Monday, January 31, 2011

Operation Sparkle on Facebook + GIVEAWAY (that means cool free stuff)

To make things a bit easier for people to get Operation Sparkle updates, we are adding a Operation Sparkle Facebook page! Whoot! Whoot! That is almost exciting as the buffalo tater tots at the Blue Door in St. Paul!

What is even more exciting than having yet another way to stay on top of all things Operation Sparkle (the first is our twitter feed, but I know there are a lot of people out there who, for whatever reason(s), are morally opposed to twitter. Since we are all about equal opportunity social media platforms, we decided to give this one a go as well) is that we are coinciding the launch of the Facebook page with our first Operation Sparkle GIVEAWAY!

That is right folks, we are giving away this little, sexy thrifted number that Laurie picked up once upon a time! The static print crop top leotard!


I mean, really, have you ever seen anything like this before in your life!?

I can tell you are all salivating over the chance to get your paws on this one-of-a-kind, Operation Sparkle-approved gem. The way to enter?

Just 'like' us on Facebook! At the end of the month (meaning February 28th), we will randomly (honestly) pick a fan to receive this glorious little number. If you win, you will have to give us your mailing address, but I promise you that we won't pull an Oprah and make you pay for the shipping. That's on us. We also recognize that not everyone may want this piece, for whatever reason, and that is cool can always resell it, give it to a friend, or simply donate it back into the thrifting world if that is the case. AND we promise that for future giveaways, we will mix it up with accessories and household goods!

And the best part? Even if you don't win, you can know all our Operation Sparkle news, maybe even before it hits the blog. That is the beauty of the speed of technology! So check it out (and tell all of your friends!)!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Special Trip: Post-Christmas Fox Valley Thrifting!

In celebration of our hometown team* making the Superbowl, I am presenting you with our very special Fox Valley post-Christmas thrifting trip! As my best post-xmas finds were unearthed after the special trip (including my jungle cat dress and vintage jeweled headpiece), I was rather underwhelmed by our Fox Valley trip, though it is hard to tell if my head just wasn't in the game (I was feeling rather anxious about spending money and was experiencing one of those rare moments of extreme guilt for having way too many clothes and too small of a closet) or if the deals just weren't there. While the highlight of the trip for me was finally finding a Mexican restaurant with $2 margaritas, Laurie fared much better than I did, coming away with some pretty stellar finds.

Per usual, we got off to a late start as it took much longer than anticipated for my mother to tour our friend, fellow thrifter and chauffeur, Sarah's new house (which is amazing). We hit the road over an hour later than planned, but were still able to fit in a suitable lunch (with cocktails) and hit all three shops.

First stop was Bethesda Thrift Mart in Neenah. While it was in no way as amazing as the Green Bay Bethesda was (R.I.P.), the shop had a large selection and was easy to navigate, due mostly to its large aisles. It was, however, freezing.

Vintage Navy Leather Chain Purse

This vintage leather purse is a perfect example of how I have too many clothes (well, in this case, accessories) as I totally forgot about this find until I was browsing through pictures for this post. What is even more ridiculous is the fact that I just recently started coveting a chain strap purse. Which means I was coveting something I already owned. I think the universe just exploded.

Wishbone Necklace (detail)

While Laurie found some truly amazing jewels on this trip, I have to say that some of my favorites were also jewelry, like this little gold wishbone necklace.

Western Style Riding Blazer
Western Style Riding Blazer Back

While my clothing finds were minimal, Laurie found some great pieces like this fitted vintage riding jacket.

White Cross Body Stripe Dress

80's dresses cut like this one are pretty common at thrift shops, but this black and white one Laurie found wins points for its simple linework.

Our Rejects at Bethesda

Our rejects at Bethesda. Notice the real rabbit fur coat that none of us could convince ourselves to buy, even though it was only $12.

From there, we traveled to the St. Vinnies in Neenah. I'd have to say the highlight was the shoe basement, even if I didn't come away with any shoes. I have a slight fear that this is what my house will look like some day if I don't control my shopping impulses.

Shoe Basement in Neenah St. Vinnies

I found some more great accessories here, including two $1 winter hats (I love putting bright things on my head in the winter).

Colorful Knit Cap
Orange Knit Hat

I also found two simple pieces that have now become major staples in my jewelry collection:

Wood Necklace

My new favorite necklace—it is super light, which makes me think it is cheap, but the wood pendant is like nothing I have have seen. I love its shape and the color variance.

Colorful Stud Earrings

What is better than one pair of cute colored studded earrings? Why FIVE pairs of cute colored studded earrings! I love simple studded earrings and the colors of these are amazing.

Navajo Stripe Scarf

Laurie also found a deal in the winter accessories department with this Navajo stripped scarf...

Geo Jacquard Stripe Wrap Skirt

...which I think she should wear with this geo jacquard strip wrap skirt, just for good measure.

At this point, everyone was starting to get the shakes from hunger so we decided to get some lunch. Unfamiliar with the area, but determined that there would be plentiful Mexican restaurants in strip malls, we drove around aimlessly for what felt like an hour until we found one. I have never enjoyed a lunch combo plate of enchiladas more.

Finally, we swung by the Bargain Garden, which, as it turns out, was right down the street from our Mexican restaurant in Appleton. Unfortunately, though the name sounded promising, there were few bargains to be found, and this place was hardly a garden. The prices weren't that wonderful, and even more than that, the selection was minimal. I walked away with nothing (which rarely happens).

As I previously mentioned, I had much better luck in Green Bay after this trip, so that just goes to show you that sometimes it pays to stick with what you know.

