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Mere Cash for Cashmere

I am a Goodwill snob. What’s that? You think that is an oxymoron? No, it’s true, and I will explain. Many people shop at Goodwill. I know, because I fight my way down the increasingly more crowded aisles. In fact, I have an intense hatred for shopping carts and feel it is a violation of a common code of decency to push one down an aisle in which there is quite obviously room for only two people to walk. But that is a rant for another story. 

Depending upon the week, I indulge in one or two retail therapy trips to my favorite haunts. If I have a great deal of time I will even venture further afield, and shop in another nearby city. Isn’t it amazing how shopping therapy works? You can be too tired to make dinner, but enter a store and you go into the “zone.” If someone could devise a way to make housework resemble shopping our homes would be immaculate, and we would all be a little wealthier.

I also shop at new retail stores such as Kohl’s, Ross, Banana Republic, Gap, and Target. I will even spend a little time leisurely browsing through the items prominently displayed in the front of the store. This is key to being able to spot deals later and to knowing what is in fashion. It is also helpful to know how to coordinate outfits and accessorize properly. Check out those display dummies! Finally, I keep my wallet firmly entrenched within my purse as I silently gasp at and mentally note the price tags.

This is when the real fun begins. I then head nonchalantly, as if it is an afterthought, to the back of the store, although I have been known to walk in the door and make a beeline for the back. Nothing to be ashamed of. Clerks will not point and stare at you on the street and say, “There she is, that is the woman who only shops in the clearance section!” Because, of course, the back of the store is where the clearance or discounted section is, usually. Some stores, such as Kohl’s have a clearance section with items prominently discounted in sections 30–80 percent off, right near the other clothes. I have found some amazing bargains, and it satisfies some primal urge in me to walk away with $200 in clothes that I only paid $12 for.

In fact, I live for the thrill of the hunt. I have often ruminated upon the idea that if I was ever wealthy I would probably still bargain hunt. By the way, I am open to financial contributors to the development of this potential infield study. I believe this is ultimately what retail therapy is about, because seriously, I need another article of clothing like the proverbial shot in the head. In fact, what I really need is more hangers, larger closet space, a larger bedroom for the closet, a larger home for that larger bedroom ... you get the idea.   

I am a serious, methodical hunter. I move through the sections of the store with a purpose. Purses, then jewelry, then clothes, scarves, etc. Sometimes I shop for my sons and am sent into new and unexplored territory with the smell of cotton and polyester filling my nostrils, the plethora of stripes and plaids delighting the eyes ... until I can only take it so long and run screaming back to the comfort of pinks and ruffles and creamy silk bathrobes. But I take this serious methodical technique to Goodwill when I shop there.    

Yes, that’s right, Goodwill. Remember after all, I did say I was a Goodwill snob, and that is where all of this meandering has finally led us. Sure there are bargains to be had at the retail stores. But the real bargains, the big game if you will, is at Goodwill. If one can get a thrill from a pair of $90 pants marked down to $20, imagine that thrill if you find it at Goodwill for $4. Now imagine that thrill if you find it at Goodwill and it happens to be the color of the day (¢99) ... and the original price tag is still attached! Sheer euphoria. There have been times when I have been in my zone, shopping aisle to aisle and suddenly come across one of these megastrophic finds. I sometimes just stop right there and head for the cash register, item firmly gripped in case it might disappear before I have a chance to make it truly mine. I have already made my day. There is nothing else I can find that day that could possibly eclipse this find, so why even try.   

This obsession with the hunt led to my cashmere collection. I have one of those large storage bags filled with cashmere sweaters in every color and style imaginable. I also have a few tenderly hung on hangers with cedar butterflies keeping the dreaded moths away. However, no matter how many cashmere sweaters I have, there is always room for more. I have even expanded the hunt to include cashmere coats. They are the ultimate big game in my collection. I have three right now. The last one I spoke to tenderly in the store when I found it, called it my new best friend and vowed to actually take it to a drycleaner and never let it leave my side. Sure you think this is a bit odd, but secretly you understand the enormity of this find ... a 100 percent cashmere blazer in my new favorite color, a dusty rose. My black wool blazer is so jealous right now.  

A few days before, I found another cashmere coat that could have been my new favorite ... but for the fact that the seams started literally disintegrating before my eyes after I get it home. It’s okay, sometimes they take a little TLC, and that makes the find even more special, when I know I have saved this wonderful item of clothing ... wonderful, expensive item of clothing ... from a fate worse than moth-eaten death. This particular coat is a fawn trench coat, so well worth the trouble. And did I mention, 100 percent cashmere?      

My malicious, slightly evil side did speculate on what would happen if I took it to the drycleaner and asked them to take very special care of my $500 cashmere trench coat. Then, when they would start handling it the pieces would fall off in their hands. I would arrive and burst into tears. No, I wouldn’t really do that, but it was fun to imagine just the same. I know what you are thinking, well that was a waste of money, and you have a huge project on your hands. Well, I did only pay $1.65 for it, so even if it is a project, think of the sense of accomplishment when I finish. Besides, I could even update it a little as I go and create something new and one of a kind. How do you put a price tag on that?

A friend lamented to me recently how her longtime marriage nearly ended when her husband made the fatal mistake of washing a beloved pink cashmere sweater with jeans. She had been given the sweater as a gift and eyed my cashmere sweaters with a nod and said she couldn’t afford to buy cashmere like I could (as if I had some secret sugar daddy or a side job as an escort to business executives).    

I am here to say that anyone can afford cashmere. Why not? My daytime vocation is a teacher, my avocation is novelist. Neither pays very much at the moment. I cannot pay full price for the $75 cashmere sweaters I see at Banana Republic. I still don’t feel I can part with the 40 percent marked down cashmere sweaters. However, I have a whole closet of these, good as new sweaters that I paid from $1–5 for. We can all afford that.     

You just need to do your homework. Shop the retail stores to see what styles are in fashion and how to wear them. Buy fashion magazines and keep abreast of prices and styles from your own couch. Then, shop the local secondhand stores methodically. Go up and down aisles. Get familiar with the feel and look of cashmere. Sometimes I run my hand along the tops of the clothes to help me locate cashmere. And, cashmere is my thing, but it isn’t for everyone. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t similar bargains to be had out there in other fabrics. I have scored designer clothing with labels still attached, and designer handbags as well. Just know what you are looking for ahead of time so you will recognize the bargain when you spot it.   

Recently I saw a coworker at Goodwill. She looked at me and said, “This is the last place I thought I would ever see you.” I took that as a compliment. It means that I dress so well that people think everything is bought new. My message is, anyone can do this, and with the state of the economy today, nobody should be ashamed of shopping secondhand. Besides, it is good for the environment, too; you are recycling. So get out there and get in the hunt!

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