Monday, June 20, 2011

William’s Boutique = Goodwill

I have a little bit of snob in me; I think I get it from my Grandma, who was the type to always changed into clean underwear and her best clothes for a simple trip to the store. She wore fine clothes and was proud of it.

Sorry Gram, but although I love clothes with a fine label like you did, my budget won’t let me buy them at Saks or Nordstrom. On the other hand you’ll be proud of how I managed to add $120 Nordstrom trousers, Macy’s labels and lots of Liz Claiborne to my wardrobe. I even have hundreds of dollars worth of Lane Bryant in my closet.

How? I shop at “William’s Boutique.” (That’s Goodwill to most people.)
Yes. I shop at Goodwill. But don’t tell anyone; I’m too snobby to admit it.

This past week I spent less than $23.00 on about 5 shirts that would have cost me about $140 if I bought them off the rack in their respective stores. Aside from a couple of duds I shouldn’t have gotten, nobody knows my clothes are second hand unless I tell them. (And the dud only set me back about $4-7, so it’s no big deal.)

Here’s how to do it:

First, there are some rules you need to know before you start.

  1. You will be speed shopping. Take a friend (recommended) but do not take young kids as they will slow you down.
  2. You are looking for the few hidden gems in the store. Expect to put a huge amount of merchandise in your cart before you head to the fitting room in order to find just a few items that you will actually buy.
  3. Be familiar with what looks good on you: colors, patterns, style. For example, I know I cannot wear horizontal stripes, lavender, or button up blouses. They just don’t work for me. On the other hand, I get compliments when I wear salmon, florals, and long-waisted pullovers. You also need to know your size based on how the garment looks on the hanger, not based on the tag. There is no standard measurement for sizing womens’ clothing, so a 14 from Target (Mossimo and Cherokee labels) is similar to a size 10 from JCPenny’s (Hunt Club, St John’s Bay) Other tags are wrong due to factory error, or just plain missing. Do not ever rely on the tags inside of the clothes.
  4. Don’t worry about salad dressing or other oily/food spots on the front of blouses. I will explain how to clean them. Ditto for loose/missing buttons if you don’t mind doing minor repairs. Many people would rather toss than fix these two problems, and I have noticed the more well-made (and upscale) the garment is, the more frequently I see these two very fixable issues.
  5. Goodwill’s return policy requires you to leave on the tags, return with receipt to the store where the item was purchased, and you get store credit only that expires in 30 days. That’s a hassle for me, so I treat every purchase as “all sales final.”
  6. Get the store discount card to save 5% off each purchase. It all adds up.
  7. If you really want to scoop up the deals, go to the expensive stores and try on their stuff. Learn the labels that fit your body well, then as you’re flipping through the clothes racks, you’ll recognize when you see an (almost) instant winner. This is how I ended up with so many my favorite labels. Even if it’s questionable on the rack I put it in my cart and usually end up buying it.

Ready to shop?

When you enter the store, grab a shopping cart. This is important. Next, decide what you’re looking for: pants, tops or dresses, and head over to the rack that has your size. Starting at one end, push all the hangers away from then end.

Look at every single piece on the rack, sliding the hanger down to the empty end of the rack, one by one. Don’t skip a single item. Go fast: no more than one second per item.

yuk shirt

Most items will be rejects. The items you are looking for are:

  • In a color/pattern you might consider wearing.
  • In your approximate size.
  • In reasonably good shape.
  • In a style that looks good on you

When I paw my way from one end of the clothes rack to another, the process is sort of like this: 
Flip flip flip (that’s me flipping through the hangers as fast as I can) flip flip flip flip
Oh hell no
flip flip flip flip flip
flip flip flip flip flip flip
What were they thinking?
flip flip flip flip flip
Mmmm, maybe…

When you find something that does not repulse you, put it in your shopping cart.
I usually hang it from the handle of the cart. Ok, you’re laughing about me saying “When you find something that does not repulse you” but this is not ordinary shopping. You can’t expect to find awesome clothes calling to you from the rack. Trust me on this.

By the time you reach the end of the rack, you should have about a dozen items in your cart. At some store locations, I have put as many as 3 dozen items in my cart.

Go to the fitting rooms with your hoard of clothes. Goodwill limits people to 6 items, so take in 6 items with you to start. Just park your cart nearby; you’ll need it. Try on clothes as quickly as you can. I usually average about 45 seconds per item. (I am in and out of the store in about 30 minutes.)

Use your first impression to judge if it’s a keeper or reject. Remember, you’re still speed shopping. If you kind of like it, put it in the keeper pile. If you’re not sure, it’s a reject. Again, go as fast as you can. If it’s tight when you start putting it on, don’t waste time getting it all the way on.

If you brought a friend with you, let them help you judge the keepers from the rejects.

When you have gone through all 6 items in the dressing room, go get more from your cart and carry on. Goodwill probably doesn’t like how I make the switch, but in order to keep the same changing room, I leave on garment #6, stick the empty hanger on the doorknob so the door doesn’t lock behind me, then run out with the other 5 garments. The rejects go to their reject rack, the keepers go to my cart, as I load up 5 more garments and run back to my room. Then I repeat as necessary until I have tried on everything.

Here are the pictures I took in the dressing room during my recent trip to Goodwill:

   bleh   mmmebbee   keeper    
   not bad   NOooo   i like    
   winner winner    Phhhhhtt  
   yep    ugh  

This last one is nice… oh wait. That’s what I wore to work today.

In the end, I started with 12 garments in my cart and bought 5. That’s a good haul. The floral shirt is linen and never worn from Avenue ($50 new), the teal one is Lane Bryant ($50 new), a slinky black polo-type shirt (about $20 new), plus a couple of cotton t-shirt tops (about $10-14 new.)

Oh, and I picked up 3 wicker baskets for a project I’ll tell you about later.


Grand total: $29.47 including about $7 for the baskets.
I used my Goodwill club card for 5% off, which means one of my $1.99 purchases really only cost me $.59!

Last thing - I know the stores are clean and all, but whenever I’m done shopping at William’s Boutique, I always need to do a little post-shopping ritual in my car before I leave the parking lot.

wet ones

PS: I have had several compliments already on my $6.99 teal top. Score!

Next week I will tell you my secret for removing salad dressing and other oily spots from shirts.


  1. Hahaha...flip, flip, flip, WTF...
    That is exactly how I do it, your advice is great. Does your Goodwill have $.99 day? it's the only time I shop, but I don't look for wearable off the hanger, I'm looking for fabric to use for my many projects.
    The only thing I would add is I take all of my purchases straight into the laundry room and wash them, there is no telling where they've been :)

  2. Oh that's funny you and I think the same thing! We don't have a 99c day at ours but we do have a "Goodwill Outlet" that sells clothes by the pound. You have to dig through bins and bins of stuff (I recommend getting your shots updated first, LOL) but you can get great deals. We got a new leather jacket for $2.

    You are right about laundry. I can't believe I forgot to mention that. WASH EVERYTHING as soon as you get it in your house. No exceptions. (You saw that I clean my hands as soon as I get in the car... you think your new purchases are any safer as far as cleanliness goes?)