top of page

Thrifty is Nifty!

Updated: Feb 25, 2022

By Naomi Serviss / New York City

The author modeling her thrift-shop finds: Johnny Was coat ($27) and tricolor, wool fedora ($6)
The author modeling her thrift-shop finds: Johnny Was coat ($27) and tricolor, wool fedora ($6)

I’ve been haunting thrift stores

since 10th grade,

when hippie-cool plaid flannel shirts,

stiff canvas painter’s pants

and worn denim overalls

were de rigueur.

What’s not to love

about multi-pocketed overalls for $3.99?

Goodwill was a college-years favorite

and juiced my wardrobe regularly.

Salvation Army was runner-up and

Junior League shops are treasure troves.

Set of vintage Melamine plates and cereal bowls ($16 for a set of 8)
Set of vintage Melamine plates and cereal bowls ($16 for a set of 8)

Never been a snob

about buying quality recycled duds

or cheerful melamine bowls

with European landmarks.

Have you heard melamine is making a comeback?

Besides, one person‘s trash…

As the youngest in a family of five,

hand-me-downs were the norm.

There was no debate.

Used clothes, once washed,

are newish, inherited or

thriftily purchased.

Still, I have a love-hate relationship

with secondhand stores.

The je ne sais quoi in their enclosed spaces

can be off-putting.

A flippant mix of watered-down prose

in mildewed books and Pine-Sol.

Faded dreams and washed-out jeans.

Disappointed sequined heels

with weary insoles.

Battered brand-name Top-Siders.

All with back stories.

My passion for hunting broken-in fashion


when Covid crashed the world.

The author sporting thrift-store treasures purchased during an unexpected morning shower in Manhattan: a magenta bucket hat ($3) and Harvé Bernard raincoat ($50)
The author sporting thrift-store treasures purchased during an unexpected morning shower in Manhattan: a magenta bucket hat ($3) and Harvé Bernard raincoat ($50)

Until then I was a frequent flyer

to the Upper East Side’s

optimistically deigned Unique Boutique.

It’s strategically positioned

around the corner

from my oft-frequented 92nd Street Y’s gym.

In the days

when I was a regular there..

Après-class visits

to the Bagel Shop and la Boutique

were my reward for powering through Zumba.

A sister location on the Upper West Side

provides both stellar and substandard

frockery and tchotchkes.

The church shop attracts

a queue of savvy shoppers

who line up a half hour

before its 11 a.m. opening

Wednesday through Sunday.

When the church bell chimes,

the door at the bottom of the steps

opens cautiously,

lest masked, overeager thrifters

storm the joint.

Cautiously optimistic and masked,

I stuck a toe back

in the game a few weeks ago,

and spotted

a coat from Johnny Was

(whose Bel Air-y prices

soar into the hundreds)

for $27!

This was a major score,

since their apparel

(which you either love or loathe)

is best described as Hawaiian in spirit,

and artsy in fact.

Free-spirited and whimsical

with heart-stopping sticker shock,

Johnny Was signals

creative joie de vivre

in theory and design.

But it’s not really about

chi-chi label hunting.

The search is the thing,

a meditative groove with a purpose.

Not just for the thrill of finding

boffo threads for less.

Eggs-cellent egg cups ($2.99 apiece)
Eggs-cellent egg cups ($2.99 apiece)

It’s a meditative respite

for my unbridled imagination.

It’s about the soothing tonal groove

that quashes stress,

offering a breather from daily frets.

My predilection for quirky threads

feeds an artist’s dream,

nourished with unexpected bounty.

I schooled myself

on finding quality toddler duds

while living on Long Island,

raising two ever-growing young ones

with my husband.

OshKosh overalls

were too adorable to pass up,

and a favorite thrift store

in Cold Spring Harbor,

(a hamlet about which

Billy Joel

famously has sung)


My working theory is that

wealthy neighborhoods

generate copious, expertly crafted offerings.

Full disclosure:

brands that telegraph their names

are anathema to me.

Why advertise someone else’s name?

Not my style.

If labels are hidden, I’m interested.

Otherwise, I’d prefer not to Just Do It!

Bargain-hunting for me

is neither about flagging L.L. Bean jammies

nor nailing a Lenox egg cup.

Psychedelic stilts ($16.99)
Psychedelic stilts ($16.99)

It’s a strategy to offset

the economic tsunami and runaway inflation

that’s been blindsiding us

this past year.

Retail price gouging,

a roller-coaster stock market

and consumer dread has created

a nation of nervous Nellies

for good reason.

I’m a citizen.

Which is probably why

the buzzy ASMR is making waves.

In case you’ve been out of the pop culture loop,

The acronym stands for:

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.

A fancy way of describing

a tingling sensation that trails

from the scalp

and tickles the back of the neck

and upper spine.

A combo deep relaxation

and sensual frisson

generating all the feels.

Funky Halloween fare: a holiday cup set ($15)
Funky Halloween fare: a holiday cup set ($15)

That’s my thrift store jones.

Some get the thrill from gambling,

before the inevitable crash.

Others invested in the paranormal

may experience

a tingly rush from sharing frequencies

with a friendly spirit.

Of course, influencers are

capitalizing on the fad by

recording and sharing

quirky sounds or whispering.

Followers eat this stuff up.

I’d rather land

a buttery soft

Lou & Grey midi dress with pockets.

Better yet is my latest discovery:

The Buy Nothing Facebook group!

It’s a nationwide,

hyper-local neighborhood club

whose members offer their unwanted stuff


No strings attached,

only a promise to pick up

claimed merch.

It’s no joke!

Enter your zip code in the questionnaire

and you’ll likely find a group in your hood!

Try it, what have you got to lose?

Maybe you can offload

that awful oil painting anniversary gift

from your in-laws!



Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including

1 comment

1 commento

27 feb 2022

You bring life, color, laughter and light to an otherwise often gloomy world. keep writing and thrift store shopping. You brighten my days. ❤️

Mi piace
bottom of page