme. For $15.

She picked up a beautiful soft leather Coach bag for a steal.

She has an ‘eye’.

Obviously, you need to be a private eye with an eagle eye and not be afraid to give the lady trying to grab the thing you just spotted – first! – the stink eye. This type of shopping isn’t for shrinking violets.

When I go, I seldom find a treasure that makes me do the Happy Dance.

But she can put together an outfit for her Hubby’s work Christmas dinner and look like a million bucks.

And I know she only spent twenty.

So here it is:

How to pop some tags with $20 in your pocket.

  1. Go alone. Take bottled water and snacks. Preferably chocolate.
  2. Alone! Unless you’re with a professional like my sister, otherwise, text selfies for second opinions.
  3. Don’t go in a distracted mood. Focus. Have a good hair day. Wear comfy shoes.
  4. Do special occasion outfits way in advance. Like months, if possible.
  5. Wear pull-on clothes for fast changing and slender clothes for trying on ‘over the top’.
  6. Map the stores in advance. Note their hours. Do they take plastic or is it cash only?
  7. Map the store from the door. Where are the dressing rooms? Are there dressing rooms?
  8. Take your list and be faithful. What do you need? What will you splurge on if necessary?
  9. Never believe the tags. These clothes are here for a reason. They lie.
  10. First, look for stains, holes, broken zippers, missing buttons. Rerack immediately.
  11. Is it cotton (shrink) linen (wrinkle) rayon (fray) velvet (eew) beaded (missing)?
  12. Dry Clean Only? Really?
  13. Shoes are vaguely more size-honest. And pre-molded to another’s foot. Use caution.
  14. Speaking of mold, there are items that you should never purchase second hand. Just no.
  15. Try it on. Look from every angle. Bend over. Sit down. Reach up. Can you breathe?
  16. Beware coats or workout wear. They may smell funny when wet.
  17. If you buy this and hate it, can you return it? Yes, but only as a donation.
  18. Always take a bag for dropping off to make room for new treasures.
  19. If you dither, it will vanish into another woman’s cart. Maintain physical contact until you decide. No, it won’t still be here tomorrow.
  20. Don’t buy it unless you love it. It’s not a bargain if you don’t actually wear it.

It used to be baby and kids’ clothing that we filled our carts with. Toys and books.

Now, my favorite place to look through is the jewelry display. If I can’t find a single thing in the whole store that fits me, I can always find a bit of sparkly that will go with everything I own.

One size fits all.

For two bucks.

Fashion Police Part 2

I marched into a very swanky department store and found myself a Personal Stylist.

She was glam. She was suave. She represented.

She took a good long look at me and went to work. I lounged on a cushy sofa while she brought loads of adorable clothes and spread them out on racks. Some I sent back and the rest I tried on in a spacious dressing room with large mirrors and great lighting. Amazing.

I purchased over $2000 dollars worth of fabulous outfits on the spot.

None of which I was planning to keep.

I just wanted to know what that felt like; finding clothes that are fabulous and bringing them home to hang in my closet.

I took photos of my new wardrobe so I would later be able to copy the process, but it turned out to be a waste of time.

While returning my treasures under the cover of ‘closing time’, I noticed my reflection in a mirrored pillar. This pillar could easily hold a human, I thought.

What if my eyes aren’t the only ones staring back?

It’s what happens in the dead of night, when I’m loitering in an empty store feeling guilty over a stealth mission.

The next horrified thought was: are there two way mirrors in the dressing rooms?

Did some crazy person sit on a stool behind the mirror and watch me suck in my stomach and struggle with a dress over my head and laugh at my Wonder Woman undies?

Did I get right up in her face, checking for salad in my teeth?

Even if (God forbid) there wasn’t a camera involved, did this person go home every night and laugh her butt off telling stories around the dinner table?

‘Cause I totally would.

What if this were true?

I wanted to ask the grim lady behind the register, but she was frowning harshly at little return tickets, so I gave her some space.

I, of course, would never believe her anyway.

Time to go ninja and look for some clues in the dressing rooms.

