Couture on the cheap

For some, it's style on a budget. For others, it's an item they'd never find in the mall. And sometimes, it's just the thrill of the chase.

Thrift shopping, either at thrift or consignment stores, is thriving in the South Sound, where there are plenty of distinctive places to find second-hand clothes and accessories, and plenty of people who love to shop there.

“Thrift shopping is very popular,” says Julie Bennett, who opened the Urban Xchange consignment store on Pacific Avenue in Tacoma five years ago. “Some do it to save money, but a lot of people come in to avoid the cookie-cutter, “this is fashionable” stuff (at the mall) that they don’t really want to wear. One girl came in and said she’d spent three hours at the mall and didn’t find anything, but after 30 minutes she’d bought three things here. Everything’s the same at the mall.”

For Kristy Gledhill, who works for Metro Parks Tacoma, it’s all about looking good for next to nothing.

“Sometimes I’ll realize that my whole outfit costs $4 including the shoes, and that makes me feel even better about looking great in it,” she says.

And while Gledhill tends to stick to consignment stores, she likes the challenge of Goodwill: “It’s more of a reward when you find a jewel in the middle of the rack – I like that experience.”

Environmental reasons are another bonus of thrift shopping. Buying second-hand recycles clothes that would otherwise go to a landfill and avoids shipping pollution. Then there’s the human cost.

“People realize that a lot of what you find at the mall is priced the way it is because it’s made by slave labor,” Bennett says. “And it undermines our economy.”

But thrift shopping isn’t just about finding the perfect pair of paisley pants or being environmentally friendly. For some, it’s a financial necessity, a place where prices are a quarter of new. Saving money can make a huge difference, whether you’re clothing your family, looking for Halloween costumes or finding art supplies.

Lynn Di Nino is one of those shoppers. The mixed-media artist is best known for concrete sculptures, but has lately branched out into wearable art such as sweater-coats. She finds everything she needs at the Tacoma Goodwill Outlet on Yakima Avenue and South 27th Street, often called “Goodwill By-The-Pound” for its super-cheap, by-weight pricing system.

“If I need a certain shape or weight for a sculpture, I can find it there,” says Di Nino, who shops there weekly. She also hunts for fabric and old sweaters, and has seen other local artists such as costumer Lisa Fruichante at the store.

But Goodwill By-The-Pound takes a little more nerve than your average thrift store. Huge, shallow bins are piled with unsorted clothes, LPs, books and linens; professional resale hunters guard their carts ruthlessly; shoppers push in line as the bins are replaced hourly with new ones. And there’s a lot of grime – many shoppers wear gloves.

“I’m a pretty seasoned thrift-store shopper,” says Di Nino, who lives on what she makes with her art. “But even I was frightened when I came to the doors. The people in there look ravenous – poking elbows and shoving and when the bins are replaced, people are almost snorting, they’re so eager to get to that stuff.”

As with many thrift stores, you have to go with time, patience and a lack of specific desires, Di Nino says.

“If you’re going looking for a white blouse, forget it,” she says. “You have to be ready for a spontaneous find. It’s a bit like detective work.”

Here’s the bottom line: If you’re shopping thrift, you need to know where to go. At Goodwill or Value Village you might find lower prices, but you’ll have to do a lot of sorting. Individual consignment shops have different angles – one might be great for vintage, others for pricey evening wear or men’s clothes – and different prices.

Here’s the low-down on some of South Sound’s thrift stores.



What you’ll find: Ladies’, men’s and children’s day wear, shoes, artist-made fashion, accessories.

Best for: Slightly grungy fashion.

When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.

Where: 302 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia.

Contact: 360-705-3772,


What you’ll find: Teens’ and ladies’ designer wear, shoes, accessories.

Best for: Brand labels and cutting-edge fashion.

When: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays.

Where: 1540 Cooper Point Road S.W., Olympia.

Contact: 360-705-3373.


What you’ll find: Ladies’ and men’s day wear and designer, accessories, hats, jewelry.

Best for: Everyday wear, unusual bags and sweaters.

When: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays, closed last Sunday of month.

Where: 222 Division St. N.W., Olympia.

Contact: 360-628-8718,



What you’ll find: Lots of ’60s and ’70s vintage in women’s and men’s, handmade cards and jewelry, accessories.

Best for: Designer vintage.

$20 buys you: Funky floral ’60s flares and a matching glass ring.

Extra marks for: The unexpected, such as a row of cowboy boots.

When: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, noon-5 p.m. Sundays; second Saturday market stalls.

Where: Freighthouse Square, 602 E. 25th St., Tacoma, Suite 63 (at the west end, upstairs).

Contact: 253-267-0324, www.ninelivesvintage


What you’ll find: Well-cut suits, designer gowns, shoes, lingerie, accessories, men’s Pendleton, home décor, vintage luggage.

Best for: Classic, conservative styles and fabrics.

$20 buys you: A ruffled Inc shirt or aqua croc-skin purse.

