I went clothes shopping this week. This is a rare event for me since I am minimally interested in fashion and am, perhaps as a result, exceedingly frugal about clothing. Ten dollars for a shirt? Highway robbery! Which leaves me with few options, most of them falling into the thrift store or yard sale categories. Fortunately, one of those thrift store options is the Salvation Army Family Store. I shop thrift stores heavily and have since childhood, and I tell you, no one beats the Salvation Army for prices, inventory, and sheer diversity of product. The best couch and chair set I ever had, emerald green in some sort of crushed velvet, came from the Sally. A pair of 70s era patchwork vests I wore as an 8th grader until they disintegrated? The Sally.
Stuff at the Sally is unbelievably cheap. Cheaper than Goodwill, cheaper than Savers (another large format thrift store), cheaper than your adorably, fastidiously curated thrift store in the yuppie section of town. The reason for these amazing prices is in the completely unintelligible way in which the store is organized. At your up market thrift store, you can head directly to a rack of pants in your size, or cardigans, or tshirts. The Sally utilizes no such system. It is organized the way a preschooler or a lunatic would do it. Mostly, it’s organized by color. In the red shirts department, for instance, you will find everything from a tank top bearing a truck stop’s logo to a silk blouse to a Christmas themed fleece with sledding penguins on it. Sizes are unpredictable; a 2XL will hang right next to a petite small. So unless you have very specific color guidelines you’re following (“Today, I shall buy only chartreuse pants! Size doesn’t matter!”), you’re looking at a long session of flipping through about 800 yards of racks filled with stuff you mostly hate. There are gems amidst the detritus, but it took me 2 hours to comb through just the pants, skirts and shirts. I didn’t even tackle the sweaters, which are ludicrously housed under a sign reading “Unisex,” as no effort whatsoever has been made to separate men’s from women’s in that broad swath of the store.
Stuff from the Sally has a distinctive smell. I have shopped at locations all over New England, and the smell is always the same. It’s not unpleasant, just…weird. Also, since Sallys are generally not located in the finest real estate, sometimes you make a startling discovery. As I shopped at the one in Haverhill, MA, which is in a rather old building, the undulating body of a house centipede appeared on the shoulder of a Christmas themed sledding penguin fleece just above my eye level. House centipedes are harmless, but rather striking in appearance. The first time I saw one, it was crossing the floor of a Little Caesar’s pizza place. I was rooted to the spot, mesmerized, and unable to speak. This time, I recovered quickly and the centipede and I parted ways amicably. Apparently not all ladies are so lucky, as in 1902, C.L. Marlatt, an entomologist with the United States Department of Agriculture wrote in Circular #48 – The House Centipede, “It may often be seen darting across floors with very great speed, occasionally stopping suddenly and remaining absolutely motionless, presently to resume its rapid movements, often darting directly at inmates of the house, particularly women, evidently with a desire to conceal itself beneath their dresses, and thus creating much consternation.” Indeed.
House centipedes, odd smells, and a pared down atmosphere (no mirrors in the tiny stalls used as dressing rooms, e.g.) aside, you can get some serious deals if you persevere. I got three pairs of pants, including a sweet pair of mustard yellow J. Crew corduroys, two blazers, 10 shirts, and a really shrunken wool jacket that I’m going to make a pillow out of. So if you wake up some morning feeling intrepid, bold, and desirous of adventure, I recommend your local Sally. It’s the green and socially responsible option too, since you’re saving these items from a landfill and choosing not to have brand new clothes made for you by the tiny fingers of children in Eritrea.
It may be harrowing while you’re in the midst of all those rainbow racks and entomological surprises, but you won’t get a better deal on brand name merchandise, and after you run it all through the washing machine (several times) it’ll be as good as new (to you)!