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On Taking a Clothing Risk

Saturday, June 30, 2012 2:00 PM

As I browsed the rack of shirts at the Goodwill in Augusta last week, I was immediately drawn to this tunic:

And of course I was. Look at that gorgeous color, somewhere between emerald and teal. I loved the mix of geometric and floral prints. And while there are no tags other than to indicate the size and the fact that it was made in India, I could tell by feel that the fabric is silk: rustling and slippery and cool.

And yet, I hesitated to bring the tunic home. In many ways, it is all wrong for me. I don't wear much green or any orange. It goes with very few items I own. In fact, I'm now planning to buy a pair of navy leggings to wear under it — and we all know what a bad idea it usually is to buy something that requires that you then go out and buy more, right? I don't own a single other tunic, so any outfits I create with this one will be outside my comfort zone. And it's not just any tunic; it's a kameez, a garment native to South Asia. I am about the whitest person you could ever meet, so I'd like to avoid offenses of cultural appropriation.

So I spent a couple of minutes standing the store aisle, looking at and feeling this kameez. I went to the dressing room and tried it on, and spent a few more minutes pondering. And then I took it to the register and plunked down $4.71 to make it mine. I've worn it once so far, belted and bloused, with the navy pencil skirt I bought at the same Goodwill store a year ago:

I loved it, and I can't wait to find all kinds of ways to wear my new kameez. Buying it was a risk, but because I found it at a thrift store, it seemed like a small risk and a smart one to take. After all, the kameez set me back less than $5, and if it doesn't work out, I can always donate it back to Goodwill.

Thrifting has all kinds of advantages, and one of my favorites is that it lowers the bar to taking clothing risks and trying new things. Another example: I decided I wanted to try using scarves as true accessories, rather than just as a utilitarian accompaniment to a heavy coat in winter. Only I had no idea what shapes or patterns or colors would work best. But now I've built up a collection of maybe a half-dozen thrifted scarves — including a couple of designer, silk scarves — for no more than $25 total, and I really enjoy incorporating them into my outfits. If I ever want to try out a trend, a style of clothing, or a color or pattern that leaves me a bit uncertain, I will always go to a Goodwill or another thrift store first.

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