For a long time, although poor, I didn't have a lot of luck in thrift stores. I was thin (then), and that helped since most good clothes donated to thrift stores get there because the owner gained a few pounds. But even so, I spent loads of time and didn't find much I liked.

Then I stumbled into a secret rule for shopping in thrift stores that transformed me into a very lucky shopper indeed, who can pick up Gortex raincoats, new black jeans, sharp sweaters and lots of other goodies that fit me perfectly, and in much less time.

The secret's simple: don't go looking for anything by size. Visit thrift stores more often, but much more quickly. Pass down the aisle (don't look at the signs that tell you the size, remember!) and only grab anything that really attracts your eye. Go for the good stuff, not what fits you: and remarkably often enough it will fit you. Not always, but very often.

Why does this tactic work? For the longest time I had no idea. It just seemed to be a magic formula. But over time I've concluded that it works because unless you know staff or show up at just the right time or early in morning, most of what's in thrift stores gets picked over very thoroughly, and the great finds don't last long at all... unless they are misplaced by size. If a slovenly clerk or previous client mismeasures or sloppily misplaces a great shirt by a few sizes, then the people who would buy it in an instant never find it - and this happens a lot. Probably some great finds are deliberately misplaced by customers who have stashed them there in order to come back and get them later in the week when they have more cash. Others were mis-tagged or badly placed to begin with by the poorly paid staff. The result is that at any given moment the vast majority of hot bargains will be either labelled as the wrong size, or placed with clothes of the wrong size - so that's where you have to look for good clothes that are your size - anywhere but where your size is supposed to be.

As the history of scientific discovery has proven: Look where everyone else would and you won't find much. Look where they aren't lookin'n' "et voila".

Call it an exception to Gresham's Law that proves the rule, or one more instance of the truth of Sir Basil Liddell Hart's "Strategy of the Indirect Approach". Or perhaps it's just one more instance where working harder just isn't as productive as working smarter.

Now, I'd love to report that this works well with dating too... and every now and then it does. Maybe you'll find someone who's still available 'cause she (or he) hates rich, athletic guys and just doesn't realize her perfect looks and hot clothes are turning off the nerdy coders she craves to be with, or that hanging around the opera can't help her meet them. But I have to report: not so much. Or not in the most direct fashion. That is, don't just look for who's hot, every fool does that. Maybe look for the actress or model who likes to talk about astronomy, or the astronomy major who likes shoddy reality TV but isn't meeting anyone like that at the Astrophysics department seminars, or look for the churchgoing sexual experimenter who doesn't go into bars 'cause she's allergic to tobacco or hates dark decor and you could have more luck. If you aren't as fortunate in love as you (now) are in the thrift shops, remember, it just takes one...

First entered: Sun Feb 22 2004 at 9:35:27 Last edited: Thu March 11 2004