Book Review: Thrift Score

It all started when I was a kid. I would walk to the convenience store, get a blue raspberry lollipop filled with gum, and head to the thrift store a couple shops down in the strip mall, where I would peruse stacks of used books and feed my Archie comic addiction with their huge selection. I poked around other parts of the shop—at furniture, wicker baskets, old wedding dresses—but I wasn’t interested in that stuff yet. As I grew older, moved around, and found new thrift stores, the sections I checked changed: black clothes to cut up and safety-pin back together when I had just started high school; boots, belts, and shoes; dresses to alter once I started sewing, cassette tapes for when I got my car, and vinyl to play when my roommates had record players. Over time, I learned that the key was to check every section and leave your trip open to the thrill of discovery.

Now imagine someone who has dedicated most of his or her life to learning these tricks of the trade, someone who can perfectly describe the thrill of the hunt, the ever-growing mental list of things you want to find, the triumphs and tribulations of searching for that perfect item amongst the discarded. Al Hoff is that person, and reading Thrift Score feels like sitting down and listening to a real thrift expert funneling years of that knowledge straight into your brain. In her introduction, Hoff mentions that the content of Thrift Score is as varied as what you might find in a thrift store, and this observation is apt. Chock full of facts, tips, and trivia, it’s hard to believe so much information can be crammed into one book.

The first section of Thrift Score talks about thrifting as a concept, describes its history, and includes some basic strategies for when you hit the store. The rest of the chapters are divided into “rooms” for convenience (kitchen, bedroom, patio/pool, entertainment, etc). The tone of the book retains the intimate feeling of a zine, full of personal stories, thrifting anecdotes, trivia about all manner of things you might find in a second-hand store, and the typical ponderings that all thrifters contemplate (why are there so many macramé owls in this world?).

You can definitely feel that the book is based on a zine – it’s full of side panels, lists, facts in the margin, and pictures with funny captions. Although the whole thing is well organized into multiple chapters, headings and subheadings, at first glance the sheer quantity of information can feel somewhat overwhelming. But, happily, the book’s format lends itself to dipping in and out whenever you feel like it (today I’ll learn about dead fads! Or choosing a cookbook! Or throwing a theme party! Or decorating a living room using only orange items!).

I am an inveterate thrifter, as are many of my friends. If you’re in this crazy boat with us, you’ll probably enjoy a flip through Thrift Score. It’s a great reference if you’re ever looking to purchase something specific (since it includes tips on how to buy quality items in each category) or planning a theme party (there are tons of ideas on to do it on the cheap), or just looking to impress your friends with your knowledge about the collectible lunch box craze. Trying to describe what lies within Thrift Score is like trying to list every item in a thrift store at any given moment. You’ll just have to trust me when I say it’s worth it to take a look, even if thrifting isn’t your thing. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty—you never know what kind of treasure you might uncover buried amongst everything else.

Thrift Score by Al Hoff, Harper Collins, 1997
Review by Ave Smith
Photography by Anna Fitzpatrick
Modeling by Ted Kulczycky

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Thrift Score

  1. Okay, I am seriously stoked to look at this book. When I saw the title I was sort of dismissive (since I think most of us who have done this for any length of time feel like ‘experts’ in our own way) but now I think I’ve got room to learn some new tricks.

    And what could be better than finding MORE ways to love thrift shops?!

  2. This is one of my favourite books, and is one of the main inspirations for WORN. Also, I have a huge crush on Al Hoff, she is awesome.

  3. I am really excited to read this! I shop in Toronto at a place called buy the pound where there are no isles…just lots of shit stuffed into bins…and ive found my best things there because im not limited to isles, or prices or sections. I let my hands move over fabrics instead!

  4. Okay…so there was a buy the pound downtown about three years ago, but then it closed down and relocated to scarborough – 35 Emblem Court – but they have moved AGAIN – still in Scarborough, and the new one does not have as large a clothing selection BUT, I had one of best shops at the new one because I got really practical things like a striped crop top that I just blogged about (

    I dont have the address on hand but call this number

    Goodwill Industries of Toronto Tel: 416-362-4711
    I think it might be something like 250 progress road.

    WAIT A MINUTE! is this hillary who went to inglenook?

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