Reflections on Thrifting in Paris

When I booked a solo trip to Paris over reading week, I already knew that I wanted to set aside a day exclusively for thrifting. I had visions of myself setting out on the great fashion capital of the world, shopping bags at my sides, armed with a keen eye and a loosely-construed budget. I strategically packed my budget-airline-friendly carry-on with plenty of leftover room for the major haul I was planning on accruing, even resigning myself to wearing the same top for three days to save space.

So, as the shops began to open on my second morning in Paris, I headed out upon the concentration of vintage shops in Le Marais confident that I was about to add to my wardrobe like never before. My first stop was BIS Boutique Solidaire on the Boulevard du Temple; had they not had ‘secondhand’ written on the store window, I would have skipped it, as the inside had all the appearance of an upscale boutique. In fact, with the first few pieces that caught my eye, I didn’t even bother with checking the price tags, as I assumed they were going to be far out of my price range. However, when a little black skirt, gorgeously embroidered with a red and gold floral design, caught my eye, I flipped the tag, shocked to see “€6” scribbled on it. At that point, I went back and pulled the pieces I had previously skipped over, giddy to find they were all significantly less expensive than I had initially assumed.

Triumphant, I headed to the dressing room. But with each piece I tried on, something didn’t work out—this top fit weird, these jeans were too long. The skirt I had been so over the moon about, tragically, was too big—I ended up trying it on three times, hoping I could somehow make it work, but the material made altering it out of the question and I was forced to leave it behind.

I left that shop dejected. I had thought I was on the cusp of greatness on just my first stop, only to walk away empty-handed. And as I continued on my vintage tour, that feeling stuck with me. I was able to nab a few great items along the way, but they weren’t the vast mound of diamonds in the rough I had anticipated to find. With each store I went to, I felt more and more frustrated; and the overwhelmingness I was feeling wasn’t helped by the intensity of the kilo shops in Le Marais, with every customer fighting for space around the one-euro bins, clawing through massive mounds of old clothes and yanking at whatever pieces emitted any sort of potential.

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Anywhere else, in any other situation, I would have been proud of the finds I made. But it was the combination of the allure of Paris, the overwhelming atmosphere of the shops, and the limited amount of time I had put on myself to hit every secondhand store within a five kilometer radius that somehow made me feel like a failure. Knowing I had bragged to so many people before leaving about all the shopping I had planned to do and knowing that I was to write this very article filled me with a totally irrational panic that I would return home empty-handed and unsuccessful.

At a certain point, somewhere between the Rue de Rivoli and the Rue des Rosiers, I finally had to stop and ask myself: where was all this pressure coming from? Whom did I feel I had something to prove to? The answer, of course, was me and only me. As much as I wanted to, and as much as I felt pressured to, I didn’t have to surface with a whole armload of perfect, one-of-a-kind finds. There is a reason thrifting is so much more rewarding than regular shopping: the hunt makes it all worthwhile. But I had gotten so caught up in finding the perfect piece tenfold over that I hadn’t been letting myself enjoy the hunt, or even the pieces I was finding.

By the time I hit my last couple stops on the Rue de la Verrerie, I relaxed. I dropped every semblance of expectations. I let myself browse and enjoy the process of thrifting that I have always valued so much. And when, in the end, I sat down and sorted through my purchases for the day, I really was thoroughly pleased. For a grand total of approximately thirty-five euro, I found: a gorgeous patterned silk scarf, snagged for only a euro from the bottom of a bin; the chicest blue and grey Chanel-esque wooly jacket; a multi-colored threaded jumper with a great fit; a fun cropped leopard print vest, also rescued from a one-euro bin; and the most precious gauzy, floral button-down.

Thrifting in Paris did not turn out to be the transcendental experience I had envisioned it to be. But in the end, that turned out for the best. It gave me a chance to be reminded of the basics of the process that is secondhand shopping. There’s a reason it’s not for everyone—it takes a certain amount of patience and determination that I almost lost touch with. And at the end of the day, I decided, there was only so much I could realistically fit in my tote bag and haul through the city streets anyway.

 

Lauren Kammerdiener

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