*For the record, I hate organized sports, especially football, but Laurie is totally a Packer's fan. She even went to the game and spent the entire day outside in 20 degree weather the day before this trip. Also, the last time the Packers were in the Superbowl, our high school had a Superbowl-themed dance called "Gold and Green in New Orleans," which sort of rhymes but not really.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

January Jewels: Refined Goth Chunky Black Stud Necklace

There are frequently those moments in thrifting when you find something that is so incredibly bizarre, seemingly impossible, totally inexplicable,* or completely banal and commonplace, that you are magnetically attracted to. The way in which you sort through the meaning of those confusing feelings, and resultantly, acting, is the tricky part.

When you find yourself locked in to such a trance, so many questions run through your head. Why do I feel this way? do I like this? or am actually repelled by it, and confusing that with attraction? is it totally cheesy? or is this breaking new ground? does this look like it's from the mall? but maybe in a good way? It could be said that the discretion exercised when facing such questions is the greatest test of a thrifter, and can swiftly separate the pros from the amateurs.

One such instance of thrifting mesmerism occurred with this piece--which I am pleased to say that I made the right decision with--a chunky black plastic stud necklace.

This piece generated many of the above questions. I was instantly drawn to it and thought that I loved it, but there were so many "ifs" running through my mind. First, it's plastic. Secondly, it's one of those stud things that I like but are so annoyingly trendy these days. Thirdly, it has one of those arguably very cheesy slinky chains. BUT my very first impression of it was that it reminded me of something Mick Jagger wore in Performance. A huge plus.

Also on the plus side of things, is that it is goth, but sophisticated. Refined goth, you could even say. That is indeed another huge plus. And possibly outweighs the other potential negatives? I was leaning in that direction.

From there I resorted to a thrifter's other greatest asset; thrifting companions. Especially those that are well versed in your personal style and wardrobe-related idiosyncracies. This feedback is invaluable. Good thrifting companions are able to ask you the tough questions that you might not be asking yourself, and give you some perspective when you are clearly lying to yourself. My thrifting companions that day, Holly and Sarah, having known me for most of my life, were able to advise me that my doubts were unwarranted, and that this piece is in fact a gem. And so the deal was sealed and the purchase was made. I even ended up wearing it on the first day of my new job!

*referring to the one that got away; the Meta Sweater. Holly, Sarah and I were thrifting in Green Bay a year or so ago, when we found a sweater with a knitted facsimile of a sweater appliqued on to the front, with the word "SWEATER" similarly applied above the image. In fact, a sweater about a sweater; a Meta Sweater. If this is blowing your mind, that is totally normal.

Friday, January 28, 2011

In the Dead of Winter: THE BEST COAT EVER!

If I got a dollar every time I complained about how crappy Minnesota's winters are, I would be so rich that I wouldn't have to worry about things like not having health insurance! As that is not the case, the best way to get over the winter blues, I have found, is through, of course, FASHION!*

Thankfully, thrifting provides a myriad of opportunities to spice up your boring winter wardrobe, as well as allowing for the purchase of quality, necessary items to make it through the season, like Sorel boots and huge down chopper mittens (both of which I have found thrifting for approximately 10% of what they would cost new). On the more fashionable scale, I have curated quite a collection of coats throughout my years of thrifting, all of which allow for the occasional "coat mix-up" that is so very necessary in the dead of winter. While the Onion joked last week that it was "cold enough for the ugly coat," I've been forcing myself to wear different coats, especially the new Icelandic wool coat I found at Savers a couple weeks ago.**

My collection, however, doesn't stop there: I have faux fur coats (which you have seen here, here and here), classy trench style coats (stay tuned for some of these in springtime fashions), smaller fall/spring coats, vintage coats, capes and sweater coats. The ultimate coat, however, cannot be confined to any of these categories, and to this day, may just be the best thing I have ever found thrifting. Ever.

Amazing Navajo(ish) Print Wool Coat
Amazing Navajo(ish) Print Wool Coat (detail)
Amazing Navajo(ish) Print Wool Coat (detail)

The oversized hood wool Navajo(ish) print tie coat!

Every time I look at this coat I get jealous of myself. The only downfalls are the fact that it is best to utilize a hat pin to keep the top from flapping open too much (a must for the super chilly days) and that the shoulder pads embedded in the lining are a bit extreme. But then again, when you have a coat like this, I say go extreme or go home!

The beauty of it is that, like my accidental stumble into the first day of the Halloween Bootique at Value Village this fall, I found this baby on the first day Value Village put out their winter wares last year. It was a major thrifting freak out moment—not only was the coat in excellent condition with an amazing print/color combination, I had never seen anything like it and it was ONLY $15!!!!!!!!! This coat exemplifies two of the greatest things about thrifting—affordability and uniqueness.

Needless to say, it is pieces like this that make it all worth it!

*See also: drinking adult beverages, watching Twin Peaks, big fluffy snowflakes, walking to bars in snowstorms, fires (intentional and inside), cheese curds, being excited for spring and snowshoeing.
** Another "best thing about thrifting?" When you buy a piece that unexpectedly ends up being a constant "go-to."

Follow us on Blog Lovin'! (you know you want to!)

Follow my blog with bloglovin

As you could probably tell from my post about figuring out how to add pages, Laurie and I aren't exactly the most techno-savvy 20 somethings (even though, as Laurie asked me once, "didn't you go to grad school for this?"). We are, however, trying! Let me tell you, the learning curve is steep and plentiful (just go with it). In an attempt to get more blog-able, we have officially joined Blog Lovin', which, as it turns out, is a pretty sweet way to read all the blogs you like AT ONCE! Talk about multitasking!

So, if you are into this sort of thing, check us out!

And, by the way, this is all in an attempt to officially "claim" the blog.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Special Trip: Forest Lake, MN Dirrrty Thrifin'

I admit that after Molly and I dropped bucketloads of money all over the Stillwater Goodwill, I was feeling less than optimistic about my initial idea to spend much of crappy Minnesota winter traveling to small towns and finding adorable, affordable thrift shops and sharing them with all of you. A week after my first attempt, however, things took a major turn for the better, probably because I have been channeling positive vibes via The Secret.

