As I previously wrote, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to shop exclusively second-hand for clothes (minus accessories) in 2013. I have not done a great job of sticking to it, although the majority of my purchases have been second-hand, and most of the new items I purchased were under $40 a piece. After hearing about the factory disaster in Bangladesh (and being reminded of all the things I have read about current manufacturing practices and work standards in developing countries), I also started to keep a closer eye on the country of manufacture for my clothes, with the intent of slowly minimizing my intake of products made in developing countries. My intent is not to start a personal crusade; I just want to be a more conscious shopper, both from an ethical and a financial perspective.

Lately, I’ve been too busy to go shopping the old-fashioned way, so most of my recent purchases were the result of online sprees. Online shopping certainly has its attractions – you can focus your search to specific items, everything is delivered to your house, and you never have to get out of your pyjamas – especially when you’re buying accessories rather than clothes, and sizing/fit is less of a concern. Staying out of stores (and malls especially) has also helped me stay on track with my clothes spending (the month of May notwithstanding). I have fairly good impulse control, but frequent mall exposure wears me down after a while. I also find it skews my perception of what is a reasonable amount of money to spend on various items. If I visit only occasionally, I never fail to be amazed at how expensive things are, and that cuts down on the whole impulse-buy thing. Because I have been buying a lot of vintage pieces lately, I have also cut down on the “fast fashion” items I’ve been “consuming”. All in all, I am making some progress towards my goals.

With that preamble out of the way, let’s finally get to the post. After a bit of a hiatus, I recently had an opportunity to indulge in both some mall and some thrift shopping, and I thought it would be fun to compare the two experiences in light of my goals.

My mall adventures took place in Calgary, over a long weekend visit that included pit stops at both Chinook Mall and Cross Iron Mills Outlet Mall. Since the money for this spree came out of our “vacation fund” (and we ended up skimping on our actual travel plans), I was prepared to give my impulses a bit more rein than usual. Nonetheless, I was surprised by the relatively high prices I encountered and the dearth of truly outstanding pieces. Perhaps my expectations – primed by long absence and wishful thinking – were too high. I did end up finding a few items I really like (and some I simply adore), but I didn’t find myself as overwhelmed by temptation as I thought I would.

At Winners, I found this super-soft T-shirt maxi dress, very familiar to anyway who’s been following the Remix Challenge.

Mall outlet shopping
Hidden Heart T-shirt maxi dress ($20)

It literally feels like wearing a full-body T-shirt, so it’s perfect maternity wear. It was only $20, and after lounging it for a whole afternoon, I went back and bought a second (in an aqua colour). I rarely buy multiples, but this was an item I could easily foresee wearing a lot in the next few months, and I was not confident that the quality could stand up to intense wear; better to get a back-up while I could, and not have to scramble later.

At Target, I was happy to see some Liz Lange maternity wear, of which I’d heard good things. I got a pair of work pants (not pictured) and a T-shirt. The latter is a polyester blend, which I’m not crazy about (wish it was cotton), but the print is super cute. Also on the plus side, I found the prices on this line to be more reasonable than those in regular maternity stores. I’m not sure the quality is better, but at least I’m not left feeling like I’m hugely over-paying for the privilege of a few extra inches of fabric.

Mall outlet shopping
Liz Lange for Target maternity top ($24)

At the Tommy Hilfiger outlet I found one of my long-time “holy grail” pieces: a jean jacket. It’s a summer wardrobe staple, but I’ve always found it impossible to find one that fit well and didn’t look like a relic from the 80s. I’ve scoured countless thrift and consignment stores, with no luck. It’s one of those classic pieces that’s always in style, and somehow never there in the store when I’m specifically looking for it. When I saw this version, I immediately grabbed it even though the price made me wince. I am thrilled I did, though, because it has become my favourite jacket this season.

Mall outlet shopping
Tommy Hilfiger Outlet denim jacket ($78)

One of the stores I was most excited about was Swarovski. This won’t come as a surprise to regular readers, but I am kind of obsessed with Swarovski jewelry. I love their designs, and have always been impressed with the quality. Unfortunately, most of their pieces seem to be made in China now; definitely a downside, but one I feel is almost unavoidable in today’s accessories market. It’s one of the reasons why I tend to stick to vintage jewelry. With that said, I have never had any issues with Swarovski pieces, and they hold up really well (both the metal and crystals).

Anyway, at the regular store I bought the Rare infinity ring, which is perfect for stacking – something I’ve been doing a lot with my rings recently. But it was at the outlet store that I struck gold (so to speak): I finally found the Marie ring I’ve been hunting since last year (it’s discontinued). It was only $20! And I also picked up the Maeva ring – another great stackable piece.

