Stylish and thrifty: Dress like a million bucks while only spending pennies | Kitsap Week

Bonnie McVee is dressed in thrift-store finds, including her boots and jewelry. She is sitting on her second-hand couch. - Erin Jennings
Bonnie McVee is dressed in thrift-store finds, including her boots and jewelry. She is sitting on her second-hand couch.
— image credit: Erin Jennings

From head to toe, Bonnie McVee looks like a well-dressed woman.

And she is.

Only she paid less than $30 for her complete outfit, including her boots. At full retail price, she estimates her ensemble would cost more than $250.

McVee is a treasure hunter and a darn good one at that. While others are resigned to paying retail, her stores of choice are secondhand shops and thrift stores.

Sitting in her comfortable living room, she points to couches, lamps, chairs, rugs and decorations.

“This is secondhand, that is secondhand. This is too. Oh and that,” she said. She continues to walk around the room pointing out different items.

Her decor looks like it came straight from a catalog. And at one point, it probably did. The previous owners paid the big bucks, and McVee got the items for a small fraction of their original price.

McVee said she’s always been a frugal shopper, but financial issues due to medical bills and the collapsing housing market made being thrifty a bit more of a necessity.

“To me it’s more fun to go out and find a treasure and deal than it is to buy brand new,” she said.

Treasure hunting has become a family affair. Her daughters love to find a deal and so does her husband. McVee claims that her husband is a bigger hunter than she is.

“Every pair of shoes he owns has come from the Goodwill or other thrift stores,” she said while holding up a pair of casual loafers that look practically new.

Recently McVee lost 52 pounds. To keep her in properly fitting clothes as she lost weight, she sought out thrift stores and bought clothes in new sizes. A month or so later, as she continued to lose weight, she would donate the clothing back to the store and buy different items in smaller sizes. She continued that cycle until she reached her goal.

McVee brings out hanger after hanger of clothing. Cute jackets, down coats, trendy sweaters. All of the items are current styles and brand names.

She used her bargain-finding talent to help a friend feel fashionable. Her friend was in Hospice and was dying from cancer. She was tired of wearing her pajamas but because of all the weight she lost, her clothes no longer fit. For less than $100, McVee was able to get four chic outfits for her friend to wear.

“They all fit her perfectly and she was so happy,” McVee said.

McVee said she makes the thrift-store circuit about once a week. The more often she goes, the faster she can get in and out of the shops. Stores that are well organized make shopping easier. She especially appreciates the ones who organize clothing by both size and color.

“If I think ‘I want a peach-colored shirt,’ then I go to my size and look for the color and see what I discover,” she said. A well-organized store cuts down on the time it takes to sift through racks and racks of clothing.

McVee puts her nose to work when she’s out thrifting. She has severe pet allergies and always does the sniff-test. If the item passes the test, she washes it  (if it’s washable), or sprays a deodorizer on non-washable items like couch cushions. She also always makes a point to shake out shoes. Footwear is a good hiding places for spiders.

Some negotiation can be done when thrift-store shopping, especially at privately owned thrift stores or garage sales. A good rule of thumb is to ask for 10 to 20 percent off the price. McVee cautioned about negotiating. She said you need to stand firm and act unattached to the item.

“If you are really coveting an item, you won’t come across strong enough in your request for the discount. It’s in your delivery,” she said.

Another way McVee saves money is by participating in decorating-swaps with her friends. She said it’s especially fun in the wintertime when you are bored and need a fresh change.

“We barter items. ‘If you give me your coffee table and picture, I’ll give you my chair.’ It’s an inexpensive way to freshen up your place,” she said. And yes, occasionally people ask for their items back. “Sometimes people say, ‘Can I have my rug back?’ and I say, ‘It’s not your rug. Do you mean my rug?’”

Uh-oh. Sounds like some negotiations are about to take place.


-Check the item over with a fine-toothed comb. Look for tears, missing buttons and faulty zippers.

- Sniff-test it, especially if the item cannot be washed or dry-cleaned.

- Because some stores have an overwhelming quantity, it helps to have an item in mind to narrow down your search. For example, if you are looking for a winter coat, you can focus on the coat racks.

- Know brand names. You will have a better idea of an item’s worth if you know the brand.

- Have a general idea about what an item should cost so you don’t pay close to full-retail price for something secondhand.

- Make regular stops. Keep an eye on items that haven’t sold. It helps with negotiations if you know an article has been sitting around for some time.

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