About a month ago my sister Carolyn sold her home and she and her husband moved to a smaller house. And because she has so much on her plate these days, I asked her what I could do to help, that did NOT involve lifting. Because… uh, back issues… the month last winter that I spent in physio has me not wanting to go there again. So Carolyn asked: “Could I go through her clothes closet and make her a shopping list of what she might need?” Could I? Had I not recently spent a week editing my closet, and then writing about curated closets, and capsule wardrobes?  I sure had. Am I not the one who loves to organize, not to mention the one who loves to boss people around? I sure am. So, I was happy as a clam to help her unpack her clothes, organize her new closet, and help her to decide what was wearable, not wearable, donate-able, or throw-out-able.
cheeky decor at The Frock Exchange in Kanata
Some of Fiona’s funky decor at The Frock Exchange.

We had a lovely afternoon and, at the end of it, with everything hanging or folded neatly in its designated spot, or piled into bags to be donated or thrown out, I came to the conclusion that my sister had been right all along. Every time we discuss shopping she sighs and says, “I have nothing to wear.”  “You’re right. You have nothing to wear,” I said as I stood in her edited closet and laughed. “You need pretty much everything, except party wear, and event clothes to wear to a wedding or a conference dinner.”

My sister was in this fix partly because she’s really, really busy, and when she finds the time to shop, it’s always for some specific event she needs to attend. Like a step-son’s wedding in Newport, or a conference somewhere hot. And partly because she suffers from what I call “white coat syndrome”… as a pharmacist, she can cover up whatever she wears to work with her white lab coat. So work clothes, as long as they’re clean and the pants are presentable, don’t really matter. White coat syndrome allows the sufferer to put off shopping until they are really desperate. Thence my sister  had almost nothing to wear to a casual dinner, or to the movies, or… say… shopping. Hardly any every-day, non-work, real-life stuff. And what she did have she was right royally sick to death of. If you’ll pardon my ending that sentence with a preposition. So we needed to take action because, once we had cleaned out her closet, she needed some clothes to wear. D’uh. We set a date to go shopping… for basics, mostly tops. And since we were planning to buy more than one thing, I suggested we save some money by starting at my friend Fiona’s secondhand clothing shop.

cheeky window display at The Frock Exchange in Kanata
Fiona’s window display for her summer sale event.
Fiona’s store The Frock Exchange, is not exactly a thrift shop. Her clothes are second hand, but they are sold on consignment. I take my stuff there when I edit my closet. I love what Fiona has done with her shop. The antique furniture she uses for fixtures, like the china cabinet below which holds jewellry. And the whole cheeky, British vibe. Like dressing those window mannequins, above, in scarves with the Union Jack motif, and sneakers… for her summer sale event. So cute. To be truthful, I think Fiona has a teensy crush on anything British. I hear her husband refers to her childhood home as “little England.” Ha. Given that most of what I read or watch or listen to originates in some part of Britain or Ireland, I should talk.
          jewellry display at The Frock Exchange in Kanata
So on the appointed day, I arrived early at The Frock Exchange bringing a bag of my fall clothing for Fiona to look at, and possibly to consign. While I waited for Carolyn, Fiona and I chatted, she went through my things, and I searched the racks for jeans and tops that Carolyn might like and which were her size. Then when she arrived we ensconced her in the dressing room (unlike most second-hand store changing rooms Fiona’s are lovely) to try everything on. I fetched and carried, and Fiona brought more ‘possibles,’ including several things that had come in only the day before.
shoe department at The Frock Exchange in Kanata
Shoe department at The Frock Exchange.
Like this luscious faux fur jacket in a deep, deep blue. The fabric is synthetic, but it looks like Persian lamb, and feels wonderfully soft. A perfect late fall or winter jacket to throw on over jeans and a white tee, and make you feel all cozy and pulled together.
Carolyn in her new faux fur
Carolyn in her new faux fur
Happy sister. It IS a wonderful life.
See? Somebody looks happy. And with good reason. My sister went home with the faux fur jacket. A pair of black jeans that fit her to perfection… this despite the fact that, according to Fiona, jeans are the hardest things to find when thrift or consignment store shopping. So many styles, so many sizes, and each pair a one and only. A striped sweater from Brooks Brothers (that’s exactly like mine, I might add.)  A Ralph Lauren denim shirt. A black v-neck, long, loose tee. A green quilted jacket that makes her green eyes pop. And a black Cole Haan bag. And all of this for less than she’d pay for the Cole Haan bag new.
What my sister got.
What She Got.
I did not go home empty handed either. Pun intended. Fiona recognized my bracelet (below) as an Anne Marie Chagnon and said that a ring which might match it had just come in. Well, spotted Fiona. That ring came home with me.
Anne Marie Chagnon bracelet and ring
What I got.

