"Let them eat paste..."

Hello, Comrades!

Updated for 2010, it’s the Thrift Store Confidential Back to School Special!

The back to school season is upon us, and I really feel for the millions of parents in this economy who are faced with buying a new wardrobe for their kids.  Sure, you want your child to look good and to feel good about themselves, but very few people I know can afford $150 for a pair of designer jeans that will be outgrown in a year.

Discount stores such as Wal-Mart and Marshalls are counting on this, and have ramped up their advertising to get you in their doors.  You’re still going to pay quite a lot to even approximate the latest trends, the quality often isn’t so good, and kids loathe to have their stuff recognized as coming from Wal-Mart.

You may have already decided that shopping second hand is too hard and you’ll just get “a few” items from a retail store.  You’re looking at the following:

Jeans – $30 Sweater – $15-$30 Jacket – $30-$50 Skirt – $12-$30 Scarf – $10 Rain boots – $10-$30 Top: $10-$30

Let’s play “Nicolenomics” for a second –  those “few” items add up to between $117 and $210.  If you have more than one child, YOWZA.

Entertain this for a second – if you could get the same items for a total of around $30-$50, you’ve just saved between $60 and $150.  And you’ve helped people in need in your community AND you’ve reduced your carbon footprint a little.

Makes the idea of stepping into a thrift store a little more tasty, doesn’t it?

However, second hand shopping is only as productive and as lovely as you want to make it.  What you focus on multiplies, so if you’re expecting rack after rack of faded black t-shirts with airbrushed wolves on them, you’ll find them, and how.

With a little creativity, a good eye, and TSC Tips, your child, will have some fabulous wardrobe staples that won’t break your budget (or get your kid ridiculed).

Let’s get cracking.

Kids are hard on clothes, but they also outgrow them quickly. If you can track down stores in more well-heeled neighborhoods, you can find nearly new items for a fraction of what you’ll pay for retail. (Check out http://www.thriftshopper.com for a national listing of stores!)

Here are a few TSC Tips to aid you in your search!

1.    Figure out what basics your child will need.  Pants, jeans, skirts, dresses, sweaters, coats, jackets, scarves, rain boots, winter boots, etc.

2.    Go through a catalogue of popular stuff (Abercrombie, Hilfiger, Gap, etc.) and take a look at what the upcoming fashions are. Are colors bright or more muted? Are the jeans dark or faded? Are coats big and puffy or more “grown-up” looking? Get an eye for the general feel of the season.  Now you’re locked and loaded!

3.    Your child will most likely not want to go with you.  But who knows? Some might, especially if it’s presented at as a game:  “You can have 10 items of clothing that you want.”

4.    Check all items for quality – do the zippers work? Are the seams in good shape?  Are they made of natural fibers? (these last longer and are often of better quality and craftsmanship)

5.  Look for items that don’t have ground in stains or unfixable rips or tears (if the tear is small and it’s on a seam, I’ll just betcha you can fix it in 5 minutes).

6.    Get creative!  A kid’s used denim jacket can look amazing after it’s been laundered and softened.  Add a few vintage pins or brooches (or an anarchy patch…depends on your child), and voila!  Instant style, for pennies on the dollar!

7.    Stretch your dollar further by supplementing the basic wardrobe with trend-forward accessories.  Most kids follow the status quo and don’t think outside of the box when it comes to accessorizing, and it’s a great time to teach them how to embrace their individuality.  Again, present it as a choice, which empowers the child to make decisions:

“Would you rather have a $50 Hilfiger T-shirt, or a $4 Hanes with an awesome leather cuff/bag/hat/bracelet/necklace?  A $50 corduroy skirt or a plain skirt and fabulous tights with Chuck Taylors?”

And then get in there, and at least run it up the flagpole.  You can bank whatever money is under your original budget, earmarked for something special for your family, or as a safety net towards the end of the month.

It is absolutely possible to help your child look great, to stay on budget, AND to help your community at the same time.

It’s never too early to teach your children how to think creatively, and it’s never too late to learn something new yourself.

As always, thanks for being a Thrift Store Confidential reader!