MAD Asks…What’s Up With Chicago Thrift Stores?

At the turn of the two major fashion seasons, spring and fall, I always go through my closet and dressers meticulously. I try to be as ruthless as possible when it comes to what I decide I don’t need anymore. If I didn’t wear it the previous year during the spring or fall season, it automatically goes, no matter how much I try to convince myself I might need it. The items I only wore a few times go into another pile that I keep some and give some away. Then I look again to see what’s missing in terms of essentials and the latest must-have trends, and hit the stores and Internet.

One way for me to help pay for said new spring and fall items is to take my no-longer-necessary items to thrift stores. This is something I learned from my mother at a very young age. The thrift store in my hometown starting carrying junior sizes just as my mom began wondering where the hell all the clothes my sister and I were growing out of at a shocking rate of speed and short amount ofΒ  time were going to go. Now some people give their clothes straight to charity when they’re finished with them and I have no problem with that. This may sound bad, but if I can make some of the money I spent on my clothes back, I’m going to try that first before donating to charity. It’s still tough times people. Deal with it!

So it’s spring once again and I left this morning with a reusable tote full of shoes and a garbage bag full of clothes. I made my way to the resale shops. The first shop took five items, most of which still had the tags on them (such a bad habit of mine!) The items included a royal blue, body skimming, ruched dressed; a pair of kelly green skinny pants with zipper at the ankles; and a pair of purple silk shorts, all from Express and never worn. They also took a pair of white flats with black polka dots that had never left the box and another shirt. I tried selling the rest of the items at another store, but they said they didn’t find anything they were interested in.

As much as I would like to be, I am not the fashionista whose closet is nothing but designer wares. It’s all moderately priced, well made clothing. I have no problem paying $100 or more for certain items, like coats, boots, dresses and awesome Coach handbags. There are no designer jeans in my closet, just American Eagle. And it seems Chicago thrift stores aren’t interested in buying those kinds of clothes. It’s become an almost insulting experience going to the resale shops here. While watching the buyer go through my bag, I watched her pick up a short sleeved plaid shirt from American Eagle and I assumed it would go in the ‘yes’ pile because of all the plaid I see everywhere on the hipster kids. Nope straight into the ‘sorry we’re not taking these because they suck’ pile. Okay I totally made that last one up…sort of. I know I dress well so why aren’t you buying more items?!

My take on Chicago resale shops is they’re trying to be much more alternative than most people actually dress. I always peruse the racks while my bags are being processed and rarely find anything I have to have. I don’t consider myself a ‘hipster’, but neither are the other bloggers and friends I see who have great pieces they picked up at thrift or resale stores. Now I know it’s kind of a science, with having to go frequently to catch the good stuff at the right time. Well guess what…I was never all that interested in science in school. I always see Forever 21 pieces at the thrift stores, so why not take my Maurices or Old Navy shirts? Sure I loved the BCBG jacket I saw hanging on the wall of one shop today, but not everyone has BCBG jackets to resell. It’s just a pain in the ass because I have to find a way to get the clothes back home so my mom can try the thrift store there, where most of our items always sell. If they don’t within a certain amount of time, the store automatically donates whatever is left to charity. See I’m not completely heartless.

I would love to hear your suggestion onΒ  resale shops to sell to and to stalk for good items. Also what’s your greatest thrift store find?



  1. It seems like Toronto doesn’t have too many great resale shops – at least that I’m aware of, I’m pretty sure we used to have more but now it seems like there are the vintage shops and the thrift shops and charity shops. I think because we lack in the resale shop department the charity shop finds can be fantastic!

    I’m an avid thrifter, because most of the time I am on a students budget and weak of wallet. To really score though, yah, you have to get it down to a bit of a science. It takes practice for sure, but it’s nothing like science in high school :p

    I find all kinds of things in thrift shops but one of my favourite things is this cute little pierre cardin cardigan. It’s a little boys cut almost – so cute! Unfortunately it’s wool and I’m slightly allergic so I don’t get to wear it too often but I have never had the heart to get rid of it.

    1. Be careful when swapping the words thrift with resell. Jargon makes them two separate groups. When I was a young professional I shopped the stores on the sidewalk lower level on the Gold Coast. Still have the 50’s swing coat with the three buttons I bought at Tender Buttons (if that’s still around) for more than the coat. BTW, I love finding furniture at the Ark on North Lincoln just south of the Paulina L stop (but that was in the 1990’s).

      The Denver non-profit thrift market is brilliant. Or maybe Denver is a dot of charitable shopaholics with incredible taste. Ultimately we know that shopping fills no void, but many keep trying. At the charitable thrift, I find new Anthropologie with tags still dangling, just bought my thirteen year old a new pair of Cole Haan sandals for seven dollars.

      I suggest you switch to non-profit thrift. I’ve a tried and true series of how to articles in the left column of the my blog.

      My favorite finds?

      I literally have cold feet and was thrilled to spot a handmade, hand-painted pair of sheep skin lined mukluks for $10 after the holiday season. They’d never been worn as the holes on the lace ups still required a final punch through. Black Dog Rise was scribed in hand on a leather tag. They retail on line $350. Cold feet begone.

      Bakeware. By looking at my cookware, copper, enameled cast iron from Belgium and France, and vintage Emile Henry, you’d think I was the second coming of Julia Child. Ugh, the only thing we have in common is our cookware. I bough it all for far less than a starter set of Calphalon.

      A Michael Gold for Pottery Barn classic butter creme sleeper sofa sits in my living room. Found at Goodwill for $250, the only stains on it are from my children or cats. Before me, it was in pristine condition, either off the retail floor or in storage.

      Jewelry. Vintage pearls bought on half-off day for $12. All kinds of sterling for $3-$8. A Tiffany’s sterling ling key necklace for $6. Vintage cinabar, bakelite…

      Oh and an original coach bag, with serial number, et al for my daughter for $10. It still smells new.

      This list could go on a long time. If you don’t believe me, I’ve a supporting slide show of many items found thrift on the blog too.

      Treasure awaits, just got to have an open mind and visit the thrift at least once a week for a quick reconn strike.


      1. Thank you for the suggestions! I was thinking about switching to some different locations as soon as I settle in from my move this weekend!

  2. I completely agree with everything you just wrote (I live in the South Loop). I haven’t been having much luck either this summer. Did you go to the shops off the Damen blue line stop? Or Wrigleyville shops? Or the shops off of Clark street on the north side?

    You got me searching for some new shops and I found this article–

    & to answer one of your questions: my best thrift store find ever was this brown leather pilots jacket ($30) that I found in a little store in bellingham, WA.

    1. I tried some of the shops Clark and Diversey. I may try branching out to some other areas, but it’s hard hauling bags on the buses and trains. Thanks for the article and good luck!

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