Thrifting Down the Mainstream

This beautiful blonde in a baby blue embroidered dress is Laura Burhenn from The Mynabirds. She used to be in another band called Georgie James with a counterpart blonde, John Davis, who is now currently in a really neat D.C. band, the Title Tracks.  It was so unfortunate that she had to part ways with John, who is well known for having a voice like that pretty punk, Elvis Costello.

When the interviewer on Laist’s website asked Laura about the church imagery in the photos you’ll see below, she said:

Those photos were based on that blue dress. I found it at the Salvation Army in Iowa and thought, “I have to wear this dress!” It was like a strange version of a wedding dress that Dolly Parton might have worn. There was something really formal and special about it. I wanted to do the photos in D.C. proper and so we did them at St. Stephens Episcopal Church. They put on a lot of punk shows there and Georgie James had played there a number of times. It’s just a really nice community center. I never even thought about it as a religious place. I just liked the image of a woman sitting in the church pews for the cover. It’s very mysterious. She looks like someone who’s contemplating something deep.

There really is no shame in thrifting. I used to go to my local thrift shop a few times a month back in high school and never admit to my covert visits. Although a lover of great fashion designers’ talents, I still should not have been ashamed of my whereabouts for Saturday shopping sprees. It didn’t help having a credit cards-and-caparisons cousin with just about unlimited funds on my scattergood father’s side of the family. Thrift stores were my tiny treasure coves for the flat broke with the heart for art.

Besides, it seems that thrifting has been more of a fad lately, as seen in fashion blogs all over the internet. With this new wave rave for vintage, even Goodwill is raising their prices because the more affluent kids are ransacking their racks for one-of-a-kind retro rompers and sixties sandals. I’ve been scavenging these stores secretly since I was a kid, and now slowly everybody else thinks it’s actually cool to enter the dusty doors of Thriftopia. I could’ve been my high school’s fashion editor if it weren’t for the mainstream fashion mania and my succumbing to it. The same group of kids who wore nothing but what the magazines told them are most likely drooling over the vintage dress Burhenn wore in these press release photos (more below.)

This transition of the mainstream to vintage might or might not be in full effect soon. I just don’t like it when a newbie joins the bandwagon late and wears nothing BUT vintage clothes. That is why I do not really define my style in a solid “vintage-only” category. I like to create my own vague references with mash-ups of different decades and cultures—or at least, that’s my goal.

I see clothes as I see music or movies. You have to be open-minded to the possibility of finding treasures in any place and not be stuck with one piece, genre, style, decade, or brand name. This sets apart the people who can think for themselves from the crowd followers.

Regarding modesty, I see it as being a touchy subject even to religious communities. I know I make people smile when they see my clothes but they get somewhat uncomfortable hearing and reading about the reason behind my clothing choices. Perhaps someday soon the mainstream will drift (and thrift) in the direction of modesty. One can only wish (and pray…)

Thanks to Tawny for interviewing me last week! Read the interview on her blog.

Here are the rest of Laura’s nifty, thrifty, and modest photos in church:

This shot was taken right after making the video for “Let the Record Go.” I embedded the video right below this photo to explain the cake mess!

The friendly fashionable fiends before the food fight:

The Mynabirds- Let the Record Go (I spy: a skull, a gun, and poison!)

45 thoughts on “Thrifting Down the Mainstream

  1. You know what kind of bothers me? When these new kids come to thrift stores and start making fun of the clothes. I’m not so happy about the prices going up at goodwill or the now called “boutiques” I like stinky places because the stinkier and less arranged they are the more thrilling it is to find a gem. I also used to be embarrassed to say that I thrifted but now I’m not anymore, I’m used to it and for the most part people are always impressed with my finds. =)

  2. awww how pretty!
    Ther really are no thrift stores by me. The ones that are all have 90s stuff and newer, which is sad. I rmember when I went thrifting at 14 and the newest stuff they had were the 70s and it is as if all of it disappeared since!

  3. I love those pictures, and the way they look. you are right about the vintage look becoming more mainstream. but i have to say that no one where i live will dress that well!

    i found this website awhile ago, and maybe you will like some of the styles? i always go on it and just look around, because i dont think i can pull off these looks.

    enjoy! =)

  4. I was just at Salvation Army yesterday and almost became irate. Salvation Army’s prices are always a liiiittle bit cheaper than Goodwill and they have more vintage clothing. Imagine my surprise when a great 50s dress was priced at $20! $20!!

