Lifestyles of the Destitute and Obscure

dazzling and interesting on a shoestring

Category Archives: thrift store shopping

Les Miserables Costume Fashion

LesMis_rables_2446250bWe all know how lovely Anne Hathaway looked at the Oscars, and if you went and saw the movie, you know how desperately wonderful she looked (and sounded) as the ill-fated young woman forced into sexual slavery in Les Miserables.  What you probably didn’t hear much about in her acceptance speech(unless you watched the Oscars), was the hope that sexual trafficking would soon become a thing of fiction.  The clip is a bit wonky, and taken from a camera filming from the TV, but check out minute 2:15 when she’s done thanking the immediate world.

And moving onward, to the far more frivolous fare of fashion—didn’t you just love those Les Mis costumes?!  Here’s how the genius Paco Delgado put together each costume and where he looked for inspiration.

Without looking like a hooker of the 1800’s, you too, can pull together a look that says ‘maybe-a-bit-down-and-out, but-still-positively-French.’ Here’s how:

les.mis.skirtFind a long, showy and hopefully thrift-store skirt.  Pick a color, any color.  In fact, pick one with many colors.

Find a top.  Go simple on this one.  A basic tank on hot days, perhaps a thermal shirt (I like to cut the necklines out of mine) for added warmth in cold weather.

les.mis.grey.jacket2Invest in a jacket.  This here is the pricier, more time-consuming element.  Hunt down the gem on ebay, a thrift-store, estate sale, or get lucky, like I did.  I bought my faux military jacket at Urban Outfitters about 10 years ago, (for about $30) thinking it was a flash-in-the-pan trend, but not caring because I wanted to look like Jimi Hendrix.  And what do you know, the military trend is still going, even after My Bloody Valentine, et. all started playing county faire circuit (just kidding, MBV is still roaming around small clubs in Europe).  One great way to get a military-styled jacket, especially with all those nifty ‘musket ball’ buttons, is to special order it through a Civil War re-enactment costume specialist.  Union or Confederate– your choice– no judgment.

Ready, set, accessorize!

For early summer weather (which we seem to be having here) merely throw on those flip-flops, or any other understated hippie sandal.  Note that copiously strappy or gladiator style might be a bit much—understated is the key here—your skirt should and jacket should be the showy pieces.  If you like wrapping a thin little scarf around your neck, do so, and that would look chic.  If you need to go for warmth, I recommend boots (like these, if you’re going fancy and you can afford it– $250+ sheesh, that’s pricey footwear!  But I do dream of these occasionally, when the nights are cold and lonely…)battalion.boots copy or a peasant-y combination of clogs and leg warmers, especially if you get your leg warmers from Sock Dreams. Accessorize your upper limbs with arm warmers or fingerless gloves from them, too.  Full gloves are warmer, sure, but a bit too 20th century for this look.  les.mis.top.hatTo top it off—I love the pun here, forgive me if you don’t go for that kind of humor—a top hat, of course!  I bought mine on ebay, searching with the word ‘Steampunk’.  Needless to say, I could get lost in the word ‘Steampunk’ for about 3 days.  Originally, however, the hat was inspired by my book group’s reading of Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy wrote it, btw).  I couldn’t help myself—I wanted to be Anna (romantic misfortunes notwithstanding) with a velvet top hat.

Now, go out with your friends and family and be assured that you look fantastic.  Next, do something about putting an end to sexual slavery and make the story of Fantine both fictional and strictly fashionable.

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Thrifty home decorating with a splash of the unusual

After moving in, buying new beds, getting a few hand-me-down furniture items and trying to settle into our new apartment, the ship came in with the household possessions that had been in storage for the last three years.  And so, our new possessions met our old ones and thus blended into what is now known as our home.

The majority of what was in storage was the accumulation of years of hunting down fashion items when I had multiple jobs, no kids and thus, more disposable income—though still not much.  The household items are proof of the love and generosity of our family and friends who spoiled us with a deluge of beautiful, quality items at our wedding.  Take my silverware, for instance—a pattern chosen for it simple durability and sturdy in your hand.  It feels like a legacy when you eat with it. Or the fact that Wusthof knives and Le Creuset pots are only a part of my kitchen because they were gifts.

We combined a whole lotta bargain hunting and thriftiness with bits of minor splurge here and there.  I found a super fancy pink duvet and sheet set at a garage sale for $10, plus the expense to have it dry-cleaned. I splurged on the rug in the bathroom, because I can’t get a real, live cat yet, and because it’s just kind of quirky.  It would, however, be ridiculous and terribly uncreative if I chose (or could afford) to decorate my entire house with the uber-trends of Urban Outfitters.  I’m not too cool for school, just too old.
The couch and chairs were craigslist and estate sale finds, respectively, and miraculously look like a matched set.  We paid less than $150 for all three, thanks to a little wheeling and dealing and cold, hard cash.

The desk was my grandfather’s, and held in storage by my parents for a couple years.  It’s outfitted with a power strip and filing clip that my handy Grandpa put there for his convenience.  To honor that, the black and white photograph he took of my grandma (his wife of nearly 60 years) takes its customary place atop the attached bookshelf.
The enormous painting that graces an otherwise undecoratable wall is from yet another estate sale and cost us the bargain-basement price of $100.  It is an original artwork by a lesser known Mexican artist, Mario Joel, and while we couldn’t come up with anything when we Googled him, the painting adds a bright, unusual and slightly haunting element to the house.

It goes well with the smattering of New Zealand Maori artwork that hangs around the rest of the house.

