Here are some tips for shopping:
- Learn how to read labels for fiber content. Learn names of fibers (i.e. Viscose is another name for rayon. Elastane is the same as spandex. Cotton is well...cotton.)
- Look past the design of the garment itself and focus on the materials. Yes that 80's business lady blazer might be HIDEOUS with those wacky lapels and shoulder pads...but the wool is a great color and it has some amazing lace on it.
- Don't ignore the trims and linings. Heck I have bought a whole sweater just to "scalp" it for the buttons. Great buttons can be up to four dollars PER BUTTON. Buying a five dollar blazer for the six rhinestone buttons on it will save you money. You can always take the buttons off then donate the blazer back to the store if you have no better use for it. Generally, the clothes not sold on the floor are repackaged and sold as bulk fabric to be used to make things like rugs and all kinds of random stuff.
- Always a bridesmaid...check the fancy/specialty dress section. A fancy dress will usually cost a bit more at the thrift store than regular apparel but generally it has more fabric in the garment, a higher quality fabric, plus linings, and structural elements that can be reused (bonings, crinolines, hooks and eyes, zippers). There is often beading, laces, and trims that can work well on a small scale and is very expensive at fabric stores. A late 80's Princess Diana poof-tacular wedding gown of silk might cost something like $50 at a thrift store. If you can confirm that it is silk (check the tag or learn to spot silk fibers...) than you have just netted at least four yards of silk that generally retails for at least $20/yard along with lining, tulle or crinoline, lots of little covered buttons, beaded lace (which can cost like $70/yard for the nice stuff), ribbon hanging loops...all sorts of re-usable goodness. The silk can be dyed to whatever color you would like. White lining is oh so useful in all doll garments to prevent staining..and if you have ever had to cover your own tiny buttons then you know how valuable those things can be (I would rather clean grout with my own toothbrush than make tiny covered buttons for the back of a wedding dress...the worst).
- Look in the kids and baby section for small scale prints perfect for doll clothes. The prints on children's clothing tend to be a smaller scale (especially babies). I have had great luck finding tiny prints in the kid department.
- The bigger the size...the better the deal. A larger size means more yardage for the same price. An XXL leopard print silk blouse for $4 will get you nearly three yards (pieces obviously) of fabric!
- Spandex and stretch knit are pricey and good prints are hard to find in the fabric store. Old swimsuits and workout wear are a great way to get some cool prints and nice quality performance knits for the dolls.
- A thrift store gives you so many more options for materials than your local Jo-Ann or Hobby Lobby. Assume that most fabric stores have materials chosen by a small group of corporate buyers. The selection from store to store is fairly uniform. At a thrift store, you will get donations from ALL kinds of folks and all walks of life. I have found vintage lace gowns, amazing hand embroidered silk saris (a sari is nearly six yards of fabric...for like $6...crazy talk), cheeky prints from the 80s, and nearly every color imaginable in every fiber available all in one humble Goodwill.
- Check for stains and smells. Small spots or holes you can deal with and work around...big stains and holes make it trickier. If it is a natural fiber you might be able to get it out with a wash or a dry-clean. Greasy stains rarely want to come out of synthetic garments. Also look for signs of recent (or current!!!!YIKES!) infestations from things like moths and other evil bugs. (I got a WICKED spider bite from a critter at the thrift store. I was hoping for mutant costume thrifting powers...but alas, I only got swelling and itchiness and the major wiggins). You can't do much with a moth eaten wool garment. Strong smells in garments can usually be killed with a wash or dry-cleaning...but as a rule I usually avoid buying anything that smells really bad and wash everything that I can wash when I get home. If the fabric is killer but the garment has strong B.O. you can try a Dryel treatment at home. Also, vodka is a champ at killing odor in garments. It is also a champ in your orange juice. Just saying.
- Check the crafts section of the store (if they have one). I regularly found giant bags of notions, threads, trims, and fabric yardage at my local Unique Thrift in Chicago for like $3 a big bag.
- Check the toys section and the "special merchandise sections"...you never know when you might find a vintage Blythe just shoved in a corner. It could happen! I once scored a huge bag of NRFB Ashton Drake Gene fashions plus a Gene doll for $20!
- Check accessories...ties and scarves can be a great source for nice silk prints. I got a legit Hermes scarf at the thrift store...I nearly pooped my drawers when I found it. I assume that some fashionable granny kicked it and her idiot son just hauled everything she owned to the goodwill and sad farewell. I did not cut the scarf up obviously. I wear it.
- Check for store discounts and sales. Unique Thrift stores in Chicago have half price days regularly. Some Salvation Army stores do sales around holidays. Savers stores and some Goodwill's have frequent buyer rewards programs or punch cards.
My next post will talk about tips for using thrift store finds to create doll fashions.