The Art of Thrifting

Floral couches spotted with mysterious stains. The faint aroma of cat piss culminating over a puce wingback. Mounds of faded and crusty plastic toys. Dolls with matted hair. Tonkas with chips. Stuffed dogs missing eyes, fur bleached from being left in the sun.

Buttery leather jackets that have traveled to places I’ll never see, with crudely sewn patches and worn down collars. Saddleback shoes with hardly any sole. Wingtips that have never kissed the concrete. The musty smell of mothballs and stale cologne lurking around every three-piece suit.

I walk down the long, narrowing aisles. My grandma’s voice drowns out the beeps and clicks of the cash registers ringing on the other side of the store.

“Those pants are gingham, not plaid, and the inseam is loose by the knee, you don’t want those” “That’s a sport coat, not a blazer” “It’s called houndstooth” “Never wear the hats; you don’t know where those have been”

I always try on the hats.

I snap my hand back from a cheap polyester blend. It’s a sour smelling, almost slimy between the fingers, and very limp fabric bound to fall apart at any moment. Polyester is like a used bandaid floating in the corner of a public swimming pool. Never buy polyester blends.

I come across a dark wool pea coat smells vaguely like a wet dog. I pick it up and examine the target areas.


-Jones New York; reputable


-Bottom left one is loose (easy fix)

-None are broken or missing


-No stains; light wear


-No noticeable tears; mild fading



-Fabric unknown

-Interior tag missing

-Chest pocket; no holes

It is clear for purchase, but I don’t think I’ll wear it. I put it back on the rack.

“Grandma?” I glance over towards the glassware and craft supplies, looking for the violent punch of her prized chartreuse tracksuit. I come up short. She’s a portly woman, who’s ass alone manages to take up the entire width of the aisles, but her head barely stretches over the clothing racks, making her victim to the seas of outdated retail.

Nike cleats painted with grass stains. Wilson tennis rackets missing a few wires. Compact bows and a few flimsy practice arrows that would probably split with use. A particle board desk with a broken drawer. Cracked plastic clocks. A painting of two shaggy headed amish boys fishing. Home Interior frames and Precious Moments figurines. Graphing calculators with oozing batteries or missing keys. A grandfather clock with a missing weight.

Mom holds up a three-piece set of white Land’s End Cashmere. It’s only four dollars. Pristine condition. Plus size. Good for resale. She holds it over her head as if it were baby Simba himself. Later that week, she will sell it for forty. She will put the money towards Dad’s cardiology appointment. This is how she will pay for all of his medical bills.

The kids used to make fun of the fact that we couldn’t afford new clothing. We couldn’t afford new anything. We had secondhand cars, secondhand clothes, secondhand furniture, secondhand dolls, and secondhand mutts from the pound. We even had secondhand food, standing in the food pantry line every second Sunday so we could pay off the second roof we had to put on the mobile home after the first one came crashing into the livingroom while we were folding laundry.

I never minded so much, the teasing nor the used clothing. I never felt the shame that my mother did when she asked me if the bullying had stopped, if I was embarrassed to be barely second-class.

The kids grew colder, but I was never second to throw my fist into a snot-filled nose, in the name of familial loyalty.

Bruised knees. Blood stained sweatshirts. Calls home. Missed classes. Shoes with soles dotted with holes and filled with loose gravel. Frayed laces missing aglets. Ripped jeans, but not intentionally. Gray stained socks. Unbrushed hair and too small shirts, from too large breasts that grew too quickly and drew too much attention.

I picked up a kindergartener at the front of the bus. He’s only five. Clean cut. Well fed. Snide little shit. I hold him over my head for the rest of the bus to see, before dropping him back on his ass. It doesn’t stop him from beating the shit out of brother again later that week.

Floral couches spotted with mysterious stains remind me of home. The burning smell of cigarettes and Coors filled bonfires still lingers in my clothes, reminding me of that mobile home off the highway, just north of nowhere, Wisconsin. A dirt plot of land made up of hard clay and broken slabs of concrete, where only thick tufts of dandelions and wilting hostas could grow through the churned mud after the midsummer storms.

Rust stains on white t-shirts. Coffee stains on crooked teeth. I help my mother unload her shopping cart onto the checkout counter. The cashier rolls her eyes at the small mountain of clothing. My mother shifts through her wallet, fumbling with loose change, and mumbling some half-hearted joke about our shopping habits.

-Chanel Harwick


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