Mall outlet shopping
Swarovski Rare ($65), Marie ($20), and Maeva ($30) rings

My overall thoughts on the mall/outlet mall experience: things tend to cost more than on the secondary market (duh!), the quality is hit-and-miss, and almost everything has that “disposable fashion” feel to it. All of the items I bought were made in either China, Cambodia or Indonesia. With that said, the mall is a good place to find nice, staple pieces if you can invest the time to look around, and have the patience to be really selective, without getting distracted by I actually found the experience rather exhausting after having been away from it for so long: the crowds, the over-abundance of stores and products vying for my attention, the noise. I also found it harder to remind myself of what I really want/need for my wardrobe, and to talk myself out of (impulse) buying cute, trendy clothes that wouldn’t really fit my personal style. I managed to do it, but it was an effort at times, for sure.

On to the thrift shopping part. I have to admit that I hit a thrifting slump at the end of last year. After a couple of super lucky finds (hello, $8 Jimmy Choo pumps! and hi there, amazing Sweet Chemise dress!), my winning streak seemed to die down. All I seemed able to find were uninspiring mall clothes; slowly but surely, I started to lose interest and patience, and the frequency of my visits decreased and eventually petered out. This month, however, under the impetus of a new, tighter budget, I decided it was time to check in on my local Value Village.

Absence doesn’t only make the heart grow fonder, it also seemed to help VV’s selection. This particular store has one of the best shoe sections in town (it’s where I found my Choos), and this time, it lived up to its reputation; I spotted a beautiful pair of Ferragamo low-heeled pumps ($5), and two pairs or almost new Stuart Weitzman sandals (both under $20). Sadly, none of them were in my size. Nonetheless, I didn’t come up empty-handed.

I have a thing for quirky prints, so this tunic caught my eye immediately. It’s a little bit 80s Versace, a little bit “crazy grandma”, and all fabulous. What really sold me was the inside tag: made in the U.S.A. I was intrigued, particularly as the label had been cut out (hence no brand name), and thought it was worth a shot at $17 (even though it’s made out of polyester).

mall vs thrift
Simons tunic dress ($17)

After some online sleuthing at home, I’m pretty sure that the dress is from Simons. The CA number on the inside label comes up in the (Canadian) Competition Bureau database as “La Maison Simons”. This is definitely not something I can wear now (it barely covers my bump or my butt), but I think it will be perfect after the baby is born; add a pair of leggings, and I’ll be set.

Next, I picked up this Mexx maxi dress. I’ve been living in my Winners maxi dresses for weeks (see above), and jumped at the chance to get a black version. I wish that the neckline was not embellished, to make it easier to accessorize to my own taste, but it’s a minor quibble – particularly given its $12 price tag.

mall vs thrift
Mexx maxi dress ($12)

I was also drawn in by the pattern of this skirt, and pleasantly surprised to find out that (a) it’s by Milly; and (b) it’s made in the U.S.A. from fabric imported from Italy. The colour actually leans more chartreuse than yellow, and will be an interesting piece to mix into my wardrobe. It is a size 12, which means I can actually slide it over my bump now; I may need to get it altered next year, depending on how it sits sans bump. It only cost $7, so I have some leeway in terms of alteration costs, if need be, as well as dry-cleaning. [All the other thrifted pieces can be hand- or machine-washed.]

mall vs thrift
Milly skirt ($7)

Last, but not least, I nearly did a double-take when I saw this Eva Franco for Anthropologie skirt; I sold the same skirt last year. I actually really love this skirt – so much so that I originally bought the last size on the Anthro clearance rack … about 4 sizes too big. After trying for a couple of years to find ways to wear it, I gave up and sold it. And now, it has come back to me – in a smaller size! And this one still had its original tag (with the $158 retail price!). Clearly, fate meant us to be together.

mall vs thrift
Anthropologie Eva Franco skirt ($11)

Here is a pic of the only time I ever ended up wearing my previous version (on my honeymoon in Mexico exactly 3 years ago):

mall thrift shopping
Riviera Maya, July 2010

My overall thoughts on thrifting vs. mall shopping: the deals are better (duh!), and the selection is more eclectic. As a result, you can find pieces from all kinds of different brands, many of them not found in malls. I’m not sure if it was pure luck or what, but I also had a much easier time finding pieces that were made in the U.S. or Europe. One of my favourite things about thrift shopping is the chance to find a rare gem – something that might not be available locally, or something from a long-ago collection that you missed out on the first time around. For one thing, it means that you are less likely to bump into someone the next day wearing the same clothes as you. For another, it might mean a fated reunion with a wardrobe “true love”.