I convinced my roommate, Tara "Wild Womyn" Zachman, and her man friend, Justin, to join me on a trip to Forest Lake, MN, with the intent of checking out three thrift stores: two Family Pathways and one Community Helping Hands. After doing some internet searching and google mapping, we had our directions and were ready to go, despite the fact that we hadn't showered, done yoga, walked the dogs or had eaten anything but popcorn.

What we found blew my socks off. In a disastrous attempt to evade rush hour traffic (and, on top of that, the terrible traffic still resulting from the snow storm we had received days prior), we only made it to two of the shops, but let me tell you, they were amazing. So amazing, in fact, that I can hardly wait to return.

I am, however, slightly disappointed that we weren't able to hit all three shops, and I was therefore unable to employ my special Forest Lake rating system that mimics the town's relationship with the local lakes. I learned from Tara that there are three lakes in Forest Lake but none of them have names; they are just referred to as "First Lake," "Second Lake" and "Third Lake." Naturally, I thought this was brilliant as it either exhibits the townspeople's laziness or their Scandinavian refusal to allow for flashy individuality of any sort, and was all excited to rate the thrift stores as based on these labels. "First lake" would to go the best thrift store and so on. But now the whole thing is thrown off so I am not sure what to do.

Also, did you know that there is a juvenile detention center in Lino Lakes, the town right by Forest Lake? I bet you didn't.

Commuity Helping Hand Forest Lake, MN

Anyway. If I did have to give one of the two thrift stores the accolades of "Lake One," I would pick the first one we attended: the Community Helping Hands thrift shop. I knew things were going to be great when there was a sign on the main road by the Target that said "thrift store" with an arrow (I really wanted to photograph this piece of amazingness, but as it was negative degrees out, and it was on a really busy street/highway, I ask you to imagine this). Not only were the prices amazing, there was a bag sale going on, the volunteers were so nice that they offered to take my overflowing basket and stow it behind the counter and said that we could have left our jackets on the counter instead of keeping them in the freezing car, AND they have punch cards. BEST THING EVER!

I walked away with some cute tops, two mexican blankets (priced at $1 each—perfect in a household where decorative linens regularly become dog toys!), a pair of snowpants (crazy winter clown biking, anyone?), a book, awesome moccasin booties and a very special x-mas gift for my fiance for under $10. It was glorious. AND, unlike a lot of places that are smaller, this had a nice selection and a lot to look at. So much so that these were all my rejects (most of which could have been purchased if I wasn't trying to limit my spending):

Commuity Helping Hand Forest Lake, MN

We then headed to the first Family Pathways store to be greeted with this sign:

Family Pathways Forest Lake, MN

Say what?! Somehow, the thrifting gods were smiling on us, because we inadvertently stumbled upon the first day of the store's moving sale, where everything was HALF-OFF. I later had some small talk with a fellow customer who said that the new store "was really nice," so I am excited to check that out in the future as well. The highlight of the whole trip was when I was determined to fit a pair of tight black rainboots on and had to have three other people (which included Tara, Justin and some strange teenager who thought it was the most highlarious thing in the world) to get them off. Needless to say, I did not purchase the boots.

I did, however, get three tops, a black leather fold-over purse, a pair of shoes, a bag of bracelets and a canvas tote bag (which has become my go-to carry all) for under $9. HALF-PRICE ALL THE WAY!

Some key pieces:

Leather Moccasin Boots
Leather Moccasin Boots (detail)

Moccasin booties with weird studded backs.

Holly Cheerleading Mug

Cheerleading "Holly" glass pint mug. Justin surprised me with this amazing early x-mas gift. I am going to use it to drink cocktails.

White and Gold Plastic Bangles

Chunky white bracelets.

Foldover Black Leather Clutch
Foldover Black Leather Clutch (inside)

Leather fold-over clutch.

Cutout Wedge Shoes

Crazy cutout heeled shoes. These are about half a size too big, and I hate the tops of them, but I absolutely could NOT turn down a pair of shoes with such an insane heel, especially since the only thing I have been coveting from Urban Outfitters has been these wedge heels. Plus they were only $1.50 after the half price discount. STEAL!

Watch out Forest Lake! I will be back!

Monday, January 24, 2011

January Jewels: Masonic Swiss Watch Pendant Necklace

Someone call Tom Hanks, because we've got some Da Vinci Code action up in here.

My glorious St. Vinnies post-Christmas/New Year's jewelry counter bonanza went out with a bang; a mysterious, Masonic bang, in fact. I nearly had a total freak out when the little old lady behind the counter was too busy catching up with another little old lady customer to help me extract this beauty from the case. But she eventually made her way over to me, and I lived to give you--the internet--this Masonic Emblem-Shaped Swiss Upside Down Watch Pendant Necklace.

What a mouthful, I know! But there is so much to describe! It's a watch, it's a pendant, it's a necklace, it's upside down (I will explain) AND it looks remarkably like the Masonic compass and square emblem. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?!?

Someone might have to hire a pack of aliens, fly to Paris, and follow lay lines to uncover the esoteric significance of this piece, but it only takes me to tell you that it is totally RAD. Very 60's sexy secretary chic, it is a phenomenal "wow" accessory to add to your wardrobe. You will DIE when you find out how much I paid for this..............TWO DOLLARS, written on the back of the watch in black Sharpie.*

As for being upside down--you cannot tell from the picture because my camera does not have a powerful enough zoom--the face of the watch hangs upside down. As in 12 is on the bottom, and 6 is on the top. When I first noticed this, I thought, ooooooohhh, that's why it's only $2.....hello, rocket scientist, it's because if you are wearing it, and you're going to look at the time, you turn it to face you, and it is right side up. The wonder of design.

