Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Excuse me while I block the aisle

It's become pretty clear on this blog that op-shopping (or thrifting or scouring charity stores, depending where you're reading) is one of my favourite past times. Maybe you and I frequent the same store. You'd know it if we do - I'm the one on the floor, crouched over the scarf bin, getting in everyone's way as I painstakingly go through each piece, looking for the lovely silk numbers.

It's a worthwhile effort. Silk scarves are practical and pretty. You can wear them to work, you can wear them in your hair, you can channel Jean Seberg or Jacki Onassis or Marilyn Monroe or the Queen and use the same scarf for each look. And there are some great bargains to be had. Here's how I search and what I look for.

First - the most sought after and expensive fabric is silk twill. This is the fabric used for the best quality scarves. It is a dense fabric, a tiny bit papery to touch, but smooth and quite durable. It actually rustles when you wave the fabric, and because of it's strength it holds dyes and prints very well. If you're not familiar with the feel of good silk, hang around the scarf section of your local department store. Take a bit of time to feel the weights of the silk scarves, then do it with your eyes closed. Check the label, compare the feel of good silk to polyester. This will help you identify good scarves when you're thrifting.

Okay, so you're on the floor in the thrift store and you got a little rustling pile of silk scarves to go through. How can you tell the really really good ones?

I check the edges first.
The best quality silk scarves will have rolled edges, not machine hemmed. They means your scarf has been finished by hand - literally rolled around the edge like a pastry and carefully stitched closed. This is done to prevent the edges from fraying.

Next, look closely at the pattern:
The attention to detail in this critter is high, the colour saturation is quite deep and the print is even - no colouring outside the lines, no streaks or patches and a high level of fine draftsmanship. A cheap scarf won't have the same level of care in its patterns: the colours will be outside the lines, they'll overlap, the colour will be uneven and maybe garish because of the cheap dyes used.

The patterns and use of colour can be of great significance - a design or a colour scheme can be used to represent a collection or favourite them of a designer:

This is from Madame Gres and dates from the early seventies. This French fashion house was renown for it's sophisticated and womanly clothes. She used lots of shades of cloudy blues in her suits and dresses.

Now you've examined your scarf up close, shake it out and look at the entire design. It will look like a framed image. Whether it is design, a print or a scene, when you see it in the context of the entire scarf it will work as a full picture:
This is a Gucci Accornero, as are the butterflies I've been featuring. If you like Gucci you've probably seen variations of this prints a lot in the last few years. All of these illustrations look as like pages from a very handsome botany text book. These incredibly pretty & skillful designs were originally issued on clothes and accessories in the sixties and seventies, and were all drawn by an artist called Vittorio Acconero. (You can read about him and the history of his designs for Gucci here.) Alot of people actually collect silk scarves to frame, so intricate and beautiful are the designs. The Accorneros would all make for a pretty impressive gallery. I have been lucky enough to find two - one with a pink border that does a lot of work with my summer clothes, and another with a brown border that looks great with denim. Each Accornero was found in a scarf bin; the pink one was ten dollars and the brown one ..
...was eight dollars.

Here are some other names to look for - I found all of these in local op shops and vintage clothing stores:
Missoni, four dollars in an Enmore op shop.
Louis Feraud, ten dollars at the Kirribilli Markets.

Pucci, five dollars at an op shop in Newcastle.

Chanel, thirty dollars in a vintage clothing store in Darlinghurst. (More than I would normally pay but, well, it's Chanel. And a beautiful shade of green. And there's little purses! )
And, yes, I've found the mecca of scarves too:
Twice. The military Caty design was five dollars, the dog design below was six dollars. I bought them at op shops in Enmore, and within two weeks of each other. Lightning does strike twice!
Not all the scarves I own have designer names. Some have the same high quality details but no name. All good thrifters know that finding a good brand is part of the thrill of the chase, but we also know that some of the best made and most flattering pieces in our wardrobe are anonymous.

And finally - my personal favourite in the kaleidoscope that is my scarf box. I can pick one of these designs at a thousand paces across a crowded flea market with my sunglasses on:
Liberty of London! No scarf collection would be complete without them.

Do you have any scarf tips for me?


  1. What a marvelous tutorial! I love your scarf collection.

  2. Gorgeous collection, Baxter! I love scarves as well, but often go for the wool and cotton ones. These are all quite beautiful.

  3. Thank you Sheila! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm very partial to wool scarves too, Charlotte, but they are hard to come by in thrift shops down here (acrylic, sadly, abounds!) Cotton scarves are lovely, I agree.

  4. This is wonderful. I can't wait until the term is over so I can march into the next thrift store buoyed up by my insider trading information and park myself in an aisle, Baxter-styles. I have a lovely lovely scarf I bought for 75 cents a couple of years ago. I'm sure it has a rolled hem ...

    I've run into a couple of blogs that you may like, if you have the time or the inclination. Une femme d'un certain age loves a carre as well and does a video scarf-tying tutorial every week (though I'm sure you aren't in need of one): http://www.unefemme.net/.

    And My Edit, like you, is a thrift shop champion shopper and now every Thursday she does a thrift shopping advice column. Her photos are so gorgeous, almost as gorgeous as she is herself: http://myedit.blogspot.com/.

    These are not paid endorsements. Just thought you would enjoy them as much as I do. And as much as I enjoy your blog.

  5. Great tutorial. And you have great luck! Why is it I never find Hermes scarves in thrift shops?

    I did find some nice scarves in my Mom's drawer when we cleaned out her house, some lovely Veras from the '60s. (don't be sad, Mom just moved to an assisted living place.)

    I had a Liberty wool challis scarf someone gave to me when I was a girl - loved it and would love to find another someday.

  6. Susan - my pleasure! Dorky - thank you for the blog links, they are both wonderful. I am continuously delighted by this large varied spectrum of women writing and sharing. Aunt Snow - I love your name and your scarf sympathies. Vera scarves are gorgeous, they come in some amazing designs. Good luck with your Liberty hunt - I'm sure it's out there somewhere!

  7. Hi!

    Awesome post - I love scarves too! :)

    However, I'm an American who recently moved to Sydney and don't know of any good (cheap) vintage stores/ op shops other than the crazy expensive ones on Crown St. Would you be lovely enough to share some suggestions? You can email me at rethinkingpink@yahoo.com.

    Thanks so much! :)

  8. I make tutorials of ways to tie silk scarves, for example transforming them into tops and handbags. Please visit when you have some spare time! http://knotjustascarf.tumblr.com