Monday, June 13, 2011

how to shop: swap meets

The specifics of tackling a swap meet will clearly vary based on what you are in the market for and how much you want to spend. For the purposes of this article, we're going to assume that you're like me and want cute digs at the cheapest price possible.

1. Preparing
  • Weather: Before you head out, check the weather on 2-3 forecast sites, and dress accordingly. Apply and pack sun block, hats, and sunglasses as needed.
  • Clothing: Slim-fitting clothes work best; Since you won't have the luxury of stripping down in a fitting room to try things on, you'll be pulling prospective items on over your clothing.
  • Accessories: Comfy shoes and a bag that leaves your hands free are non-negotiable. You will need to stand and walk for at least an hour, and you will need your hands free to dig though intimidating piles of clothing. I either choose a cross-body bag or a bag that fits securely on my shoulder without slipping.
  • Cash: Hit up the bank or ATM before you get to the swap meet, because you'll likely get hit with huge ATM fees -- or worse, tragic ATM nonexistence. And the swap doesn't take credit.
  • Optional: You may also want to bring a flexible tape measure, hand sanitizer, stain remover pen, and a friend with a camera.
swap meet outfit example

2. Scouting
  • Posted Prices = Good: Your best bet is to stop off at any vendor sporting big "$1" or "50 Cents" signs next to a huge pile of wares. This way, you do not waste time selecting your favorite items only to be told later that they are out of your price range. You can also ask vendors, "How much for things on the table?" before you start to browse. However, I would stay away from anyone who says everything is a "different price"; I hate to say it, but that just opens the door for them to charge you more if they think you look well of... or if they just plain don't like the looks of you (yes, it does happen).
  • Disorganization = Good: The less work the vendor has done to set up the stall, the less they're going to charge you. This applies to the quality of the wares, too. If everything in a stall looks cute and pristine, then the vendor has clearly spent time sorting and curating inventory and will charge higher prices.
  • Swarms of excited shoppers = Good: A lot of your fellow swap meet patrons will be regulars who've already put in years of work picking out their favorite stalls. Let their knowledge work for you -- especially if said shoppers look like they might have similar shopping values. I, for example, might stop by an otherwise innocuous stall if I happen to see a group of smartly-dressed Vietnamese women are interested (I don't know why, but Vietnamese ladies always seem to find really cool things... and toss them my way if they don't fit).
3. Digging
  • See it, grab it, hold it: If you spot something you like that looks to be generally your size, hold on to it while you move on to other parts of the browsing area. If you hem and haw over each item individually, you may miss out on something even better down the line. That's how I missed out on a $1 Helmut Lang dress. True story.
  • Fit check at the end: After you've gone through all the vendor's wares and amassed a nice maybe pile, find a little corner and resume the hemming and hawing we put the kibosh on a second ago. Per your personal preference, you can throw things on over your clothes, hold them up, measure them, and even get a friend to snap a picture to help you figure out what fits and flatters.
  • Quality assurance: Take special care in looking for stains, holes, missing buttons and broken zippers before you buy anything. If a stain looks like it might come out, whip out your stain remover pen and give it a try then and there! Better neurotic than sorry. :)

1 comment:

  1. good advice! Here we don't have many places with used clothes for sale, but they are starting to appear now!