*for some reason soooo many thrift stores insist on doing this with jewelry and housewares; pricing things in sharpie. I find that the best bet in removing it safely is to use nail polish remover, on metal, ceramic, and glass surfaces, at least. Anything that seems pigmented, treated, or varnished, you probably don't want to attempt.

January Jewels: Woven Metal Bangle

As if I hadn't already scored enough that day, my adventures at the St. Vinnies jewelry counter did not end with the two fantastic Indian metal cord necklaces. Sitting on top of the counter, directly next to the rack of plastic beads that rendered the chunkier of the two necklaces, sat a little wicker basket full of equally underwhelming plastic bracelets. Other than its possible anthropological value of serving as an effective survey of the history of Claire's boutique, 1996 to the present, the basket did not seem to warrant my attention, nonetheless perusal. But if there could be one golden rule to thrifting, it might be that looks are almost ALWAYS deceiving. In this case, again, they were.

Inspired by my previous find, I rummaged through the basket. Beneath the plastic crystal carnage laid the real treasure; in the same genre of completely stunning metal working technique (which leads me to assume that this piece is of the same provenance as the Indian necklaces) is this woven multi-metal bangle.

This piece, amazingly, didn't warrant the protection of the glass case either, and only set me back $3. From my limited knowledge, this seems to be made of brass, copper, and possibly silver. You can see from the picture how reflective the pounded silver-colored metal is, which makes me think that it really is silver. Whatever it is, is provides the weft for the basketweave effect, while copper provides the warp, while brass is the framework. It is really incredibly eye catching, and a stand out new addition to my bangle wardrobe.

More incredibly, this is not the last that the St. Vinnies jewelry counter had to offer me! To be continued...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Check out our THRIFTING TIPS!

Well, my week has even got better because I just figured out how to successfully post pages on Operation Sparkle! With customized badges! That I made myself!

The page that we are most excited about here at Operation Sparkle is our new Thrifting Tips page! Laurie and I have been compiling an ongoing list of all the tips we come up with during our thrifting trips and finally have them set to share with you, the readers of Operation Sparkle. So even though the tips will always be readily accessible on the sidebar under, naturally, "Thrifting Tips," in celebration of this glorious accomplishment, we are sharing them here as well!



1. WISHLISTS. One of the best things about thrifting (and there are so many best things about thrifting) is that if you can find almost anything and everything you could ever want and/or need. That said, if there is something you need or covet, put it on your list and keep an eye out for it as you thrift. Your wishlist items can also be a guide for how you navigate each shop you go to. Just be sure that your obsession with fulfilling your list does not cloud your vision to the point where you overlook items that are just as cool (or cooler!) than what you dreamt up in your mind.

2. With that in mind, BE PATIENT, and don't settle for less. If you are looking for a specific item, don't leap for something that half-ass fulfills your dreams. Eventually, if you persevere, you will find exactly what you are looking for, and maybe something even better.

3. Figure out when the SUPER DEALS are. Many thrift stores have special discount days, bag sales, or specific tag colors for 50% off. These kind of deals, on top of thrifting in general, are THE BEST kind of deal.

4. Have a GAME PLAN. Plan out what shops you are going to hit, know where they are, how long it takes to travel to them, what time they close, and budget your time accordingly. Thrift stores, because they are often tied to religious/nonprofit organizations, have notoriously weird hours. Tons of places are closed on Mondays, lots of places close at 4:00 or earlier, some have totally nonsensical hours. Nothing is more heart breaking than arriving at next possible goldmine to find it has closed twenty minutes prior. This situation totally sucks.

5. BRING CASH. Lots of thrift shops refuse to bow down to the corporate evil credit card companies and will only accept your benjamins (or abes or washingtons or jacksons or hamiltons). This also helps avoid embarrassing confrontations with very annoyed old ladies who do not approve of your inability function for five minutes without plastic, resulting in you shamefully trying to find the nearest ATM.

6. KEEP YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME. Don't be hungover. If you are hungover, drink some coke and eat some fried food. Be sure to carry tums with you. Or just get drunk again, because drunk shopping is, like, the best.

In the store

7. SHOES FIRST. Great shoes are thrifting gold and this section is usually the easiest to breeze through, due to how it is laid out.

8. DO NOT DISCOUNT categories/departments that don't "fit" you. If you are negative sized, plus sizes can be great oversized pieces. Menswear can be excellent for the ladies. Petites can produce perfect high-waters. Be open to nay.

9. DON'T SKIM. The only thing that skimming leads to is missing out on fabulous finds. There is very little you can truly tell about the contents of the dingiest looking rack without actually looking through it, piece by piece.

10. UNIQUE DETAILS rocket a piece from a good find to a great find. Highly consider anything that you simply have never seen before.

11. QUALITY is CRUCIAL. Pay attention to fiber content/materials. Thrift stores are filled with fantastic looking clothes that are made of terrible, nearly unwearable (in my opinion) fabrics. Curse that polyester was ever invented, because there are entire decades worth of amazing, but totally unwearable clothes in thrift stores. Anything 100% REAL--cotton, silk, wool, leather, etc--will make you much happier to wear and survive wear and tear much longer. They also tend to look much less like they came from a thrift store, and there is nothing more satisfying than receiving a compliment on your awesome cashmere sweater, and revealing that it is thrifted.

12. Pay attention to FIT, try EVERYTHING on, and EDIT. Something that looks rad on a hanger can look terrible on you. Not because you are not fabulous, but because there have been some seriously weird silhouettes in style in the last fifty years, and you just never really know until it's on your body. This also saves you a lot of money in the long run that is otherwise blown on stuff you hate as soon as you get home. Dedicating time to trying on can edit down your purchases by more than half, and more importantly, you don't want to end up looking like Gillian Anderson in an early episode of The X-files.