I resisted all of Fiona’s further tempting, even said no to a sweet military style coat that was very cute, and fit me perfectly, but which sadly was not on my list for fall. The secret to being a good shopper, as far as I’m concerned, is knowing what you need and want…. and also what you don’t need.

Although I consider myself to be a good shopper and I do love to shop vintage, I am no expert on thrift store or consignment store shopping. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Ever since I wrote a post about the Slow Fashion movement last spring, I’ve been trying to keep more of an open mind about consignment or thrift store shopping. Trying to do better when it comes to being a more “ethical shopper.” I mean beyond just consigning or donating my own clothes. I found this article on the value of thrift store shopping on a very cool site called Unwrinkling. Great title, eh? Much of the article is common sense, but still worth a read.

When my friend Elizabeth and I started planning for our trip to New York at the end of October, and we decided we might like to sample the vintage and thrift stores there, I contacted Patti of the blog Not Dead Yet Style… who I know IS an expert on thrifting and vintage shopping. Especially in New York. She sent me a long list of her favourite stores. Thanks Patti. I know we will visit Saks and Bloomingdale’s et al… but vintage or thrift store shopping in New York will be very cool.

Now, back to our sisters’ adventure. Eventually, Fiona packaged up all of Carolyn’s purchases. I wore mine. And we decamped to scarf down A&W Teen Burgers and root beer for lunch. Shopping is hungry work. And thrift store shopping followed by Teen Burgers makes for a throw-back afternoon all round. A&W was our first fast food restaurant in Fredericton back when I was a kid in the late sixties. I still have a nostalgic love of their root beer.

And so, as Mr. McGarrity said to Maggie Muggins: “All in all we’d had quite a day.” We spent some money, but not as much as we might have if we’d shopped somewhere else. Fiona gained a new customer in my sister. Carolyn found some great things that she’ll be able to parlay into numerous outfits. And we spent some ‘quality’ sister time together. Win, win, win, I’d say.

What about you friends? Are you thrift shop shoppers? Or consignment store customers?



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34 thoughts on “Thrift Shop Shopping: A Sisters’ Adventure”

  1. IMO for the best thrift or consignment, you need a locale where a good percentage of women turn over higher-end items regularly. When I lived in Toronto, that was the case… one SA told me, "We have women who replace their entire wardrobes every season". In Montréal women operate more on the European model, so keep their things longer. By the time they are thrifted or consigned, they tend to be much more dated and worn. Exceptions: the lower-end things like you'd find at Reitman's or Le Chateau. And there is the rare find- so I can't just walk past one. And as you point out, the clothes are recycled, which is so good.

    My DIL trolls thrifts strictly for the fabrics, then rips apart garments and re-styles.

    1. You're right. The merchandise in consignment stores always reflects the neighbourhood. When I was a young teacher I used to shop at a consignment store in Westboro, near my school. I always found wonderful things because the ladies there also changed up most of their wardrobe each season. Now if only some of that stuff had fit me, I would have been very happy.

  2. I used to work near a thrift store years ago and bought quite a few very nice things there. Like you, I learned quickly that the key was to stick to a list, otherwise I ended up with things I truly didn't need… I'll need to look for a thrift store again…

    Fiona's store looks & sounds lovely! Glad your sister found a number of items to work with and you didn't go home empty handed either… 🙂

    Andrea’s Wellness Notes

    1. I have to stick to a list no matter where I shop. It's not a bargain if I bring it home and never wear it. But thrift store shopping can be fun just for the browsing alone.

  3. Fiona's looks like a great place. I've had little luck at our local consignment shop but did find a vintage bag that's an amazing collectors item. Perhaps it time to peruse the shop again.

    1. I always hear about those finds but so far have never found that hidden treasure myself. That's why I keep going back to the Vintage Clothing Show every year…there's always hope:)

  4. That sounds like a great day & I really like the coat . I shop with two of my sisters regularly , one a physio & the other a nurse / podiatrist who both have ' white coat syndrome ' . We are having a day in Leeds this week so there may be some shopping . We usually visit the branch of Harvey Nichols there & gape at the price tickets – like country mice , then go elsewhere to shop . There are consignment shops locally but I've never been very lucky . Our charity shops are good for clean secondhand books & sometimes there are gems you can't find elsewhere .
    It is good to see well run consignment shops like The Frock Exchange . We need to be recycling stuff in this imaginative way . Mine go to the OXFAM charity shop , sell for a sensible price & we get a note each year to say how much they have made . Which is nice to know .
    Wendy in York

    1. Carolyn's coat is really nice. It fit me too but it's much more her style. So far my consignment shopping is mostly selling and not buying. Hope you have a good sisters' day this week. I'm imagining three "country mice" at Harvey Nichols… what could Beatrix Potter do with a storyline like that do you think?

