29 June 2014

Thrifting 201: Natural Fibers


Much of my retail life is devoted to thrift store retail. Through the years I’ve gotten to find a few awesome pieces, spot a few trends, and pick up a few valuable tips.

One fantastic lesson is to seek out natural fibers!

Banana Republic, Silk
The last decade brought us the wholesale cheapening of fashion. This is evidenced by the prevalence of spandex, nylon, and low-cotton blends. This move by industry coincides with the decrease in availability of 100% natural fibers in shops—leaving shoppers with no alternatives—I challenge anyone to walk into a Marshalls, Target, Sears and find 7 articles of women’s clothes that are all 100% Cotton. Today, it’s virtually impossible to find natural fibers in moderately –prices to inexpensive retail stores. When you find these products they are very expensive.

The place to find pure cottons, silks, wool, cashmere, and linens is the thrift store—But you’ve really gotta search. At this point in my shopping life I can locate these materials my their hand, but I always double-check by reading the label.

For the last five years or so, buying mainly natural fibers has been my MO. When searching for specific garments I buy only 100% cotton or silk. I have four good reasons for this:

  1. Economics: 100% natural fiber garments are relatively cheaper at the thrift store. These items also seem to last significantly longer than manmade of blends—in my experience.
  2. Smelliness: I’m a sweaty bike rider. Natural fibers dry more quickly after a ride and minimize the potential for smelly bacteria to grow and follow me around the office after my mornings commute. I’ve noticed that sport fabrics, wicking, and manmade fibers pull the moisture in and stay sweat-moistened longer. And they always smell like sweat after one ride.
  3. Timelessness of styling: Natural material garments are made in styles that can support a wardrobe—think of Seven Easy Pieces—and are less the trendiest thing going. Immediately springing to mind are shift dresses, summery A-line skirts, lightweight cotton tees, tailored button-down tops.
  4. Environment: The fact is that my Brooks Brothers cotton sleeveless button-down top will biodegrade in a landfill and poly-spandex stretch leggings can take up to 1000 years to break down—if at all. Even before we spend a dollar at the cash register, their production has already made an environmental impact.

Those are my reasons for seeking out natural fibers at the thrift store. Following this guideline means spending more time in the thrift store. However, I usually walk away with a good-quality, breathable, attractive garment that I can wear for a good long time.