13. Be REALISTIC about how much work you are willing and able to do to fix or alter a piece. Would that dress be cuter if it was just taken in a bit? Do you own a sewing machine/ haven't turned it on in two years? If so, leave it behind. If you have a few skills and sew on a regular basis, your thrifting options are blown wide open when you are willing to alter clothes.

14. On the flip side, be willing to EXPERIMENT and TAKE CHANCES! This is one of the greatest aspects of thrifting! Stuff is cheap so you have freedom. If you try something on, and your friend thinks it's weird and you are not quite sure but there is something about it that is just nagging at you, buy it! In this case, blowing $4 is much better than losing sleep over something that you leave behind that could have changed your life. The things you are not quite sure about often end up being the things you can't imagine ever having lived without.

15. Be aware of your personal "DEAL BREAKERS" and thrift by them—this is closely related to #10 as you should have an understanding of things that, for you, mean no go. i.e. stains, holes, fur, polyester, colors that you never ever wear, high waists, etc. Of course, you can always make exceptions, but having an idea of what your deal breakers are can cut way back on the amount of items you thrift that end up sitting in your closet for months, because they make your ass look the size of China, or whatever.

16. If you are running low on time, look for STANDOUT FABRICS/PATTERNS. This is the one feature that can possibly be communicated to you when skimming, and will increase your chances of finding standout pieces with little time to dedicate to digging.

17. Be aware of THRIFTING BLINDNESS, where you have simply looked at so many clothes for so long that you are no longer able to discern between the good, the bad, and the good ugly/bad ugly.

After you have found amazing finds

18. If at all possible, WASH your new finds asap. Hand wash delicates, silks, wool and other items that radiate a need for a softer touch (Word to the wise: rayon is iffy. Sometimes washing is fine, sometimes it isn't. Whenever I wash something that is rayon, it gets stiff and crumbly and often shrinks. Sometimes this works with the garment and other times not so much, so proceed with caution!). If this isn't possible, and you are a money bags, then get the treasures dry cleaned. If you are not money bags, my new favorite is just throwing non-washable pieces in the dryer on high for ten minutes. I read somewhere this kills bed bugs, but don't quote me on that (so far, so good). If you use the dryer method, however, be sure to keep items separated by color—drying a fuzzy white sweater with a black one only results in a disaster.

19. It is BETTER TO BE SAFE THAN SORRY when choosing a cleaning method—few things are more heartbreaking than destroying a one of a kind treasure before you have even had a chance to wear it.

20. Have the TOOLS to take care of your goods! Leather/suede cleaner and sealant go a long way, especially if you live anywhere that receives precipitation. A hot glue gun and pliers can fix broken jewels, and even the occasional ripped leather strap (they can also help you adorn your finds with even more exciting details, like feathers or gemstones). A lint roller and fabric shaver can remove unsightly fuzzies and pills, making what is new to you look even newer!

21. SHARE your finds! Spread the word about how great the thrifting lifestyle is—tell your friends and share with us at Operation Sparkle!

Thrifting Saves the Week: The T.G.I.F. Accidental Outfit

I know I often go off on how thrifting is the best thing in the world, how it makes me feel like a complete person, and how it has the potential to unite the world and dissipate all of its problems, but this week I had not one, but TWO instances where thrifting totally prevented what was a rather shitty week from turning into the worse week of my life.

What a week it was—we had negative temps all week; on Sunday, my phone was ran over by a car; on Wednesday, I almost had to get my car towed when I got it stuck in a stranger's driveway, only to have my car die the next day; that same day, I failed to gain an excellent career opportunity and lost my peace pin that the nice old man at Northern Sun gave me; and on Friday, I misread the schedule for the library and wasn't able to pick up my holds or return my books. All major bummers.

Despite all of these silly misfortunes, life continues on, in large part because of thrifting. I was able to get my car out of the driveway through the help of my wonderful friend Lisa, two strangers and a thrifted Ouija board from the Dig'n'Save in Madison that had been sitting in my trunk for two years (R.I.P. Ouija board). And then, right after realizing that the library was closed, I put on a great thrifted outfit that I wouldn't have done on purpose. It wasn't until I looked in the mirror that I realized that somehow, mauve, navy, teal, magenta, yellow green and off white TOTALLY go together!

T.G.I.F. Accidental Outfit

I say this outfit was accidental because it was—instead of staring blankly at my closet for twenty minutes before grabbing the same hoodie and pair of warm pants as I normally do this time of year, I threw on the sweater (purchased at the Halloween Bootique, previously featured here) as I was rushing out the door for a vet appointment we were late for. Later, I grabbed the leggings (from the Target basement at the Salvation Army) to wear under my sweatpants to walk the dogs. I always put on a second layer to walk them during the cold months, but I usually stick to other leggings, all of which were in the wash. As I was in the middle of doing laundry, I could only find the matches for a pair of short ankle socks—hardly the sort of sockwear you don during negative temps. To bridge the gap between the sock and the leggings, I threw on the legwarmers, which I thrifted somewhere in Green Bay. And VOILA!—an amazing, accidental outfit!

Because it made me feel so good to have stumbled upon this great color combination, so much so that it brought a glimmer of hope to my otherwise totally crap week, I wanted to share it with you. Because as they say, if you look good, you feel good!

Friday, January 21, 2011

January Jewels: Indian Metal Cord Necklaces

There were two New Year's miracles, that fateful day at the Green Bay St. Vinnies, that lead me to forever reneging my stance that Christmas/New Year's thrifting is the worst. Firstly, was the discovery of a special New Year's eveningwear rack, as documented here. Secondly, was the bounty of the jewelry counter, the finds from which I will unveil over the next few days.

On the spinning rack of generally cheap-y looking plastic necklaces on top of the jewelry counter, this piece caught my eye, primarily because it was the only non-plastic thing.

