Style has always been about mixing the old with the new, bringing back old fashions and giving them a modern twist. Recently, we’ve seen the resurrection of ‘80s spandex, ‘70s tie-dye and floral and ’60s sequins.
It’s back-to-school shopping season, and with all the style synthesis going on, you can’t go wrong. While the top fashion designers have their own way to mix decades of style, shoppers can also take it into their own hands.
What better place to meld modern with vintage than at your local thrift and consignment shops? And you will certainly save some money in the process.
Bangorite Cara Oleksyk, 27, began shopping for secondhand clothing in middle school to unearth humorous graphic T-shirts (inspired by a T-shirt her father gave her that read “Disco Sucks” under the image of a disco ball). Then she started to snag ripped Levi’s and worn Dickies.
“I got a taste of the hunt,” Oleksyk said.
Growing up in a family of eight children on a farm in Frankfort, Oleksyk learned quickly to find deals at the local Salvation Army, and for back-to-school shopping, it was crucial for her to get the most bang for her buck.
Oleksyk also felt a need to express her individuality in such a large family. Thrift shopping helped her find clothing that no one else would be wearing at school. Her style helped her stand out.
At first, her fashion sense was that of a “tomboy” teen, but over the years, she developed an eye for feminine vintage, inspired by a collection of her great-grandmother’s jewelry passed on to her in high school.
Growing up in the country, Oleksyk harbors a deep-rooted love for her environment. So she enjoys reminding people that shopping for preworn clothing is eco-friendly. Instead of demanding new raw materials be made into clothing, you’re recycling old materials, giving them a longer lifespan than the few years it took for the previous owner to tire of them.
“We have a lot of waste in this world,” she said. “I found a pea coat on the side of the road the other day. I dry cleaned it and it turned out to be a beautiful vintage coat.”
Oleksyk now knows the local cobblers and tailors, who have helped her resole designer heels and repair vintage clothing that she now treasures. Two years ago, she opened her own vintage shop in the back of Metropolitan Soul in Bangor, which opened a new store in Orono just last week. She calls her collection Retro Soul, and specializes in clothing, shoes and accessories from the last four decades. Usually replenishing her collection by searching through thrift stores outside the Bangor area, she chooses what she likes — dresses with bright patterns, combat boots, leopard print knee-high boots, colorful scarves, a Levi’s jean jacket with plaid lining, an old Nike sweatshirt — and she advises back-to-school shoppers, or any shopper, to do the same. Create your own style by wearing things that appeal to you.
“You can evolve a trend to fit your own fashion sense,” she said. “Not everyone can pull off a high-waist skirt. Buy clothes that fit your personality or body type.”
When searching for thrift and consignment stores in your area, keep in mind that many stores donate profits to local foundations and organizations. Hands of Hope thrift store at 700 Hogan Road in Bangor helps fund their nonprofit organization that reaches out to the community through volunteerism. Similarly, Goodwill stores throughout Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont help fund programs that help people achieve economic and social independence.
The First United Methodist Church Thrift Store at 55 North Third St. in Bangor funds the ministries and missions of the church, and Attic thrift store at 170 Center St. in Bangor is run by volunteers and all the profits go to All Saints Catholic School.
You can either donate your old clothing to local thrift stores or sell it to consignment stores such as The Growing Place, which has two locations in Bangor, and American Retro at 40 Main St. in downtown Bangor.
Tips for shopping consignment and thrift stores:
1. If you really like it, you can fix it. Patch jeans. Learn how to stitch a seam and add buttons. Try freshening up a pair of shoes with new laces.
2. Put aside some time to shop. Often, the majority of clothing in a thrift shop won’t appeal to you. The fun is in finding that one item that will make an outfit special. While thrift shops are usually fairly well organized, try breaking your shopping into categories: pants, shirts, coats, accessories, shoes, skirts and dresses.
3. Look at stitching under the armpits and along the seam. Make sure it’s strong and not coming undone. Also, look for stains, especially under the armpits. Does it have all the buttons? Only for clothes you really like should you ignore defects, and then try to talk the price down.
4. The quality of the material is one of the most important aspects of secondhand clothing. “You can run your hand through a rack and feel a good piece,” said Oleksyk.
5. Accessories are important. No accessory should go to waste. Ever lose one of two earrings? Oleksyk takes her unmatched earrings and fashions them into charm bracelets. She suggests scarves for men and women, and clip-on earrings, which she attaches to purses and shoes. Usually, you can string a broach onto a chain and it becomes a pendant.
6. Don’t overdo it: “Buy new and thrift in moderation,” said Oleksyk. “You don’t want to overload it. Ask yourself, ‘Does this go with other outfits? Would I wear this in the next couple of weeks?’”
7. Buy clothing that you can layer: In Maine, school starts at the turn of a season, and clothing that people have been wearing for months become uncomfortable in the cold. Back-to-school shopping isn’t just a fun event; for growing children and teens, shopping is a necessity. Last winter’s clothes simply don’t fit.
“People in Maine have more clothes than people in Florida,” said Oleksyk. “We can cut down on that by layering.”
Some items will stretch your summer clothing into the winter: Tights, leg warmers and funky socks can help you wear open-toed shoes and short skirts further into the cold season. Long sleeve undershirts, vests and cardigans can allow you to keep your summer tank tops and T-shirts a part of your ensemble for the fall and winter.