One of the most volatile categories of thrifting can be found in the Denim Section. Looking for high-quality skinny jeans? HA! Hoping to find an adorably oversized denim button-down that's not covered in cat hair? HAHA! The thrift store sees your normal denim needs and raises you one bedazzled denim vest, one denim maxi shirt with fringe along the bottom, and a pair of maternity jeans that have seen better days.
Why is it so hard to find normal-ish denim at thrift stores? Well, the frequent lack of dressing rooms means that trying on jeans is near-impossible, but really, thrift stores just seem to attract the sort of weird, misshapen denim that the rest of the world rejects. Thrift stores are where the denim from the '90s goes to sleep... forever. Thrift stores are where denim jackets with leopard-print lining pop out from the racks and scream, "WHY DON'T YOU WANT ME?"
I stopped by my local thrift store the other day and within the first fifteen minutes of browsing, I spotted these 12 sad little numbers. Each one elicited a strange reaction from me: some combination of repulsion, empathy, and audible laughter. Someone, somewhere once loved these pieces... BUT WHY?!
1. The Shapeless Denim Skirt That Just Kind Of Hangs There
This skirt is like that guy at the party who lurks around in the corner and occasionally checks you out but won't ever come over and talk to you and so you're just like, ugh. I have always been mystified by this particular length and cut of denim skirt. What is the point? It's not a pencil skirt, it's not a mini skirt. You couldn't do anything active while wearing it, but it's certainly not a dress-up skirt. It's just kind of a denim rectangle. Why? How? When?
2. The Oh-So-Sweet Shirt That Wants To Bake You An Apple Pie
You feel bad hating on this shirt because it just left a wicker basket full of fresh eggs wrapped in a gingham napkin on your doorstep. This shirt is the equivalent of your (imaginary) sweet, elderly, country godmother. But daisy trellis appliqués? On each boob? Nah.
3. Your Mom's Favorite House Dress From The '80s
You own an adorable photo of your mom in this dress. She looks windswept and youthful, and she's holding you as a baby. And then you grew up and shaved your head and told her you were Wiccan and you stopped talking for years and now her dress is hanging there like a musty ghost, reminding you of all your mistakes. Ugh, might as well buy the haunted-looking porcelain doll now, too — your day can't possibly get any worse!
4. The Demi-Capris That Went Hard All Through The Early '00s
You've got to hand it to these wrinkly little fellas. They were YOLO personified circa 2003, 2004. They danced. They frayed. They wrinkled. They looked great with platforms and pageboy hats.
5. The Abandoned Hipster Button Down
This gem has seen the inside of more than one thrift store and, like Sisyphus tirelessly pushing a boulder to the top of a mountain, it is doomed for a life of repetition. For months, it hangs on the rack, until some Brooklyn sprite plucks it from obscurity, wears it to a farmer's market, tires of it, and returns it to another thrift store, where it waits patiently for someone else to recognize that it's "kind of cute, in a kitschy way."
6. The New-With-Tags Jeans That Have Definitely Been Worn Before
This beaten-down pair of dirty-looking jeans with pre-marked wrinkles, creases, and smudges has a lot to offer. Not only have they "never been worn," they sport a snazzy waistband made out of... daddy's tweed jacket? No wonder the previous owners just tucked the tags into the pocket, wore them multiple times, and then tried to resell them!
7. The Maxi Dress That Is Actually Kind Of Cute?!
Your mind tells you that this dress is an atrocity. It's a denim muumuu, for the sake of all that is hipster. Plus, there's a suspicious hairball clinging to the hem [not pictured]. But your heart tells you that you need this dress. It's perfect for floating around town during the last days of summer and would look positively Amish Chic if you paired it with oversized sunglasses and a crisp pair of loafers... WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, TORI?
8. The Horrifying Cowboy-Themed Shirt With A Special Surprise Inside
This is just your average pale denim fringed rodeo shirt, right? Look closer, my lovelies — inside the alluringly unbuttoned collar, you may be able to spot THE MATCHING CULOTTES.
9. The Mini-Skirt That Belonged To A Child But Is Hanging In The Adult's Section
This skirt was probably described as "flirty" in the Limited Too catalog from whence it came, and let's be honest, Dad didn't approve of it. And now it can be yours, for the low, low price of "ew!"
10. The Bedazzled Wonder That The Thrift Store Employees Have Inexplicably Priced High
Any experienced thrifter knows that if you're charging almost $10 for a shirt, we better see a Dolce & Gabbana label attached — or at least a label from Anthropologie, for the love of overpriced home goods. What did the thrift store employees see in this shirt that we don't? Is there gold hidden in the pocket?!
11. The Jeans That Make You Wanna Be 13 Again
The brand is called "Bubblegum" and it is decorated with an alluring constellation of pink and white stars. Snatch up this pair, take yourself to Starbucks, and buy yourself a vanilla bean Frappuccino because you're too young for caffeine.
12. The Purse Made From A Pair Of Blue Jeans
There's one at every store, and this is its sad tale: A long time ago, your Aunt Sandra decided to try her hand at crafting, and sewed a purse out of a pair of old blue jeans. She was thrilled at the results — "Imagine that!" she liked to say — and stuffed it full of receipts and tissues for a few year before donating it to her local thrift store. And this is where it sits, week after week, acting as a sort of miniature deity of the Denim Section. No one will ever buy it. This is its home now.
Images: Tori Telfer