Still tied to the clasp was a paper "Made in India" tag. Never even worn! The construction of this necklace totally fascinates me. It behaves like a cord, but is made up of individual, bead-like pieces. From what I can tell, the pieces are essentially hollowed out bullet-shaped beads, that are nested within each other, creating a fluid 3/4" thick cord.

The effect is really very beautiful. The other thing that I love about it is the indiscernible color of the metal. It seems like it is somehow gold, silver, and bronze, all at the same time, in different places, depending on how the light hits it.

Once I got over my initial excitement at my fantastic discovery, I got around to actually looking inside the glass jewelry case itself, where allegedly, the good stuff is. The way that 'the good stuff' is curated in thrift stores never fails to fascinate me; what some industrious volunteer found to be the most seemingly valuable and/or prone to theft, and warranting the security of a glass case. The methodology always seems to be mostly revelatory of a single person's unique value system. Again, one of the myriad charms of thrifting.

I digress. Upon looking in to the case, I immediately spot this piece; clearly the sister to the necklace I had just found on the cheapo rack, as evidenced by the identical clasp.

It's funny, because to me, this piece is far less exciting, and worthy of the protection of the glass case, than the previous. But still exceptional, at that. Not quite the mini version, this necklace is made of complete, irregular beads, that give the cord effect a much more jagged texture than the bigger version.

I like to think that these two necklaces were donated by a lady who took a trip to India and bought some flashy souvenirs that failed to translate upon her return home. I am the happy recipient of her overbold purchases.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

How many ways can YOU spend $50 at Savers?

Savers Gift Certificates

One of the best presents I received this Christmas was $50 in gift certificates for Savers/Value Village from my future in-laws. Can you imagine?! I didn't even know that such a thing existed. Now, like the Goodwill, Savers is no little backwoods thrift shop, but when you are given FREE money, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

With my gift certificates burning a hole in my pocket, I decided to stretch my gams and walk the eight blocks to our neighborhood Savers. You may be asking yourself why I don't frequent a shop so close to my house more, and that is because the only good thing I have ever found there has been a cassette tape of Ray Lynch's Deep Breakfast (which appears to be selling for $12.99 on that website, so I guess I got a deal). Free from the constraints of taking money out of my rent to pay for thrifted items, I found shopping at my neighborhood Savers to be much more pleasurable.

Various Media

I typically do not purchase a ton of media thrifting. Sifting through records at thrift stores is a huge time suck (like jewelry, as Laurie just explained, the thrifting market is saturated with people looking for good records to resell or hoard, which leaves stacks and stacks of Barbara Streisand and polka albums with little redeemable material.*) and most books and CDs you can find at the library for free.** Still, I always check out the VHS section, in the vain hope that someone has been dumb enough to part with their copy of Purple Rain. Since I was shopping with gift certificates, however, I decided to treat myself to some goodies—a book on herbalism, Encino Man on VHS (love me some Pauly Shore), a Hall and Oates album (this was an impulse purchase) and two CDs we have at work that I have been coveting, Elastica and the Boogie Nights soundtrack.

Icelandic Wool Jacket

The real, surprising gems, however, came in the form of clothes (naturally). I am in love with this Icelandic wool jacket! I have been in the market for a vintage wool jacket with stripes and this one fits perfectly, with great belling action on the sleeves and the bottom. LUV it.

90's Blue Mini Dress

90's Blue Mini Dress Tag

I am super stoked about this bright blue, 90's long sleeved mini dress. I normally hate long sleeves, especially on dresses, but when you pair them with a short little skirt, they are unmodest enough for me. I am also a huge sucker for 80s and 90s apparel tags (I think someone could do an entire thesis topic on how the names of brands during this time reflect the societal issues in which they came about. I mean really, Positive Attitudes? Style To Go? Nuggets? And this one, In Charge?) and I thought this deserved a special shout out.

The best part? I still have $20 left! Stay tuned for more ways to spend $50 in gift certificates at Savers!

*Tip: You may be more adventurous than me with your musical tastes, but I have found that even if an unknown album looks cool, chances are, it isn't. Record execs figured out a long time ago that putting a hot hippie chick on a record cover can be used to sell something that doesn't remotely sound like a hot hippie chick.

** Libraries rule! Support your local library!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

January Jewels: Because There is Not Much That is Good About January

I am going to tell you something that you already know. January sucks. It is dark, cold, and generally characterized by varying degrees of Holiday hangover. To add insult to injury, Valentine's Day is what we supposedly have to look forward to. Hardly consolation.

To do my part to ward off the January doldrums, I am going to do a recurring feature this month to showcase some super sweet thrifted jewelry pieces I have recently acquired. My thrifting excursions in Wisconsin over Christmas yielded, for me, and unprecedented haul of totally sweet jewelry. Majorly scoring at the jewelry counter is a very rare thing, as those of most thrift stores are stalked by opportunistic resalers who are well versed in what the good stuff is, even on the costume end.

That said, the bulk of my finds were in the bangle division. For whatever reason, it was a total bangle-fest out there. I feel like I just acquired a whole new wardrobe of bangles! Which is something worth being excited about.

The first I will feature is decidedly springy, and will probably not get much play until then, but is a pleasant reminder that there is light at the end of the tunnel; this fantastic floral printed plastic bangle bracelet!

This piece caught my eye instantly at a Bethesda in Neenah, WI, and the price was decent, at $3. Bangles are a thrift store fixture, but I don't know if I have ever come across a printed one before. The print is so totally exceptional that it almost looks painted. Matching earrings were sitting nearby, but they definitely occupied the cheesier end of the plastic jewelry spectrum, so I left them behind.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Special Trip: The Goodwill in Stillwater, MN

I have to admit that there have been times when I considered scrapping the first "special trip" I attempted for Operation Sparkle. As discussed earlier, one of our 2011 features is documenting new thrift stores we check out. This has as much to do with widening our thrifting opportunities as it has to do with giving me an excuse to take day trips (and thrifting on family vacations).

