Thrift Store Madness and Dressing Weird in the 80s | Mark’s Remarks

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Do any of you remember the phase in the 1980s when all the cool kids were wearing oversized coats, vintage hats and all the old stuff? I think it started with teenybopper movies like “Pretty in Pink” and all that. At least WE thought we were cool.

At one time, I had about 13 coats I had found at thrift stores, which were all over the place in the mid to late 1980s. We even found a lady who lived in a little town up north who bought non-claimed clothes from a dry cleaner in Chicago and then sold them pretty cheaply in her store. I bought a cool Army trenchcoat from her and thought I was the coolest.

It was a competition among my circle of friends.  The guys, I think, competed to see who could find the most beat-up looking stuff while still being as cool as possible. The girls were trying for that old-fashioned pretty look from bygone days.  It was a lot of fun and a cheap way to get a bunch of cool clothes. 

We had one friend in our bunch who took thrift store buying to a whole new level. She would find anything that interested her or anything she found to be stylish and would find a way to wear it and make it socially acceptable. Somewhat, anyway. 

I remember once that a few of us were going to a friend’s wedding, and so we had decided to bow to the rules of society and actually dress up for the occasion.  The guys wore real suits and the girls wore dresses, respectable shoes and the like. We looked like responsible young adults; not the usual vagabonds.

Our friend who was not acquainted with the wedding folk came to visit us and we asked her to go along. My mother happened to be cleaning out her closet at the time and was getting rid of a blue poncho she didn’t wear anymore.  Our friend then promptly went to the local thrift store, bought a complete outfit (including a hat), pulled on my mother’s poncho and was ready for the wedding.  

Although she looked a bit eccentric, we all thought she looked great.

My friends and I would get together from time to time after we all went to various universities and the thrift store look was especially current in college towns. Once, during a summer visit, my female friend, who was very athletic and in good shape, found a 1960s vintage one-piece swimsuit. She wore it, along with high-heels and a large white men’s shirt to a dance party that night. It was a big hit with us college guys.  

Probably my favorite story from those “dress-up” days was the time a bunch of us went to a fast food joint. There we all were in our big floppy coats. Some of the guys wore fedoras and round sunglasses. The girls had similar apparel.  And then again, there was our extra eccentric friend, who came into the joint with a pretty scarf over her head, a big fur coat, and a long skirt with high-button shoes.

Some little kids stood in awe of us as our entourage went forward to order our burgers. They especially took note of the queen of second hand as she clomped by in her boots.

One all-knowing little girl turned to the other kids and said “They aren’t from this country.”

Mark Tullis is a veteran teacher in the Columbia School District. Originally from Fairfield, he is married with four children and has been involved in various aspects of professional and community theater for many years. He has written a “slice of life” style column for this newspaper since 2007.

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