Frugalista: The Why and The How

pic courtesy of the NYTimes

You’ve seen the recent commercials calling for “Maxxonistas?” I’m not one to take things to the maxx. Especially because it ends with two ‘xx’ and the store lacks a coherent internal organization system (and my left brain craves these kinds of things). Rather, I am a frugalista. I wear the sweater my grandmother made for my grandfather, the same one that I pilfered from my mother’s closet. I wear a 35.5” inseam – and my favorite pair of ‘cropped pants’ were a clearance pair made for a petite teen. I’m often complimented on my ensembles, and I pride myself on not paying much for them.

If these sound like you …

  • “I don’t look like any of you. Fantastic!”
  • “Yes, I did choose this piece for today. I want to look this fabulous.” [and, rather importantly]
  • “My goodness, that’s delightful!” [immediately followed by] “My pocketbook shan’t be a plaything. Hrrmph!”

… indulge for a moment. Spend some time reading, save some dollars looking great.

Now, it’s possible you’ve tried this before. You used what my professors call “the Google” to investigate places in and around DC that accommodate your spendthrift nature. You were overwhelmed with designer labels “marked down” to just hundreds of dollars. You lamented that too many items seemed ripe for a Lacoste-clad look-alike of you in 15 years. Things like this have turned you off. Me, too.

Convinced, however, like Alice in Wonderland or Dorothy on her way to Oz, that forging ahead would yield good results, I’ve managed to find some enclaves. Like me, they reminisce of eras I did not live through; they price items to sell, rather than amaze; they offer me creative solutions to the dilemma of “looking decent” (well, I go for more than that) while spending as little as possible.

I’ll begin with the unlikelies – those places where, with patience and fortitude, you might happen upon a delicious addition to your life.

  • Craigslist. I moved last May to an apartment with at least twice the square footage of the last one. We looked around and it became quickly clear we’d need more than a futon, folding table and ironing board to fill the space. I was, as ever, short on funds. So I braved the list. There, among hoards of nonsense, popped up an ad for designer leather furniture (the kind where you change the cushions, not the leather) – a sofa and chair – for $100 + pick-up. Duh.
  • My apartment hosted a ‘garage sale’ where any resident might put out her priced wares for the world to peruse. What of it? A leather handbag designed for military personnel circa the 1960s, replete with red corduroy lining and a lunch partition at the bottom – for a whopping $10. Another table boasted a 5.5 foot wool suit (think blazer to your ankles + pleated pants) and a crocodile Stuart Weitzman flat – I got both for a cool $5.
  • Random streetside sales. On our way home from a nephew’s birthday party, we picked up a $15 black framed mirror measuring 4×3.5 feet from two women under a large tent outside their homes, about to close a day-long two-person sale.
  • Clothing swaps. A tall friend (who, ahem, maintains a blog on DC), invited me to a clothing swap. This was to be my first, because I used to believe that if you don’t want it, neither do I. I was drawn to her lengthy torso and its implications for swapping garments. I offered many work clothes, which were snatched up by one of her thrilled companions. I walked away with a gorgeous vintage leather and velvet purse from Mexico, a leather ankle boot that screams “Italy: 1974” and a headscarf for those moments when I remember to thoroughly clean the apartment. Oh, yes, and a dress that I’m wearing now.

Lesson learned: if A = {acquiring something you adore}, B = {taking a chance} and C = {applying budgeting skills}, then your P(AC|B) = just do it. FYI: I’m new to statistics.

Perhaps you’re not interested in extensive adventure. You don’t like to ‘hunt’ for good finds. You want to find good finds. Maybe you’re the type to have a go-to bar, a go-to bowling lane, a go-to brunch booth. And you just want a reliable, welcoming environment. Look no further than Frugalista.

Located conveniently just steps from the Columbia Heights Metro at 3069 Mt Pleasant St, NW, this is my go-to. I also confidently share: I have never taken someone to Frugalista who did not have a positive experience. Read that carefully. I’m not just saying no one has ever disliked it. I’m going beyond that neutral ‘meh’ to assert that no one has ever not liked it – in my company, anyway.

For the ladies, you can anticipate an eclectic collection focused more on bottoms than tops (though for blazers under $5, I have found no rivals). You might see a Dianne von Furstenberg wrap dress for $42, or a J. Crew corduroy cropped pant for $17. You could spy a pair of leather boots for $30 (I’ve worn them for three winters and they’re still kickin’), a complete Anne Klein ensemble for $29 or an H&M vest for $7. The store organizes by brand or type of item (jeans get grouped, outerwear gets grouped, Banana Republic gets grouped). They also keep seasonal details in mind. Just after Labor Day, everything white was half off. And yes (!), they respect the fact that people exist in myriad sizes, shapes and ages. Don’t look for kids’ clothes, but otherwise, you’ll probably find something you like.

For the men, it’s hit-or-miss with work pants, jeans, slacks and button-downs, because you all have more nuanced sizing than most women’s brands. But I’ve heard good things about cardigans, swim trunks and winter outerwear. I’ve also heard a general impression that the recent expansion has meant higher quality and larger variety for the growing men’s section. Count on sweaters, sweaters, sweaters. My partner is all about their wool in the winter, and his Frugalista sweaters replace blazers at least three times per week.

Finally, some spots where I’ve had occasional successes – and intend to have more:

  • Rockville Pike Goodwill. Great finds include: red leather jacket with shoulder pads and gold buttons for $17 + orange silk blazer for under $5.
  • Langley Park Salvation Army. Great find: wooden side tables for the living room.
  • Eastern Market (market proper). Great finds include: black leather 11×17” frames at $2 each.

Next up:

Written by friend of the blog, C. Rae.

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