That said, my fantasy for these trips included finding cute, little shops in backwoods towns, run by sweet, old, Lutheran ladies. I imagined these shops filled to the brim with amazing deals, all of which are dictated by color schemes, handwritten tags and bag sales.

This is not what I experienced for my first trip, mostly because we went to a Goodwill. My friend Molly grew up in Stillwater and has been telling me for months that we have to go check out the Goodwill there. Having a willing participant who had previous knowledge of what we were getting into, it seemed natural to check it out. So with Molly in tow, I traveled the 40 minutes northeast for our first special trip.

I wouldn't say that the results were exactly disastrous, but they were pretty humorous. I ended up with some pieces I simply could not turn away, but for a hefty price tag ($35 on four things!). I do take pleasure in the fact that they all meld into the same color scheme (though thrifting often yields a whole mishmash of random pieces, occasionally I will find that everything I get on one trip goes together)—black and white with a pop of maroon red from the crazy heels I wore on New Years.

New BCBG Generation Suede Pumps

It pains me still to look at these, but they are so cute.

Polka Dot Suit Jumper

Black and white polka dot jumper.

Black and White Cocktail Dress

Black and White Cocktail Dress (back)

Black and white cocktail dress. This piece set me back $9, but I ended up wearing it to my family's x-mas, so I suppose it is worth it. I just feel so classy and proper in it. I love the gathered waistband and the sleeve detail (plus, I am a sucker for button-up backs).

Velvet Overalls

Velvet Overalls (close-up)

Dressy velvet overalls. Are you kidding me!?

The whole experience was pretty ridiculous, even laughable. Instead of being in some old building downtown, or in a church basement, the Goodwill was in a brand new building in a new business district that also included a Lowe's. The staff was rather unfriendly (the woman checking Molly was incredibly rude to her, even though it took her 20 minutes to check out, after which we had to return as the woman overcharged her by $10. When we returned, the woman doing her refund, though nicer than the cashier, told her that she was going to get $800 for a Beatles White Album she just found (if she is in charge of pricing, this explains a lot).), a far cry from the sweet, old ladies I had been looking forward to making small talk with about the weather. The vintage Coach purses were barricaded in a glass case, though I could make out the outrageous pricing—$60! Despite the quality items I found, the whole experience felt more like shopping at a TJ Maxx than a thrift shop.

After our Stillwater experience (and a few other times I have poked my head into Goodwills around various towns), it seems clear that for some, Goodwill is a good thrifting option. As I found, there can be nice, quality merchandise stocking its racks at a fraction of what it would cost new. Still for me, Goodwill simply fails as an Operation Sparkle-worthy shop because it is so dang expensive. I do think, however, that not all was lost in experiencing this trip, because it gave me a better idea of what to be looking for for future special trips—that the backwoods, little old ladies and bag sales are really the sorts of treasures that I want to unearth.

Onward and upward!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Thrift Off #1: The Decision

The air this past week on OpSparkle has been thick with the spirit of ruthless competition. Give two thrifting alphas the opportunity to outdo each other, fifteen years of friendship will be forgotten, and blood will be spilled. Especially when there are so many big cats involved.

In spite of our shared determination to annihilate each other, Thrift Off #1: African-Themed Dresses, was a tie. Following is a recap of the votes we each received;


HOLLY. I'm sorry to disappoint you with my tardy vote, but I won't disappoint with my decision. I vote for Holly for the following reason: I don't like Laurie's dress. (Sorry, Laurie). The print on Laurie's dress looks like a Cosby sweater or something. Maybe its cute on? I have to go with cats in this case. Cheetah, Leopard, I don't care, it's a winner. -Mary W. via OpSparkle comments

I don't think it's a contest. I like Holly's because of the cat print and the cap sleeves and the single giant hole in the back. Laurie, I am sorry to say but the two giant holes on the back of your dress scream that you are hiding your bra when going braless in a backless dress is the only real option.-Cortney H. via OpSparkle comments


This is super difficult, because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings!!! Ah! But Laurie I have to say your argument, for the sake of argument was right on. You get my vote! But I do think both dresses are awesome! -Sarah B. via Facebook

can i vote here? i'm gonna have to cast my ballot with Laurie. (sorry, Holly). But her thoughtful commentary on the semantic hurdles facing fashion bloggers was impressive and provoking. Additionally, I appreciate geometric prints. However, those cats look like they're really roaring on yours, Holly! -Annie O. via OpSparkle comments

Analyzing our feedback, I am going to venture to say that this competition was characterized by the strength and flashiness of Holly's dress (I admit), and my rhetorically strong argument, forged out of a realization that I might easily succumb to the mass appeal of cats. I am also pleased to see how thoughtful and polite our readers are, there being a great concern for the feelings of Holly and I. This should never deter anyone from voting, however, we can handle it!

Thanks to all who participated! If you didn't participate, you will have another chance!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Voting for Thrift Off #1

Just wanted to put out a reminder that we are wrapping up voting for the first Thrift Off tomorrow (we decided to extend the deadline until tomorrow evening, at midnight central time). You can vote by commenting on the posts from the Thrift Off, including this one, or on our facebook pages. Sorry the voting system is a bit archaic...if anyone has any better suggestions as to how to keep track of votes, please let us know!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Thrift Off #1: Laurie's Defense

Ha! Holly has played directly in to my hand!

Sexy this, sexy that, as though sexy dresses are something that are hard to come by. I can walk out my front door, walk four blocks in any direction, go in to any old Rainbow or Strawberry, swing any old dead cat, and hit fifty "sexy" dresses. Hardly an accomplishment.

