Duds duke it out

March 14, 2002, midnight | By Sally Colwell | 18 years, 10 months ago

Cheap thrift store bargains challenge expensive designer tags

Sure, their pants are slightly worn, their shirts may sport a few unseemly stains and their undergarments, well, let's not even mention those. But more often than not, used clothing outlets, while less chic in their presentation, offer goods on par with their posh and perfumed competition for a fraction of the price.

On the other hand, with higher prices come more pleasant ambiances and the assurance that what you're buying was never ridden with body lice. These clothes are brand new (even though they sometimes don't look it) and so they offer an alternative for the slightly squeamish who still desire that worn look. So which is better? What follows is a chance for arch rivals to duke it out on paper. Stores are divided into two teams and will be rated, on a scale of one to ten, in three categories: selection, savings and presentation.

Event number one: Value Village vs. Gap

Value Village (VV) is the queen of all thrift stores, just as the Gap is king of the Costly Conglomerate. VV is a warehouse crammed with anything and everything, from t-shirts to thermoses, sunglasses to socks. Jeans can sell from $3.90 to $4.90, and shirts go for anywhere from 90 cents to $3.90. Keep in mind that jeans from the Gap, which appear worn and soft to imitate the very look that used clothes have naturally, cost $58. Gap t-shirts, some of which sport the seemingly random logos which are so common at thrift stores, can cost up to $29.50.

Along with the clothing, the shoe selection at Value Village is also inexpensive and interesting. Look past the gold heels encrusted with fake diamonds (or buy them if they suit you) and you'll find some quality sneakers for $3.95.

Perhaps even more important than these deals is the chance to find unexpected treasure. Have you been desperately wondering where to find a camouflage sleeping bag for $3.45, a Mickey Mouse poncho for 90 cents or an opened bottle of champagne bubble bath? The most interesting thing you can expect to find at the Gap is a sweater identical to twenty others in its pile. Still, the Gap offers a soothing atmosphere, complete with beiges and khaki. Beautiful models stare down at you from posters on the off-white walls, in stark contrast to the "no refund" signs at Value Village.

Event number two: Mustardseed vs. Express

Mustardseed offers more high-class thrifting, which means hipper music, a more exclusive selection and, yes, slightly higher prices. There are none of the extraneous goods here; the store is filled mostly with jeans, which go for $10 to $15, and shirts for $2 or $3. These prices, considered high in the thrifting world, can be lowered if customers bring in unwanted clothes for store credit.

Express, also modest in size, offers bright lights and pumping techno but just doesn't cut it in the clothes department. Worn-out jeans cost $68; jeans with frayed waists, and purposeful rips sell for $54. One bejeweled tank top ($24.50), which could have been a treasure at a thrift store, just seems to be in embarrassingly bad taste.

The final event: Amvets vs. Up Against the Wall

Amvets, while not the hippest of our contestants, offers almost obscene savings. The selection, which falls neatly in between Value Village and Mustardseed in size, offers t-shirts for as low as 60 cents and jeans for $2.

However, quality decreases a little with price; more tears and stains are apparent in the merchandise. Ripped clothes are also common at Up Against the Wall, although you won't get a discount for them. Jean skirts, which are frayed and boast a few rectangular tears, sell for $61. Extra-worn pants with holes ripped down the legs cost $65.95, and a top which has been shredded at the sleeves and neck (easy enough to do at home with a pair of scissors) costs $49. Plain t-shirts go for $28.

However, the store's stainless steel and Destiny's Child do make you feel like you are shopping in a super-hip club. There is even a booth for a disc jockey in the corner for shoppers' listening pleasure.

The final tally

The Savings Squad earned a total of 58 points, and the Costly Conglomerate earned 48 out of a possible 90. The thrift stores have emerged victorious by a margin of ten points!

So when your pants begin to split and your shirts begin to fray, think twice before heading out to those stores which pretend perfection to disguise sub-par prices. Remember our modest winners in your time of need. Make use of their superior savings, and buck up and prepare to brave their crooked aisles, because an amazing world of value awaits you.

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Sally Colwell. Sally Colwell is co-centerspread editor and is tremendously excited to be on paper this year. In her free time she enjoys reading novels, drawing, not practicing the violin and attending demolition derbies. During the summer she is a counselor at Burgundy Center for Wildlife Studies … More »

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