    I then looked over and saw several young girls piling their arms with clothing. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the girls had money (they were robed in the latest designer duds).

    I had a gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach. Was Salvation Army marking up their prices because thrifting was becoming TRENDY!? I left the store because I suddenly felt as if I couldn’t shop the way I wanted to.

    Months ago I saw a lady in my hometown in Salvation Army. Her store aka boutique is known for its vintage items, but I never buy anything because I feel silly buying such expensive clothes. While in SA I saw HER buying clothing. I distinctly remember one dress she snatched up, because I really loved it. Two weeks later I found myself in her store and the dress was for sale for $300.

    At this point I’m not going to say that I’m giving up thrifting, because it’s the thrill of the find that I love.

    1. I agree, I think it’s ridiculous that Salvation Army and Goodwill are marking up their clothes because of how ‘in’ thrifted clothing is nowadays. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind paying ‘normal’ clothing prices (because, let’s be honest, twenty dollars for a dress isn’t an incredibly exorbitant amount) yet of course I miss those 2 and 3 dollar finds – but what really bugs me? The fact that there are a lot of people who shop at Goodwill not because it’s ‘trendy’ but because they actually need to, and thrifted clothing being in fashion is closing a lot of options to people who can’t afford as much as some of the people now buying those discount clothes.

      There isn’t any great solution to it, and you certainly can’t be upset at someone for taking advantage an availability of now-fashionable clothing – antique dealers have been doing it at garage sales and pawn shops for years, taking advantage of people who don’t know what something is worth (in the boutique lady’s case, it might be more taking advantage of the people buying at her store than of the Salvation Army). Still, there’s something really wrong about inadvertently driving up the prices of clothes that are meant to be affordable for those who need it most.

      1. I agree wholeheartedly with what you said. $20 is NOT alot to pay for a dress, and while my being irritated is totally not a big deal, the people suffering are those that actually have to shop at these stores and cannot really afford it. :o/ SIGH.

  5. It seems that there are very few members of the fashion blogging community who don’t thrift. We are a breed in love with fashion, in love with vintage, and in love with good deals.

    Thrift stores offer what we need, and provide a treasure hunt type of experience, yielding (seemingly?) one of a kind pieces.

    Being able to get clothes cheaply also leads to creativity through alteration – if you chop up a $5 dress and ruin it, who cares, it was $5 — but you’d never think that about a dress you paid $30 for!

    My wardrobe is a mix of mainstream and thrifted, and I would never want to completely give up either.

  6. Lovely photos…

    I am a firm believer in thrifting! Not only can you find nice brand-name stuff (some of it brand new or hardly worn) but also unique pieces that you couldn’t find in a department store. Thrift store prices are going up, which I grumble about, but then I just have to go to the mall and realize that the prices ARE still better. :-)

  7. I got told off the other day for using the word ‘Thrift’ because it’s too American :(

    Anyway. I used to do this a lot when I was younger to garner a collection of jackets and shirts, but these days it’s become nearly impossible. Everywhere in London with anything decent now is swooped upon by the fashionable ‘vintage boutiques’ who buy up everything and sell it on to stupid kids for inflated prices. So even the cheap little stores overprice everything because they know the more popular stores will buy it and price it even higher.

    The worst thing is, 90% of the people buying it don’t even understand what the word vintage means. Bah.

    I had an acquaintance a short time ago who professed to being DEFINED by Vintage. And yet she refused to watch any films made before 1980 or listen to any music that wasn’t in the current charts. Which always confused me because I like to think of vintage as an overall mindset, rather than an “I am wearing these clothes because [insert model here] is wearing them also”.

    Rant over for now though! x

  8. Also, I commented on this over on my blog but I thought I’d leave it here too in case you don’t see it:

    — I definitely agree with you on the models point, in the case of admiring the clothes in the way of a piece of art. I imagine it especially helps that I know I can’t wear any of them regardless — I like drag queens but it isn’t really my bag! — so I have quite a dissociation from the clothes as actual wearable CLOTHES.

