Any time someone compliments me on something I wear, look a favorite response of mine is to crassly yell, illness “THANKS! IT WAS ONLY $2! AT THE THRIFT STORE!” because my budget is definitely everyone’s business.
That’s why I can’t believe I’ve been in this city for nigh on five months and haven’t properly gone thrifting. Perhaps it was because every time I popped into a thrift store in the city, it only took a couple minutes for me to realize that, although the stock was beautifully organized by size and color, there weren’t any bargains of the Mennonites-in-Bumblefuck, PA variety.
The majority of the stock in the average Norwich thrift store is from the past 5-10 years, pilling, and not particularly stylish. I didn’t feel like I gave Norwich’s charity shop scene a proper chance by just popping in a random store once a month, though, and decided today to start investigating it more fully. I armed myself in my best thrifting outfit: a blouse, skirt, belt, tights, and cardigan, the ultimate ensemble for swapping out items when I’m trying things on.
I wanted my first stop to be the Happy Dog Charity on Queens Road but it was closed! No retail store should ever be closed on a Saturday. The window display had a handwritten sign that said “Seashells, £1.95 for 3”, which I guess is a very good bargain if they are SEASHELLS FROM THE MOON. So I guess I will find out next time if they might also have a 2-for-1 deal on gum from under a desk or maybe I can buy £3 for £6.
I backtracked to a block of charity shops situated under Supatone (Norwich’s most excellent music store), starting with Relief, but didn’t find any of the stock particularly appealing. Next I went into the RSPCA, which actually had a sign on the door begging people to bring donations in, as they were running out of clothing to sell. Unsurprisingly, that was another miss. I would have gotten the slightly faded floral Primark leggings they had except I already had a pair and I’m pretty sure I paid less for them.
The Pets in Need of Vets shop is the last and biggest shop before Queens Road turns into St. Stephens, and thankfully, it didn’t disappoint. Entirely. They didn’t have a rack of dresses, I suppose because dresses are too… summery? I also don’t really understand why fairly beat up loafers get priced at £10, but their pricing wasn’t universally unreasonable. PDSA has a vintage/retro section, in which I found this beauty for £6.50:
Giant collar? Check. Velvet bow? Check. Weird scratchy wool material that probably won’t be optimal when I take it back to an actually temperate climate? SHUT UP I AM NEVER LEAVING. I also nabbed a black lace high collar top because I sure don’t have enough see through items in my wardrobe for wearing to pictures on Tumblr. PDSA gets points for having a vintage section but not pricing it way outside of its normal pricing range, which is something that a lot of stores in Philadelphia do.
Then I had to go into the enormous Chapelfields mall to pee and Chapelfields on a Saturday is a hurricane of strollers and 16-year-olds sitting in puddles of themselves on floors and holy god do I hate it.
I went up Westlegate and stopped in Sam’s in the City, a tiny and relatively new Good Samaritan outpost. They had a lot of trendy and reasonably priced dresses, and I nabbed this guy for £2.50:
Bubble hems! Mesh! Weird snakey geometric print! Yes, ok, sold! I’m impressed with the dead look in my eyes in these photos. Mind you, I had just been in a mall. It does things to me.
My final store for the day was Big C in Westlegate, whose prices were ridiculous, and they also had a bizarre summer section that had velour and leather and suede items in it. Why bother separating your items out seasonally if you are basically going to concede that you don’t experience warm weather in this country?
I can easily come up with a number of reasons that thrifting here isn’t what it is in small-town Pennsylvania. The first is that the consumption of fast fashion in this country, as in the US, means that people will sooner buy a wardrobe that gets tossed after a few wears and washes than buy anything that’s resilient enough to be passed onto a second owner. It’s also pretty hard to price Primark stuff for resale when it’s so incredibly cheap to begin with.
The other reason is that Norwich has an incredible vintage scene, which I am definitely going to write about! While it’s wonderful that there are so many beautifully curated vintage shops around, I can’t help but think they source a little of their stock from thrift stores around here. It’s a totally reasonable thing to do! But if people in the know are buying up the good stuff and pricing it at what’s actually worth, it takes the thrill of the hunt out of it. I do know that whether my money goes to a charity shop or a vintage shop here in Norwich, that it’s going to something worth supporting. I can’t help but miss my Care & Share in Souderton with tons of 80s dress for $2, though.
Slight disillusionment has only one cure, and that is a snack. I headed up to Harvest Coffee Shop, which I had often wanted to try for homesickness reasons, as it looks like any number of bakeries in Chinatown back home. I tried a BBQ pork pastry and a pudding-flavored milk tea, the cost of which was roughly 4x of what I’d pay at home (which still isn’t very much!).
What else can I expect when there aren’t 200 competing bakeries on the same block, though? The staff was really helpful and sweet, though, and the seating is better than any Philly Chinatown bakery.
I intend to give some of the more central and some of the more peripheral charity shops a try and see if location makes any difference. In Philadelphia the problem is usually that the shops are really picked over, but here it’s apparently just that no one’s donating! That’s fine, though, I prefer the feeling of knowing there’s nothing good to the feeling of having missed out on the good stuff to other people.
What a jerk.