  5. I love thrift store shopping! In fact, I'm working on a post about a jacket that I picked up yesterday at our local thrift store. It will be my next Fashion Friday feature. How lucky Carolyn was to have your help and what a fun day for both of you!

    1. I love to shop for my sister… she doesn't get much chance to go, so we make the best of it when she can. I'll be sure to check out that post, Elaine.

  6. Yes, YES! Most of my carefully curated closer is the result of my obsession with thrifting. There are indeed many women who donate new, like new and high quality items to thrift stores or consignment shops. The thrill of the hunt! It may take longer to find the items I need, but paying 5 or 6 dollars for a treasure makes the wait worth it. And truly, my lovely thrifted cashmere sweater looks as soft and expensive as one purchased new.

    1. I must admit that I'm not as patient as I should be with thrifting. But I'm going to try to make more of an effort. Especially if there are cashmere sweaters to be had.

  7. I LOVE to thrift shop with my sister.

    No doubt this was a fun day for you. You found some great pieces. I've gone to a few consignment shops when I was last in Ottawa. Next time I'm there I'll be checking out the thrift stores. They are more chaotic and challenging, but I'm also more likely to find something utterly unique.

    I'm from the camp that believes when thrifting you should not have a list. Some of my favourite pieces in my closet were items I didn't need.


    1. I know that your thrifting abilities are right up there with Patti's. I should probably be more open to things that are not on my list. I'll work on that:)

  8. My problem with thrift-shop shopping is that I haven't your discipline in saying No. At the very reasonable prices charged, I'm all too prone to bringing home garments or accessories that tend to be worn only once or twice. Now that we're leaving in the city, though, where there are some wonderful consignment shops and where I've got a much smaller space to fill (and thus, hopefully, a stronger commitment to editing and culling and Not Bringing Home), I might try again. . . meanwhile, what a wonderful way to spend sister time together!

    1. That's my sister all over again, Frances. When Fiona rang up her purchases, I could see her eyes darting about as if to say… is there anything else I might get, huh, huh??? When you grow up together you just know what's in a sister's mind, don't you? Although when she reads this she may disagree:)

  9. Don't know of any thrift or consignment shops with quality clothes near me. Fiona's looks like a lovely place to browse. Your sister did well and what serendipity finding a ring to match your bracelet. I admire your self control. The jacket sounded lovely. Iris

  10. Love the deep deep blue fake fur jacket!
    I have no experience with thrift or consignment shops-they are quite new (and only a few) here and we keep our clothes for very long time. There are not a lot of people giving or selling their posh things or fast new designers clothes.
    My friend had a catch or two but she lives in the house near the thrift shop

    1. It's a great jacket, isn't it? I hope my sister gets lots of wear out of it. There are a lot of thrift and consignment shop in most Canadian cities, as far as I know.But it's the ones in the tony neighbourhoods where the fabulous things are. Some people swap out their entire wardrobe each year. Hard to believe, really.

  11. I wish I had a shop like Fiona's near to me. Nothing similar here, unfortunately. Having said that, I'd be more like Frances as I'm not as disciplined as you! Although I am getting much better by trying to plan ahead and not shop randomly because I "like the look of something" it sounds as though your sister bought some great things and more importantly you had a lovely day out together. Talking about clothes I'm wondering if you saw the email I sent from the Netherlands and if your navy dress "worked" with green? I imagine you're looking forward to wearing your biker jacket again soon …I've a lighter one that I wore while we were away as the temperatures dipped. Felt so good to wear a jacket again! 🙂

    1. Oh yes… beware the random shopping. That's a killer. I did see your e-mail. Tried the green Twiggy jacket with the dress… lovely colour-wise, but the jacket is too heavy with the dress. I may try it again with jeans underneath …see how that works. Thanks for the suggestion. I can't wait to wear that jacket….well, any jacket… again. We had a few lovely cooler days and now we're back in the heat and humidity. And I'm back in my tank tops. Sigh.
      You have had a super busy summer wrt travel, is fall likely to be less busy?

    2. A little less busy, yes, but still lots going on 🙂 Starting with wedding dress shopping this weekend! ( with daughter and her maid of honor) I did wonder if the jacket may be too heavy … Just a thought. Crazy that your weather is still hot and humid. It seems to be starting to cool a little here, although we did return to sunshine which is always good!

  12. Although we don't have many consignment stores in Queensland we do have thrift shops and the are great to browse! Can be so hard to find things though, you really need to invest some time in it, so I haven't been for a while as it's tricky with two boys under 3!

    Away From The Blue Blog

  13. Thrift and consignment shops in Atlanta are quite good. I always go to A&W for a whistle dog when I visit my sister in Calgary and she has the teen burger. Ah, quality sister time!

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