Five Easy Pieces

Goodwill Hunting for Stylish School Clothes

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Goodwill shopping for school clothingThere’s an art to shopping for school clothes at Goodwill and other thrift shops, and it’s not all about saving money. It’s the thrill of the hunt, the challenge of building a nice wardrobe from what’s available, the creativity of keeping current while working within a budget.

My 13-year-old niece Melody is a shopaholic. But she’s an amateur, a novice accustomed to shopping retail and, frankly, choosing items without regard to price. Like any good aunt, I wanted to hone her skills, elevate her level of consumer sophistication. Naturally, we headed to my favorite Goodwill store in St. Louis.

(Actually, Melody wanted to go to the big outlet mall in the city–an ordeal I couldn’t face.)

Anyway, the goal at Goodwill was to create a school wardrobe for a girl between 8 and 10 years old. (Boys are just too easy–jeans and t-shirts are all-too-plentiful.) We decided to shop for Melody’s cousin, Lyndsey, a combination girly-girl and tomboy.

We began by perusing the racks, selecting only items that were either new or in good condition. Our first find was a denim skirt embellished with sequined hearts on the hips. In fact, we found two–the first also sported a hot pink, narrow belt. Alas, it was too small, so we put it back on the rack. Thirty minutes later, we found the same skirt in the right size, but without a belt. Melody quickly located the first skirt and appropriated the pink belt.

Goodwill school clothes for girlsWe decided the skirt would look good with either a lime green or pink shirt. We kept our eyes peeled as we shopped, throwing any seemingly suitable top into our shopping cart. In the meantime, we picked up other key pieces–jeans, a pink satchel purse, a beautiful pink linen dress, various t-shirts and a very cute, flippy black jersey skirt.

That little black skirt was vexing. We just couldn’t find a top to go with it. Nothing was suitable–either the material was too flimsy, or too wintery. Or the tops were too big, or the wrong color. Melody reminds me that we probably spent an hour of the two hours we were in the store, trying to pair that skirt with a shirt.

Finally, she looked at me. “What are we doing?” she asked. “We have to give it up if we can’t find the right top.”

Lesson #1: Do not buy something, no matter how adorable, if you can’t leave the store with a completed outfit. This rule holds for retail shopping, too, especially if the adorable item in question is on sale for a ridiculously low price.

Next we huddled in a back corner of the store, sorting through our finds. We triaged. Some things were obvious rejects: either they didn’t go with anything else, they failed our high standards for quality or style, or it seemed unlikely they would fit. A second category was “maybes,” items that would have to earn their way into the final selection. Of course, there were must-haves, the pieces that would form the backbone of a wardrobe–starting with the denim skirt. Five wardrobe staples from Goodwill

We settled on an overall color scheme of hot pink, lime green and denim (though we later threw in some blue and a white jacket).

Lesson #2: Work with a limited number of colors, to maximize the possibilities for mixing and matching.

While I assembled outfits on a wire grid (we moved a bunch of pictures and paintings, so that we could hang our selections and take photos–much to the bemusement of other shoppers), Melody hunted for accessories, as needed. She came up with a suitable white jacket within five minutes. And, when I didn’t agree with her selections, she argued vigorously in their defense. I had to give in–after all, she’s the teenager and has a better sense of style for that age group.

Meanwhile, she found herself a sleeveless black shirt, fitted through the torso, with a nice stand-up collar. A bargain at $3; she wore it just about every day for the rest of her vacation.

School clothes from GoodwillIn the end, we selected about 10 items, including two purses for $3 each. The rest of the clothes cost either $2 or $3. The entire wardrobe–the skirt, a pair of jeans, the white jacket, the dress, the two purses, four t-shirts, a green tunic and the pink linen dress–added up to about $25.

When our cellphone photo shoot was done, we took the clothes back to the appropriate racks, replaced the pictures on the metal grid. Melody bought the black shirt and the two purses. I came away empty-handed.

Lesson #3: A good time can be had without buying anything!

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, focusing and creating an artful life.  Do let me know what you are doing to simplify or focus your life–share your tips and tribulations!




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