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Thrift store shopping gives new life to old items

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On the racks, shelves and hangars of a thrift store, thousands of possibilities wait for the right person.

Vintage dresses made of satin and lace, pencil skirts and be-bop style gowns recall a classic era of fashion.

Faded, softened T-shirts, jeans with slightly out-of-style cuts and plaid blazers could be the new chic in the right hands.

These clothes were discarded years ago by the original owners. But for an experienced thrifter, that folly is an opportunity.

Just like crafty home decorators are finding new uses for repurposed building materials, fashion mavens have revived the styles of the past through thrift shopping. Combing through racks of items at Goodwill stores, vintage collections and yard sales, they’ve been able to create unique personal looks they can be guaranteed no one else will be wearing.

Thrifting advice

Words of wisdom from Stacie Grissom, Savannah Norris and Sarah Heckle

If it’s $8 or less, buy it

“Even if it won’t fit you perfectly, you can always take it to a tailor,” Norris said.

Give yourself time

“It’s a matter of digging through the racks and being patient, and hopefully you find something good,” said Heckle.

Be flexible

“I always have a general running list of things I would like to find, but it’s hard to go searching for that one perfect dress or skirt — you’ve got to have an open, flexible mind to notice that plain blouse that would be perfect with a little bit of sewing,” Grissom said.

Get to know store employees

“Strike up a relationship with the employees: “At the Goodwill in Franklin one Saturday, I started chatting with the employee who organizes the books. He asked me what I was looking for and I said I was on the hunt for some nice old atlases for some craft projects, but I couldn’t seem to find any on the shelves. This wonderful Goodwill employee looked at me with a cocked eyebrow, ‘You mean you want old maps from the ’40s and ’50s?’ I couldn’t say yes fast enough before he replied, ‘Well honey, I find tattered old books like that all the time! I just didn’t know anyone would want them,’” Grissom said.

Examine the material

“A true vintage piece will be made out of hardier, sturdier material that was stitched by hand,” Norris said.

“For me, it’s a good way to add inexpensive clothes to my closet, that, even though they’re used, they’re still better quality than inexpensive stores,” said Sarah Heckle, a fashion blogger based in central Indiana. “Plus, it’s a way to recycle. Instead of buying something new, you’re taking what someone else had and didn’t want, but is still perfectly fine.”

Heckle is the writer of the blog Tulle and Trinkets, focusing on modern fashion and her own creations.

She tries to go thrifting every couple of weeks, whenever she has some time. Her go-to stores are Goodwill and the Salvation Army, where new shipments of clothes are trucked in every week.

Having relied on vintage shopping for years, Heckle has a strategy whenever she hits the thrift stores.

“You have to give yourself plenty of time. I usually look at the dresses first. Then I’ll look for certain colors, or if a pattern catches my eye, I’ll look at something specifically,” she said. “But it’s a matter of digging through the racks and being patient, and hopefully you find something good.”

Garage sales have also been an unexpected source of great fashion for Heckle. One of her greatest finds ever was a gently used pair of jeans from J. Crew, a sweater from Ralph Lauren and another sweater from Free People.

The total price tag was $11.

“They were in great condition, and I would have spent hundreds of dollars on that to buy those in the store,” she said.

For Savannah Norris, thrifting grew out of her interests as a child.

When she was younger, Norris was active in theater and ballet. That forced her to become good at altering and repairing clothing for costumes.

As an adult, the skill has carried over to give her an expansive pallet to create fashionable outfits.

She works as a wardrobe stylist, so much of her thrifting is done for work. Films and productions will have very specific ideas of the clothing they want, and she’ll be responsible for finding it.

Norris also does fashion work for Pattern magazine, which requires her to unearth the truly unique pieces languishing on a shelf or a rack.

And as the manager of fashion boutique Indy Swank, she always has her eyes out for the very desirable styles of the past.

“We want the really well-aged vintage, which will still look modern today but still has the classic cuts and lines that people want,” she said.

These days, the early 1900s styles, garb from the Gilded Age of the 1920s and the tidy yet expressive looks of the ‘60s are the most in demand, Norris said.

“That mainly has to do with pop culture. When tracking the things that people want to wear every day, you have to look at movies and music,” she said. “And the three big ones now are ‘Downton Abby,’ ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘Mad Men.’ Anyone who’s shopping for vintage is looking for those.”

Pencil skirts, full skirts with a lot of pleating and darts, and 1920s evening wear are always very popular.

“Everything comes back around in one way or another,” Norris said.

Valu-World at Fountain Square has become her homebase. The store has provided her with everything from traditional saris to Chinese wardrobes to bridal outfits from around the world.

While out thrifting, Norris has come across some treasures.

A 1960s designer piece that was originally made in California was snatched up for $6.

“It’s one of my favorite dresses. It still has the original belt, which is really cool,” she said.

Another one she found while visiting her father in Wyoming in an antiques store. The Asian-inspired garment was likely made in Hong Kong, and was very popular in Hollywood during the early 20th century.

“You’re not going to find another dress that looks like either of those. I’m always looking for something new and different and unusual,” Norris said.

Stacie Grissom has found some of her most beloved outfits at the thrift stores in Franklin, Edinburgh and Greenwood.

A black leather skirt that she bought at a Goodwill store in Greenwood has been a staple for her for years.

When she discovered a cheap batch of vinyl records at the Goodwill in Franklin, she turned the items into a one-of-a-kind purse.

“One of my favorite things to do is find clothes at the thrift shop and change them a bit,” Grissom said. “Two of my favorites are this flower dress I made out of thrifted T-shirts and this heart cutout dress I made from a plain dress.”

When Grissom heads out to the thrift stores, she tries to have a general list of what to look for. Some days it’s stripes, other times it’s polka dots, retro prints or silk.

“With a general knowledge of what you want, it makes shopping easier because you can scan the store and let the things you want pop out,” she said.

Norris also had rules she tries to follow on the vintage trail. For anyone looking to start thrifting, Norris recommends that if they see an item for $8 or less that you might not wear, pick it up.

“If you don’t, it won’t be there later. And those things will haunt you,” she said. “Even if it won’t fit you perfectly, you can always take it to a tailor.”

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