    I don’t think the industry will change the model look and the expectation is gives non-models until the rest of the world changes first though.. most of the people I know who moan about ‘skinny models’ still buy Vogue etc and allow the industry to keep presenting the same image. Not that I think everyone should boycott fashion in some mass riot grrrl style rebellion but…. wait, actually I DO think everyone should do that, hah! :D

  9. So I thought for awhile about whether I should post this anonymously or not, but decided I’d just leave my real name. Why not, right? First, let me say THANK YOU a million for featuring these photos and the dress on your site!! I love vintage shopping and thrifting just as much as it appears everyone else here does. And who doesn’t love an amazing low-priced find?? For the record, the album cover dress was a Salvation Army find, reduced by 50% on their half-off Wednesday sale. Let’s just say it ending up costing less than a latte or shot of whiskey. (Score!)

    One thing to keep in mind is that Salvation Army and Goodwill are non-profits that fund a lot of their community work with money raised from their retail stores. So I personally don’t mind spending $20 or more for a great vintage dress (it’s less than it’d cost at a re-sale boutique and less than it probably cost new – adjusted for inflation). If you’re bummed about the inflated price, just think of it this way — you spent $5 on the dress and made a $15 donation to a worthy organization. That’s how I like to approach it. I once found a perfect-condition Diane Von Furstenberg dress at a second hand shop run by a battered women’s shelter for only $8. Thinking back on it, I probably should’ve given them an extra ten or $20 for the great work they’re doing.

    As far as re-sale vintage boutiques go, I have some dear friends who run them. And while it can be a bit of a bummer to know that a few of the pieces came off the Goodwill racks and were marked up, I don’t mind paying the extra money for good finds. What you’re usually paying for is the shop-owner’s good eye and good taste — and not having to spend hours driving around and weeding through thrift store racks. (Although the hunt is half the fun!)

    In the end, thrifting and vintage shopping are a great cycle of recycling — passing things along to those who need/want them from those who don’t. That has value in and of itself. And every so often when we come across an amazing pair of handmade Brazilian leather boots for $8, we can thank our lucky stars that we saw them first!


    (The Mynabirds)

    1. Hi Laura,

      Thanks for the response (and for choosing to reveal who you are!)

      It is a good way to think of the raised prices at Goodwill as donating that extra money to charities! The others who commented however also made a good point about keeping the clothes affordable for people who are less fortunate (but have minimum wage jobs) but just want to buy new clothes for themselves. The people who are in this economic status are a little well-off for donations but at the same time too poor for $20 dresses. It’s really a gamble for Goodwill either way. There is no controlling who gets to shop at thrift stores.

      In my opinion, I think it is okay to mark up the prices on vintage pieces (good for charities) but the more contemporary clothing can be kept low for people who really just need something to wear—fashionable or not.

      By the way, this article and your photo has been featured on this week’s Independent Fashion Bloggers’ site!


  10. I was JUST ranting about this. Since it’s the “hot thing” to do now, thrift store prices have risen to ridiculous.

    These are lovely photos.

  11. “I see clothes as I see music or movies. You have to be open-minded to the possibility of finding treasures in any place and not be stuck with one piece, genre, style, decade, or brand name. This sets apart the people who can think for themselves from the crowd followers.”
    I think that remark really hits upon the difference between what it is to be fashionable versus stylish. Style is more about crafting your own visual identity (albeit through reference, much like so much music, movies and literature) rather than aping after what appears to work for someone else. Great post.

  12. I think I sit on the other side of the fence. While I’ve loved vintage and thrifting my entire life, I don’t see an issue with people finally getting hip to it. Sure it makes it harder for us diehard fans to find good pieces, but when we do it will make it all the more special.

  13. Another commenter who thinks that the real losers in the Goodwill price war game are going to be the people who actually need the clothes, not the people who are vintage hunting because it’s cool.

    There are lots of places to find vintage/thrifted clothes – Buffalo Exchange, for example, or Crossroads Trading Post, or Plato’s Closet – a number of resale shops that are similar to the “gems” you’d get at Salvo or Goodwill but priced differently for different reasons. If Goodwill legitimately is raising prices because they can’t afford to stay in business, that’s one thing. (I assume them branching out into online sales is also because of this kind of thing – their auction website is awesome) But if they’re raising prices – high enough that they might be scaring off the people who really need it, then both Goodwill and the hipster kids finding clothes there are at fault for not thinking about those less fortunate than themselves.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *