Thrifting Like a Beast, Volume I

Ready to KILL! I mean, SHOP!

Hi, kids. This is the first installment in a series called “Thrifting Like a Beast” where I show you the tenacious and time-saving ways to get the most out of ye old thrift shoppe; thereby increasing your yield, garnering drunken stories for parties, and avoiding the swirling, overwhelming fatigue that can set in at any moment.

Thrifting is digging for diamonds. Thrifting is hunting and gathering.  Thrifting is honing in on an item, realizing its preciousness, and recontextualizing it in your life. I get off on thrifting.

I started going to thrift stores when I was 12, not because we were poor (my mother loved to buy me lots of clothes I didn’t want) but because I listened to punk music and that’s just what pre-adolescent punks did. I bought polyester grandpa pants and children’s soccer T-shirts and grizzled leather jackets and then screamed my effing head off at MXPX shows in skating rinks. So, I’ve been thrifting for a long time and though the goals have changed (I’d like to think my tastes have matured a bit… ) some tried and true methods have risen to the surface like vintage leather cream in a pail of cheap filthy nogahide.

Value Village! Bargain Basement! Thrift Town! The Deal Department! Savings Soiree! Ok, ok...

Ok, let’s get down to business:


Before entering a thrift store, ask yourself what you hope to accomplish.  What are your time limitations? Are you looking for a particular item? Do you feel lucky? DON’T go into a thrift store if you are tired, or if you currently hate the human race, or if you need to be somewhere in 10 minutes.  Devote time and love to Thrift Town, and Thrift Town will shower you with her blessings.


Let’s say you answered “duck boots” to the “particular item” question above. Excellent choice because I have been looking for these fuckers in a thrift stores for a month, to no avail. If you don’t have a lot of time to devote to this quest, think about the places this item will live in a thrift store. There’s the obvious choice like Men’s Shoes. But also, if you are a gentleman, which I am, you must venture over to the Lady’s department. Most folks who work at thrift stores don’t give a shit about putting things in the right place. Read: If it is PRETTY then it goes in the LADIES department. I have discovered most of my favorite men’s vintage in the women’s department because in the past, men had taste, and that taste scans as LADIES CLOTHING to a lot of people.

If you are a lady, which I sometimes am, you must go to the Men’s section, because women’s clothing composed of more masculine fabrics and patterns will be yours for the taking.


Following this line of reasoning, you must also check the children’s shoes section, and, since we are looking for an item normally used for fishing or hunting or performing manual labor (even though you are probably NOT going to be doing this), you must check the sports/outdoors section.

I have found many beautiful vintage carry-ons in these sections because Value Village employees thought they were bowling bags. And sometimes, to the employee’s credit, there were also pretty bowling bags there too, properly placed. Annnnd I bought those as well.


OK, are you ready for a secret? People are LAZY. They will NOT put shoes back once they have tried them on. They will leave shit in dressing rooms; they will leave shit on the racks near the mirrors (even if the mirror is attached to a vanity set downstairs in the furniture section), and they will leave shit near the register when they open up their wallets and poorly-dressed moths fly out). Scope out these places. The more familiar you are with your thrift store, the faster this process will become and the closer you are to your (my) dream goal: looking like you live in the woods.

Oh, just throw those heels anywhere...

Well, what if you don’t need anything in particular, but you feel an emptiness inside that might possibly be assuaged by buying something beautiful and inexpensive? Then you need to make a decision about the time you’d like to devote. You must decide between the “quick sweep” and the “go deep.”


This method is all about choices. Quickly go through your favorite thrift store sections in your mind (hmmm…. animal figurines, vintage coffee mugs, men’s outerwear, and… well, let’s stop there).  It’s best to pick just a few and limit yourself to those sections. Confidently walk to those aisles and do a visual sweep based on pleasing colors, shapes, and patterns. When working with clothes, run your hands along the fabrics to search for quality fabrics. Do NOT dig. Don’t move hangars, don’t reach for the mugs in the back, don’t get too invested. You have chosen to save time, so get in, grab the goods that immediately strike you as gorgeous, and get out. This should take you 15-20 minutes max.


Nothing to do today? Riding those unemployments checks into the sunset? Why not enjoy a little staycation at your local Value Village. If you’re gonna dabble, why not dive in?

The “go deep” method is about putting in the time and really searching for gems. Know that you will be there for a few hours, and that you will leave no stone unturned. Go in properly fed and hydrated and might I recommend slightly caffeinated? Wherever you start in the store is up to you. I pretty much always start with shoes and bags. It whets my appetite for the more daunting, less-organized sections. Once you have a battle plan, dive in. Since you are casing the entire joint, there is no wrong way to do this.

A treasure trove of polyester grandma chic!


Once, after discovering a goldmine thrift store in a rich neigborhood of Seattle, I purchased enough vintage clothing to start a pop-up boutique in some city where that would actually work (not Seattle). I looked like a pack mule on my bike riding the 30 minutes home, wearing a pair of cowboy boots that wouldn’t fit in my messenger bag.  It will behoove you to put a little forethought into how you will get your loot home.

Me after my last shopping adventure. I should have sprung for the taxi!

Annnnnnd, let’s stop there.

I hope you enjoyed the first installment of “Thrifting Like a Beast.” As you can probably tell, I am a pretty passionate thrifter. I love to pair old items and their stories with new items that keep me on-trend.  The act of thrifting itself becomes a kind of found-object assemblage, and you’re the surface all the cool shit is attached to.  I hope to do an installment of this series every-other week during my residency here at Ironing Board Collective, so until then, good luck out there.

This handbag is GORGEOUS!


About adamboehmer

Adam Boehmer is an artist, musician and writer living in Seattle, WA. Adam's poems have appeared online and in print journals including Spork, Gertrude, The Monarch Review, CityArts magazine, and the anthology The Full Spectrum, from Knopf Books. He has worked as a contributing writer for online entities such as Ironing Board Collective. His music project Tenderfoot works towards an unabashedly romantic collection of queer folk songs. Visually, his art is sculptural and assemblage-based, and stems from the desire to arrange and bind objects in a powerful way, recontextualizing building materials, masculine accoutrements and ephemera. He is currently producing a collaborative book, Sweaters & GLASS with LA artist Maggie Carson Romano.


  1. Pingback: Aghast from the Past: Adam Boehmer Roasts Himself, a Fashion Philosophy « Ironing Board Collective

  2. Did you abduct that employee with the purple? fuchsia? eye shadow. But surely she was the rarest find of all? I couldn’t believe that photo of the shoes all over the floor. It’s so messy! That’s what “Flagship” retail stores would look like if the staff weren’t constantly picking up all the time.

    I love your posts- they’re so funny! I really appreciate that you are realistic about thrifting being an art that takes time: God knows, urban thrift is so picked over you really have to have an eye and the patience. This is a bit perverse- but would you consider a post on the most outrageously worst deals you could find/pay for at regular retail stores? The shit these companies try to sell people these days really is begging for the humorous expose….

  3. Pingback: Thrifting Like a Beast, Volume 2 « Ironing Board Collective

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