Style Off the Cuff: Thrifting For Guys

Sorting through racks of clothes, Bayley Hartman, Lawrence, looks for a Christmas present at Wildman Vintage, at 939 Mass.

As I got into the clothing industry, both as a consumer and on the retail and manufacturing sides, it took a serious toll on my finances.

I am very interested in quality-fitting and quality-made (particularly USA-made) clothing that is going to last a long time.

There are plenty of retailers out there offering top-tier pieces that are either classic or on the cutting edge of each season’s trend. As I have said before, I always suggest erring on the side of the classics, as spending more money makes more sense if you are going to wear it for a decade as opposed to a few months. This is the best way to save your money, because in the long run you are simply going to buy less.

But what about the here and now? I often need a second coat as winter approaches, or a solid pair of alternate shoes to wear to work so I don’t destroy one pair in a year or two. Sometimes it is nice to be able to pick up a few nice items without having to break the bank or wait and hope for off-season sales to come around.

This is why I spend a lot of my time in vintage (or secondhand) and thrift stores. Lawrence has a good amount of both kinds of stores that specialize in lightly worn clothing and also in donations. Among the Antique Mall, Arizona Trading Company and Wild Man Vintage, Mass. Street has three really great options for slightly-better-curated secondhand stores where oftentimes you can find a great pair of shoes or, as in my last trip to Wild Man, a great short-sleeve button-down for the summer months.

These pieces will cost more at these stores than if you found them at Goodwill or The Salvation Army; however, it is nice not having to sift through piles and piles of heavily worn or altogether unwanted stuff. And even at $15, a vintage short-sleeve button down that is more or less one-of-a-kind (nowadays at least) is far more valuable than having to wait until sale season to buy something that several other people around town have already been wearing for months.

The drawback to such stores, however, is that you are at the mercy of their current inventory, which often will not include anything you are looking for. There are few people who can successfully build a reasonable wardrobe from entirely secondhand and thrift store items, and I would say it is going to be the most rewarding if you use vintage and thrift store finds as supplements to an otherwise thoughtfully-put-together wardrobe.

I have put together a set of guidelines that will help keep thrifting fun and fruitful:

• Always be willing to walk away empty-handed. As I said before, three out of four times you go to these shops, they won’t have what you are looking for, so don’t be tempted to pick up something just for the sake of bringing something home. That’s the quickest way to deplete your budget and fill up your closet with stuff you’ll never wear.

• Know your brands. When you are shopping vintage clothing, it is best to do your research. Oftentimes the brands that are making the best stuff today have been doing it for decades. There are lots of great Gant, Polo, Levi’s, Eastland, Florsheim, etc. pieces out there with plenty of miles left on them.

• Just because it is cheap doesn’t mean you should sacrifice other aspects of a piece of clothing. Even though it is cheap, a garment should still fit right and look good before you buy it. There is no sense in lowering your standards just to find something cheap. Like I said earlier, if you don’t really like it, you’ll never wear it — no matter how good of a deal you get on it.