While it is not common to find large, original artworks for such prices as the Mayan work here, fun and funky framed pictures are easy to come across at thrift stores and add a charming and quirky element to kitchens and bathrooms.


As further study in contrasts, our TV is an ultra-modern, high-tech version atop a bargain of mid-century Swedish design—a console with double sliding doors and just the right shade to blend in with the set of ‘Mad Men’.   My husband used his best craigslist ‘prowl and stalk’ techniques for this one.  He accidentally stumbled across the large blue-painted bookshelf that sits opposite the painting, but he was smart enough to snatch it up when he found it—just one of the reasons I married him.

Very little of our household furnishings are new, save the beds and the gifts, but I like it that way.  Everything has a history—well-known, like my grandparents’ desk and dining room table—or more mysterious like the Aztec/Mayan painting.  It is, however, recycling at its most basic and most necessary.  I may never own a brand-new couch, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that this one matches our chairs and is graced by a handmade afghan and a beaded Hawaiian tropic throw pillow.
Style is what you make it, and what you can afford, but most importantly it is what defines your home as belonging to you—even if you’re a renter.  Know what you like, know where to find it, and know when something finds you.  I love the way my house is decorated, because it cannot be replicated by anyone else, and it looks and feels like me and my family—aka, a home.

How the destitute shop thrify and look boutiquey!

I am a HUGE fan of the Urban Outfitters/Anthropologie/ Free People triumvirate, and follow all the latest releases like a strung-out fashion junkie.  It is probably an addiction of the type that could never be satisfied, regardless of the size of my closet or my bank account.  And so, like any good addict who needs her fix, I get creative.  It’s much better for my wallet and my sense of ingenuity; money can make us lazy and boring, I feel.

Here are a couple of ideas on how to get this stuff (or something just like it) into your wardrobe without being lazy, boring or loaded.

  • Get a job there, but not if you honestly expect to take home much of your paycheck.  They want you to wear their clothes, so the discount is deep and the peer pressure is close to the boiling point.  I have a two and a half year career as a sales associate to thank for a couple pairs of linen pants, a velvet coat, and a few cocktail dresses.  Who cares if the only place I’ve got to wear it to is the playground?  These things are stunning.
  • Stalk the sale rack like you’re a Great White and that dress is a surfboard.  For this reason, I love the ‘wishlist’ option on websites.  I just load my favorite things into my wishlist, and then check back every week or so to see what went on sale.  Then if I feel that I can’t live another moment without it, I go to the store and try to track it down in my size.  That way you avoid shipping costs, too, unless of course, it costs over $20 in gas just to get to your nearest retail location.  Then, by all means, ship away.  Or better yet, make a note of the item and its FINAL sale price and check eBay a few weeks later.  Don’t pay more than the item’s final price, though.  Otherwise, you may have tapped into somebody’s idea of a business.  More on the eBay strategy to come—I swear.
  • Be aware, too, of each store’s return policy.  I cannot properly shop with a preschooler in tow, and because I live in one of the nation’s (okay, the WORLD’S) wealthiest areas, despite having a barely livable household income, I have an Anthropologie right around the corner.  So I stock up on the things I might want to purchase, in a couple of sizes, lay it all on the credit card and take them home and play fashion show with my husband.  It keeps him happy, too.  WARNING: Don’t bring home anything you can’t afford to fall in love with.  And please, NOTE:  Keep things neat and orderly, folded and with the tags on and the proper receipt handy when returning.  Sales associates know they’re gonna be doing returns as part of their job, but it’s a bit of a hassle, so be kind. FURTHERMORE: Don’t let that fat purchase sit on your credit card through an entire billing cycle (even if you return it, the store won’t give you back that big chunk of interest back) and MAKE SURE you can return it for cash, NOT store credit.
  • Learn to hunt through a thrift store like you are a lioness and the store is the Serengeti.  You need to be picky, but not too picky.  Think of what you’re looking for and then focus on a few points.  For example: you’re not going to find any Anthro clothes at St. Vincent DePaul (unless a miracle takes place) however, you may find a skirt in a similar pattern and texture.  It will look just as cool, be far more unique, and cost you a whole lot less.  Now, watch and learn.

What we have here is a lovely, fuzzy pink-striped sweater with a great neckline and form-fit.  The exact colors and neckline are not so important; we want the same general theme, not the exact same thing.  That’s being too narrow-minded for a girl with a budget.

Here is the purchase I made for about $4 at a by-the-pound thrift store.

This is an actual unique vintage number.  Free People has a category called ‘Vintage Loves’ in which someone else does the hunting for you (a job, I must confess that I covet with a hearty fraction of my soul) and then charges you in the neighborhood of a $200 to take it off their talented hands.

The key elements to this maxi-skirt are three-fold: that it be long and fairly full (A-line or circle skirt; not tight) that it be velvet or velour (a lovely polyester imitation of velvet that only adds to its vintage-ness) and that the coloring be dark.  The color is not critical, but if it were bright, it would verge on something else entirely—which might also be okay.

Here’s a similar skirt I culled from the same thrift store and paid way less than $200 for.  It, too, is velvet-y and black, but with a wider variety of colors.  It goes great with black military-style boots as well as ballet flats and pairs nicely with a long, fitted cardigan in winter and nothing but a tank top in spring.

So, sally forth intrepid shopper, armed with your cash (most thrift stores don’t take plastic) and your new thrifty know-how and see what you can come up with.  If I have a readership, especially an adventurous one, let me know what you’ve dug up.  I’m always inspired by inspiration.