Safe: the mirror is attached to the wall’s surface like a picture. You can rap on it and it will sound dull because there is a solid wall behind it.

Sketch: the mirror is installed into the wall like a window. You can rap on it and it will sound hollow because there is an open space behind it.

Safe: the store has provided cheap overhead fluorescent light. You look lousy but at least no one else can tell.

Sketch: the store has provided lovely strong clear lighting. Your skin glows, your outfit is stunning, and the security guy has a great photo shoot.

Safe: put your finger up to the glass and touch it. There should be a small gap between your finger and the reflection of your finger.

Sketch: put your finger up to the glass and have it touch it’s reflection directly. This could be a trap.

Safe: step up to the mirror and press your face against it, cupping your hands around your eyes to block the light from your side. It should be dark in there.

Sketch: Oh, the heck with it. Sneak behind the racks of clothing discards and hit the circuit breaker. With all the lights out, activate your cell phone flashlight app and aim it at the mirror. If there’s a room back there, you should be able to see it.

Or blind yourself.

Which means “safe”.

An exception to all of the above would be a small hidden camera with a fisheye behind an installed two-way mirror.

You wouldn’t be able to detect it with any of the above methods.

If you’re in this type of high-level James Bond situation and you’re sure the bad guy is back there, take the num chucks you packed in your “utilitarian” purse and shatter the mirror.

Maybe you’ll have glass shards in your hair, but you will know who’s been watching you.

Unless you missed the security cameras on the ceiling.

Or the convex mirrors in the corners.

Or the cell phone you didn’t know was on.

Or maybe the door slats are reversed and everyone outside can look right in.

I may never shop again.

Fashion Police Part 1

Here’s the thing.

It’s not so much that I dislike clothes shopping.

It’s just that I am so overwhelmed with my choices.

I will procrastinate until it’s dire straights and then fling myself into the mall hoping to find just one top that I like.

I know what I want, but no one seems to be selling it.

I decided to focus and get educated about clothes shopping because I was having anxiety attacks in the parking lot from the pressure to perform.

First I read all the books on fashion “rules”.

I studied color wheels and skin charts and body types. I read articles on the internet and browsed websites that would give you a personal analysis, clothing suggestions, accessory ideas, and even send you individually selected clothing right to your front door.

I stared down glossy magazines full of angry models.

“Why can’t the fashion industry make up their minds?” they say.

I can’t blame them.

Based on how few actual clothes they have on, I imagine they are having just as much trouble as I am shopping for jeans that fit.

My next step was to hit the mall.

I began by sitting at the coffee shop and drinking some optimism. I watched other ladies walk by wearing nice outfits and had yet again, that life-defining thought: “I could do that.”

Why? Why do I do that to myself?

But I snatched up my efficient utilitarian (“classic”) purse and began touring the window displays.

All of the latest trends were there. The mannequins had no curves and their bored expressions seemed to say, “Here today, gone tomorrow. You should’ve seen us in the 90s.”

I found a store that represented my “style”. A cross between country bumpkin and ‘date night on the bayou’. Sort of ‘mommy with an attitude’ with a touch of ‘I meant to do that’.

I forgot everything I learned about colors and fit and snatched up armloads of tops and pants in three sizes at once.

All I could think of was navigating the dressing room.

If you can only take five items into the room at a time but you need to try on a dozen, you have to hold an exchange of hostages with an employee waiting in the hall.

That’s if you plan ahead.

Otherwise, you must completely redress in your own clothes to run back out to the racks and find another size while hoping your room is still available. Do it enough times, and your hair ends up looking like you went through a cyclone, your top gets pulled on inside out and so much clothing is migrating under the stall door from the lady next to you that you are tossing refugees out like hot potatoes.

The employee will frown at you if you enter the dressing room with twelve items and come out with five.

It’s a whole different look if you enter the dressing room with five items and come out holding twelve.

My foray into the store ended like it always does: I kissed a great many frogs. None of them turned into princes. Looked great on the hanger. But I had to toss them back into the swamp.

The next step was logical. It was necessary. It may have been illegal.

But it was all in the name of retaining my “Girl Card”.