Extra marks for: Arranging by colors for good aesthetics.

When: 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays.

Where: 762 Broadway, Tacoma.

Contact: 253-777-0966,


What you’ll find: Out-of-the-ordinary ladies’ evening and dressy day wear, coats, shoes, accessories, some vintage from 1900s-1950s, costume jewelry.

Best for: Dressy evening gowns and vintage jewelry.

$20 buys you: Feather boa or silk shirt.

Extra marks for: If the owner’s there, you might get personal suggestions.

When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays.

Where: 783 Broadway, Tacoma.

Contact: 253-627-8501.


What you’ll find: Funky vintage and contemporary women’s and men’s, shoes, accessories, ’50s kitchen items.

Best for: ’50s and ’60s dresses, ’70s shirts.

$20 buys you: A black ’80s jumpsuit or a pair of gold ’70s wedge sandals, plus a bead necklace from the $1 tray – orange, of course.

Extra marks for: The orange décor and adorable vintage-style kitchen, where most things are for sale.

When: 2-6 p.m. Mondays; noon-5 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays; noon-6 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays.

Where: 3715 Sixth Ave., Tacoma.

Contact:, also at


What you’ll find: Elegant vintage and contemporary women’s wear, accessories, lingerie, shoes, jewelry.

Best for: Stylish one-off pieces and groovy shoes.

$20 buys you: Dressy gold pumps and a retro lace nightgown.

Extra marks for: The glam-pink boudoir atmosphere and dressing rooms.

When: Noon-6 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays and Sundays, noon-7 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays.

Where: 3903 Sixth Ave., Tacoma.

Contact: 253-761-7810, also shop at


What you’ll find: Contemporary women’s wear, dressy shoes, accessories, handmade jewelry, girls size 10 and up, some vintage designer gowns and coats.

Best for: Nice daily wear and designer jeans.

$20 buys you: A pair of Jag jeans and a sassy tank.

Extra marks for: Hanging jeans so you can instantly find size and brand.

When: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays, noon-5 p.m. Sundays.

Where: 2602 N. Proctor, Tacoma



What you’ll find: Ladies’ day wear, some designer and shoes.

Best for: Fur coats and formals.

$20 buys you: Dark pink Fang jacket and knit/linen tank.

Extra marks for: Comfy waiting area and monthly increasing discounts.

When: 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Fridays, 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays.

Where: 17 N. Tacoma Ave., Tacoma.

Contact: 253-627-8089


What you’ll find: Funky women’s and men’s day wear, locally-made T-shirts and fashion, shoes, vintage LPs, magazines and furniture.

Best for: Student-type grooviness and local fashion.

$20 buys you: A leather mini-dress or “TACOMA” T-shirt, plus a pair of Italian cut-offs from the $1 rack.

Extra marks for: The Den teashop in the back for a cuppa.

When: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, noon-6 p.m. Sundays.

Where: 1932 Pacific Ave., Tacoma.

Contact: 253-572-2280, www.urbanexchange


What you’ll find: Vintage men’s and women’s, accessories, novelty and local-artist-made items.

Best for: Offbeat vintage that stands out in a crowd.

$20 buys you: Leather hotpants or a tattoo-style handbag.

Extra marks for: Groovy ’60s decor.

When: Noon-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays.

Where: 907 Pacific Ave., Tacoma.

Contact: 253-304-1874,, also at


What you’ll find: Vintage men’s and women’s, shoes.

Best for: ’70s T-shirts, ’50s swimsuits, weird belt buckles.

$20 buys you: A vintage Hawaiian shirt and a cowboy buckle.

Extra marks for: The shark on the wall.

When: 2-7 p.m. Fridays, noon-5 p.m. Saturdays.

Where: 213 N. I St., Tacoma.

Contact: 253-383-5661, also shop at


What you’ll find: Everything you’d find on eBay, with the same auction system

Best for: High-quality clothes that don’t make it to Goodwill stores

$20 buys you: Lucky jeans or men’s Ray-Bans.

Extra marks for: At-home shopping, presorted goods.

When: 24/7.



What you’ll find: Women’s, men’s, children’s, housewares, furniture, knick-knacks, books, DVDs, toys, you name it.

Best for: Cheap name-brand clothes and occasional surprises.

$20 buys you: Cashmere ladies’ sweater, corduroy jacket and Merrell shoes.

Extra marks for: Late hours, store-wide sales.

When: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sundays.

Where: 5401 Sixth Ave., Tacoma.

Contact: 253-759-3701,


What you’ll find: Clothes, furniture, books, housewares, all sold by the pound .

Best for: Super-cheap surprise treasures (be prepared to sort through grimy bins) or items for theater, art, projects, etc.

$20 buys you: About 15 pounds of stuff.

Extra marks for: Quick turnover.

When: 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mondays-Sundays.

Where: 734 S. 27th St., Tacoma.

Contact: 253-573-6525,

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253- 597-8568