2016 was the worst year of my entire life, but there was one thing that made it better: thrift shopping. This year, through it all, Value Village was my safe space, my solace and my sanctuary. Usually I’m just a legend in my own mind, but at Value Village I’m genuinely famous. Once while browsing through windbreakers, a cute employee who looked like an 80’s rockstar shouted to me, “you’re even cuter in person than you are on Instagram!” I played it off very humbly like, “Aw shucks, little old me?” But if I’m being real, it’s about damn time I got some recognition for being the Number One contributor to the #valuevillage hashtag. Because honestly, it’s not a thrift store, it’s a way of life. And even though as a general trend I accomplished approximately nothing this year, I did somehow manage to turn my entire wardrobe into a very well-curated thrift store and look trés fashionable, so *sunglasses emoji, walks into sunset, bursts into flames*
But if you’re reading this post and thinking to yourself, “Teach me your ways! I’m so bad at thrifting,” I hope you’re not too disappointed when I say that I have no helpful hints to offer you. I wish I could tell you how I find the things that I do, my friend. All I can say is: I’m sorry and it’s not your fault. As it turns out, thrifting is not so much a learned skill as it is an innate superpower. I’m sure you have your own unique sort of superpower. Maybe you’re intuitively gifted at cooking! What a useful thing, please feed me. But listen, it’s okay if you can’t get the hang of queer thrifting. Some heroes wear capes, some wear chef hats. I just so happen to be a superhero who wears a five-dollar red faux-fur trimmed jacket.
If nothing else, what I can offer you is the ability to recreate the looks I’ve found through the power of the Internet and its unlimited shopping cart. And if you want to lie and tell people your outfit’s from Value Village to gain queer credibility, I’m not looking.
1. A perfect-fitting pair of vintage Levi’s / stomping boots
Vintage high-waisted Levi’s are the mythological creatures of thrifting. You can spend your whole life searching for them, wandering alone through endless aisles of denim like a desperate believer looking for fairies. People will say you’re foolish, that it’s impossible to find durable, timeless jeans at thrift stores. And they’re sort of right. The task is made even more impossible by the fact that Value Village doesn’t have any dressing rooms. In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit how much money I’ve gambled away, and how many pairs of Levi’s I had to try and shrink or expand myself into before finding the perfect fitting pair of jeans. But when I put these jeans on and looked at my butt in the mirror, it was so worth it. I literally felt like Cinderella going to the gayest ball in the universe. And magically, I also found these sensible square-heeled black boots during the same shopping trip. They’re perfect to stomp around in when you want to let out your pent-up 90’s angst.
2. 90’s throwback fuzzy sweater / camisole dress combo / creepers
People are pretty divided about the dress-over-shirt trend that came back this year. I myself am very chill with it, especially when it’s easy to create for ten dollars or less. On an unrelated note, these black creeper shoes have a fun story behind them, which I’m going to share with you now. One of the reasons I’m so good at thrifting is because I live in Houston, which lowkey has the best thrift stores in America. I know this is true because the only people who shop at our thrift stores are either nice moms buying clothes for their family, or Japanese merchandisers who literally step off of a flight from Japan and drive directly to our unpicked-through thrift stores in search of things they can buy and sell back home for a ridiculous amount of money. (I’m half-Japanese, so I always confuse these people, who whisper: “Is she a mom or is she our competition?” Which, first of all? is petty and secondly, I can understand you.) Anyway, long story short, one of the merchandisers saw these shoes at the same time as I did. Naturally, I very un-politely ran towards them to snatch them up first. And I’m glad that I did, because they retail for one-hundred buckaroonies online. I mean, what can I say? I would die for my craft. Please, hold your applause.
3. So many great shirts!
Sometimes I walk into a thrift store and I’m like, “shirts shirts shirts shirts shirts!” (to the tune of Rihanna’s ‘Work’). Button-up shirts are phenomenal because they’re the only thing that I personally need to express the masculine side of my gender expression. And they’re the only item of clothing at a thrift store that anyone, with or without any inherent luck, is sure to find! Rejoice, queers of all gender expressions and identities! If only for this moment, have faith in the tiny reassurance that the perfect shirt is out there for you, just waiting to be found.
