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Shopping Thrift Stores During the 1980s

My thrift store adventures began in 1975 at the downtown Goodwill in Colorado Springs. My father took me often where I found many wonderful treasures, many of which annoyed my mom. My dad would buy me dirty teddy bears and dolls with matted hair. Whatever piece of junk I couldn’t bear to leave behind. Just the kind of gnarly toys my mother didn’t want me playing with.

The one great find he bought, which I still have is a beautiful picture of the guardian angel guiding two children across the bridge. I have now had it for 32 years, which seems nearly impossible.

1980s Alt Band

1980s Band The Shem

In the 1980s, when I was in college, I did a lot of shopping at thrift stores with my friends, Alan, Phil and Ken. A favorite stop was the Community Thrift on Portland between 36th and 23rd. We were Generation X; the Nazarene version of St. Elmo’s Fire (without the sin) and Pretty in Pink (without the prom). These guys, along with the brother of a Flaming Lips star, had their own 1980s alt band. It was called The Shem, a name inspired by one of Noah’s sons. They played at SNU’s annual talent show, Pow Wow, and at Fall Fest, the Nazarene-college-campus alternative to Halloween. An audio recording of the band singing an original song, Lamp of Learning, can be found on YouTube.

I loved Alan, Ken, and Phil so much and have so many great memories of our times together. They were very different and they each opened me up to new places, songs and ideas. We went to a lot of thrift stores together, especially Phil and me.

Shopping Thrift Stores in the 1980s

I bought a lot of old prom dresses with velvet bodices at the Community Thrift on Portland. I turned them into pillows and purses or cut them off and made them into really short skirts. I bought a lot of ugly men’s shoes during those days – all of which I was convinced looked completely cool with my all-black attire. I also found tons of old-lady jewelry, which I thought made me look like early-Madonna. Sadly, I don’t have any pictures that capture this season of my life except for a few I took of the guys and one picture of Ken and me at homecoming.

For Those I Loved, Martin Gray

For Those I Love Out of Print Book by Martin Gray

I was looking for a copy of this out of print book For Those I Loved, when a friend who loved thrift-store shopping as much as me spotted it at a thrift store in Oklahoma City in 1987.

In 1986 and into 1987, as Phil would attest, I was completely obsessed with finding Martin Gray, the author of an out-of-print book, For Those I Loved, which was about holocaust survival. My interest was inspired by a class I was taking at SNU at the time. It was taught by Rabbi A. David Packman, “Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.”

I lived and breathed this book throughout the fall semester of 1986. I was 19, and when I finished reading it, I cried about all the things in my little short life of fewer than two decades that I had not yet cried about. And, in a supreme stroke of irony or Universal Guidance or Seat-of-the-Soul-magic, Phil came across a copy of the out-of-print book on the shelves of that Community Thrift. I have never seen a copy anywhere since. I bought it and it’s still in my collection today.

I still like to go to thrift stores. On Sunday, I found a dress at a little known thrift-store on NW 16th west of Meridian. I paid $5.00 for it. It is BRAND NEW – 100 percent linen and fits me pretty well. I rarely buy clothes for myself anywhere – let alone a thrift store – but this was well worth the risk I took in buying it. (I didn’t try it on.)

I’m pretty sure Austin Reed is a high-end brand from the U.K. I tried the dress on for my 1o-year-old who absolutely made me feel beautiful when she said, “Oh, momma! I want you to wear that when you drop me off on my first day of school.” 

Gen X Blog Jennifer Chronicles

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  1. Steph

    Wow, your finds are awesome! I absolutely love to look for books, particularly children’s books, in thrift stores.

    The out of print ones are getting harder to find though, with the advent of Ebay. The dealers are on the prowl in the thrift stores!

  2. Stefunkc

    I started my love affair with thrift stores at a Goodwill in Colorado Springs also! $1 for the cutest plaid pants. I wore them for years!

  3. Debra W

    Hi Jen,

    Just added you to my “favorite places to visit” list. I am checking to make sure the link works and it does! So nice to have “met” you.


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