10 Comments on Mall vs. Thrift Shopping

  1. I like the rings and the skirts, specially the last one, Anthopologie. On the picture it looks weird (at lest to me), I would had never picked it. But then, it looks so cool when you’re wearing it!

    I have the same feeling when I’ll go to a shopping mall. It can be so overwhelming and disappointing at the same time!

    I also like online shopping a lot, but I find it easy to get carried on and it’s not good for my wallet, so I try to limit it 🙂

    I like the thrift shops too, but sometimes I don’t have enough patience to browse all the racks! I would like to go to a consignment store, but I have yet to find one.

    • Yeah, it looks a bit odd on the hanger, doesn’t it? It’s a perfect skirt for summer, especially if your plans involve hitting a beach (not that mine do).

      Google consignment stores in your area! When I discovered consignment stores for the first time, my shopping world changed, LOL! They’re pretty awesome! TBH, nowadays I find malls just as time-consuming/exhausting as thrift stores. I must be getting old 😉

  2. Love the Anthropolgie skirt . . . the look and the story! Which Value Village do you go to?

    • The 34th Ave location. I’ve had the most luck there in the last year or so. I think the 82nd Ave location is way more picked over these days. The Mayfield Common location is probably the least “lucky” for me.

  3. I have a feeling that this piece of writing will stay in my heart for a long time.
    I’ve been somewhat of a vocal (at times verbally militant) crusader against anything made in the developing countries, for years. Even though I love Swarovski look and design, I have only two pieces in my collection, back from the time that they were made in Austria. The same goes for, for example, for Michael Kors: I have one MK purse that was a gift and one vintage one that was 30 years ago made in the USA. What makes me check the label every time, whether I’m buying a jar of pickles (which are amazingly enough made in India) or a piece of jewelry, is the greed factor. Greed, not a lack of infrastructure, but the greed for profit is the basic reason for the inhumane production conditions in the developing countries. Sometimes, however, you’ll find that even the most conscious buyer has no choice.
    As far as shopping goes, I buy mostly online. Why? Who knows! Convenience, quality, selection, variety – minus crowds, smells and cheap quality, gigantic prices combo.

    • That is my dilemma: I would love to be able to draw a line in the sand and say “I will never again buy anything made in inhumane conditions”. But I would be doomed to fail almost immediately. Not to mention that I would spend most of my time trying to track down various companies’ manufacturing policies & practices (most are anything but transparent). So, ethics cede to practicality -which sucks, but feels inevitable right now. All I can hope is that by making smaller changes in my shopping habits, I can play my (minute) role in nudging things towards change.

      This is a really interesting topic, which I feel ill-equipped to deal with here – especially as BCRL is not really intended as a forum for such topics anyway. Some questions I’ve been pondering: (1) if consumers were willing and did pay more for “quality” goods (i.e. not manufactured in inhumane conditions), do we have any guarantee that the money would find their way to the workers (both in terms of improving their work conditions and their salaries)? (2) does the question of ethics apply only to those of us who can afford to pay more – i.e. should someone living on minimum wage shop at “cheap retailers” without feeling guilty about supporting bad manufacturing practices, simply because they can’t afford anything other than those “cheap goods”? Anyway, I don’t really want to turn this into a soapbox, or harp on the subject any more, but I think it’s definitely an interesting discussion … we should probably have over lunch one day 😉

  4. This is an interesting post as I’ve been checking where all of my clothes are made since the recent tragedy in Bangladesh, and it’s surprising how many of them are from developing countries. It is hard to find things made in Canada/US nowadays and is part of my dislike of higher-end brands – a lot of times they’re also made under the same types of conditions, and you know the profit margins are a lot higher there. That said, I don’t that if pulling out entirely from those countries is the right answer. I would have no problem purchasing clothing from some of those troublesome countries if I knew their workplace standards were better and offered protection to the workers there (salaries, health and safety, work conditions, etc.). So it is a good post, and something I am thinking about more in my shopping as well.

    • I agree, but I don’t know how foreign governments could be incentivized to improve and enforce working conditions and standards; they are in a position of conflict considering the economic boost of these companies (even paying as little as they do).

  5. That skirt was meant to be for you.

    I’ve pretty much stopped shopping in malls, but I’ve let myself some leeway in checking thrift/consignment shops.

    When I do purchase things, I find I go for higher end brands anyway, so unless you buy from DvF exclusively (it’s made in China), it’s not so bad.

    • I love DvF wrap dresses, so that sucks. There are, in fact, so many brands I really like that manufacture their clothes in developing countries – the majority, really. So for the time being, I am trying to limit myself to second-hand clothing as much as possible. At least that way I am not perpetuating NEW demand, even if I am still guilty of benefitting from the whole set-up indirectly.