4. Vintage Victoria’s Secret Pink Lace Camisole
This was another trend that I was grateful for in 2016, because it was easily made possible by the lingerie aisle of any thrift store. If you’re a hater who is against the dress-over-top trend, all I’m asking is for you peacefully respect my decision to live my best/cheapest life and also maybe consider how cute I actually look in this trend before you point fingers at the 90’s for ruining fashion (again). By the way, if you think this is bad, may I remind you that fashion repeats itself in 15-year cycles. What I’m saying is that we’re dangerously close to re-entering Britney and Justin double-denim territory. Believe me, the worst is yet to come. We millennials are just getting started in bringing to life all of the uniquely terrible trends that should have died in 2001.
5. Pastel Windbreaker and Hat
Anyone who knows me knows that this baby blue hat with the word “Iraq” embroidered in pink letters on it is my actual son. If you try to buy it from my head while I’m wearing it (which has happened), I’ll actually say: “don’t talk to me or my son ever again.” I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s the best thing I may ever find at Value Village. Mainly because it’s so bizarre? I mean, what are the odds that I would find a ridiculously on-brand hat in the trademark baby blue and pink style of 2016, but with the politically charged yet entirely contextless word “Iraq” emblazoned on the front? What I’m thinking is that it was made in 2003 for Texas wives whose husbands were soldiers fighting in the Iraq war. This hat would have been an easy way for them to signal their support for the troops while simultaneously shuffling little Bobby back and forth from soccer practice. Anyway, it matches nicely with the pastel Adidas windbreaker that I also miraculously found. I don’t know how I do it. I’m convinced that thrift stores are black holes that spontaneously grab disappearing jackets from innocent victims living in the 80’s, just to put their clothes onto hangers for me when I walk into the store.
6. Red Faux Fur Lined Coat & Denim Coat
Outerwear is fashion’s window to the soul, which is unfortunate because it’s hard to find any outerwear that is both practical and fashionable. In the winter, trying to survive in the face of freezing temperatures means that we must accept the inevitability of wearing coats that make us look like marshmallows. However, faux fur-lined coats are actually very warm and will make people say “omg” in their head when they see you. And when the frost starts melting, you can celebrate your newfound outerwear freedom with a long denim coat that’s a really popular look all over the world according to the closets of my ex’s!
7. Pink Puffy Winter Coat & Velour Turtleneck Sweater
I actually found this puffy pink jacket and gold velour sweater in London in 2015, but who’s keeping track? Also, look at that cherubic picture of me. Can you even tell that I had just gotten my heart broken an hour before the photo was taken? No. I bet you can’t. And therein lies the power of fashion, folks. Thrift stores were made for “fake it til you make it” souls like you and I. Nothing says “I’m gonna scam you for every cent that you’re worth” more than finding a lightly used Gucci jacket tucked in-between two rusty coat hangers and wearing it to your break-up.
8. Lace Bodysuits
I honestly get a little emotional thinking about how beautiful these lace bodysuits are. Seriously, do you have a tissue? Because I might shed a tear. Here’s the thing about lace bodysuits: they make your butt look great. I know that thrift store lingerie might be too icky of a concept for some people to get into, and that’s fair. All I’m saying is consider the value of spending three dollars on some delicately arranged lace for the benefit of making your butt look great.
9. So many shoes!
I don’t know if any of these shoes have come back around to be stylish again yet, but then again, do I care? No, because I’m a broke 20-something who can’t afford to care about following all of the trends. Don’t get me wrong, I try out two-ish trends per year. But what I’ve learned is that you only need to get the hang of a few trends in order to lifehack people into believing you can fashion. So if any of you want to wear a pair of these “smoking sandals,” so we can try to make it the next big thing in queer footwear together, that’d be cool.
10. Vintage Japanese Duster Coat
I try not to be the kind of person who waxes poetic about fashion because it would be hypocritical to all of my wine enthusiast friends who I lightly side-eye for their self-indulgent descriptions of a fruit. But like, I love fashion. So maybe I’m going to start letting myself to talk about it like I love it. And in return, I’m going to try and be more accepting of all of my friend’s pretentious passions. Because let’s be real, this world is wild, so it’s worthy of congratulations if you can find simple joy in fruit or fashion. And if I’m going to give myself permission to be poetic about any item of clothing, it’s gonna be for this Japanese duster coat. Look at the beautiful shape of the collar, and the gorgeous two front pockets, and the mid-length sleeves. Look at the pattern of the inside lining that’s so beautiful that I used it as the background photo for this collage. Truly, this coat is just majestic. Even if my description of it makes you roll your eyes.