A dress that is truly worth celebrating is like a woman that is worth celebrating; one that plays many roles and wears many hats, effortlessly and gracefully. Holly's dress is like a real housewife who thinks that her life is soooo hard because managing her vacation staff and her household staff at the same time is just TOO HARD. Rather one dimensional, is what I'm saying. My dress is like the one real housewife that actually works for a living, and is still the hottest housewife at the party, because she is confident and not trying too hard.

Would you go braless to the office? To deliver a closing statement or negotiate a merger? I think not. Holly's dress is strictly for the club. My dress, however, is totally appropriate for both. How? Not to utilize a well worn cliche to describe and ironic, overly parodied hairstyle, but it is indeed business in the front, and party in the back. Throw a blazer over the dress, and no one is the wiser about your bare back. The front, with its "long arms" (or long sleeves, as they are more commonly known, I didn't learn that in fashion school), mock turtleneck, and just above the knee length are sure to be taken seriously. After work, when it's party time, take off the blazer, and a seamless transition is made. You can even keep your bra on without your strap being exposed. This feature may seem "lame" to small chested women, but feminist or no, this is actually a totally amazing design feature if you aren't endowed in such a way that bralessness is always an option.

To address the print issue. The multi cat print is indeed flashy and fun, but it is in fact just that, pigeonholing the dress for party time. On my dress, what Holly refers to as "essentially a mash-up of nondescript scribbles and shapes", is actually a reference to the highly sophisticated, often marginalized, geometric designs of traditional Malian mud cloth, which I find to be some of the most astonishingly beautiful textiles out there. But that is just me.

Also, it is hard for me to be all that impressed by Holly's cat print, because I found this printed silk tank two years ago thrifting in Pennsylvania.

Been there, done that.

That's it! Now VOTE!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thrift Off #1: Holly's Defense

There are SO MANY THINGS worth bragging about this little number. For ease of argumentation, I am going to arrange them in numerical order, with least relevant to most relevant.

6. The soft washed-out color of the dress. The muted earth tones allow the other awesome elements of this piece to stand out and prevent the dress from being too obnoxious. This also means that it is impossible for the colors of the dress to bleed onto other garments in the wash. Plus, it is genius how the brown shades of the cats blend into the olive green, which is just one aspect of the amazingness of this print.

5. The specialness of my dress' mock turtleneck. This sort of a joke, just like how mock turtlenecks are sort of not turtlenecks. I really don't like mock turtlenecks. But on this dress IT LOOKS RAD, especially because it is offset by the #4 element of my dress (bare arms), which guarantee the whole look is demure with a bit of mystery and sexiness. Plus, it is secured by sweet little black buttons that remind me of black diamonds, which remind me of my 80's boyfriend, who is actually my fiancé.

4. Flared arm holes. This is where my ignorance of fashion terminology is revealed. I am sure that Laurie would have some specific title for such a cut, like "trapeze sideways sheered sleeves." Or something. I don't know what the correct terminology would be, but I do know they look sweet. Plus, doesn't this make you think that I am the underdog, who, despite being under-educated and lacking proper training, pulls ahead with determination and spirit!?* Also, the long arms on Laurie's dress make me think of what the women on the Juniper Creek compound in Big Love would wear if they had the internet and knew it was no longer 1890.

3. Unlike Laurie's number (and many of the pieces we display on Operation Sparkle), you can actually see the sexy shape of this dress while it is simply hanging artfully on a hanger. It is like wearing Spanx without wearing Spanx.**

2. Diamond cutout back. I have really sexy moles on my back and this cutout allows me to show them off. It also prevents one from wearing a bra (unless she wants to look like a hussy) and that is totally something feminists do.***

1. Random, assorted large cat print. Have you ever seen anything like it? A print that combines all of the wildest, largest cats in the world? Not only does it feature realistic looking cats, but it also incorporates their fur patterns into abstractions, which is very artistic. While Laurie is correct in pointing out that tigers are not actually from Africa, I think this discrepancy points to how the creators of this dress were actually aiming to spread a peaceful message of unity to the entire world (after all, how would they know that someday the dress would be on deck for an African-Themed Print Dress Thrift Off?). While Laurie's dress is essentially a mash-up of nondescript scribbles and shapes, my dress confronts the racial, ethnic and geographic differences that divide us every day, while also providing a solution as to how to overcome these differences (with cats. Big ones.). The solution, of course, being fashion.

*VOTE FOR ME! My dress has cats on it.
** Whoa. They have Spanx for men. Whoa.
***This is what a feminist looks like!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Thrift Off #1: African-Themed Print Dresses: The Response


I present my Response to Holly's challenge. It is an equally African-themed*, mock turtlenecked, backless, knit dress!

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B (backlessness):

Exhibit C: African-Themed Print

Rather equally matched, I would say! I am sure that most women would feel blessed to have either garment gracing their closets.

It is my feeling, that the equally myriad gifts of both Holly and I--which are readily on display on this blog--are also, equally matched. The true test of this initial OFF will most definitely be of our heretofore unseen rhetorical gifts (who has a collegiate debate coach for a live-in boyfriend!? Watch out, woman)! And can only be judged by you, our readers.

In our next two posts, we will unleash on each other, and we invite you to unleash your votes!

*In acknowledgment that "African-Themed" is an insufficient, blanket term to describe the commonality of these prints. "African-Themed" seemed to be the least insufficient, and blanket, compared to the other alternatives of common design parlance--i.e. tribal, primitive, and worst of all (in my opinion) "ethnic"--which are, at best, reductive, and at worst, just plain offensive. Without knowing the more precise origin of the style of print seen in my dress, yet knowing it is indeed continentally African in original aesthetic, and the animals in the print of Holly's dress also being natives of various parts of geographical Africa (with the exception of the implication of the presence of a tiger, which are Asian, and were similarly thoughtlessly assembled in a presumably African collage), these semantics were thoughtfully chosen.