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Becca McCharen rarely shops at conventional clothing stores. Instead, she sifts through the racks of Goodwill hanger by hanger, searching for garments that inspire. Undaunted by stains and wrinkles, McCharen has an eye for forsaken beauty.

“When you find a piece in Goodwill, it’s like pulling up someone’s history,” she says. “It’s so rich and it’s so textured already.”

McCharen, 23, an urban planner for Lynchburg, gives a second life to thrift store clothing. Sometimes, all that’s required is a simple alteration. A silk bathrobe can be fashioned into a mod wrap dress. Long sleeved shirts can be remade into tank tops. A vintage skirt can be transformed into a bold handbag.

The reasons for shopping second hand are as varied as the bleach stains on acid washed jeans.

For some, it’s a reaction to mass production and consumer culture, a way to recycle instead of adding to the waste. For some, it’s about the hunt for quirky vintage pieces amid hideous muumuus and bad polyester. For others, it’s simply cheaper. And given the state of gas and food prices these days, the number of people in this camp is likely growing.

Lynchburg is not lacking in thrift stores. There are three warehouse sized Goodwills within a 20 mile radius of downtown (Wards Road, Lakeside Drive and Amelon Square in Madison Heights) and a handful of cozy, family owned shops.

Cheap is the bottom line. Prices range from $3.50 for shirts, $2.50 for shoes, $3.50 for pants. Almost everything is less than five bucks.

The sheer amount of clothing can be daunting. The Goodwill on Wards Road displays 2,400 garments at a time. They are crammed on long metal racks row upon row of stripes, polka dots, prints and solids in every hue. Some are wrinkled or lightly stained;
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others still sport a price tag.

But for those willing to sort through the junk, the results can be worth it.

Form and function

For McCharen, reworking thrift store clothes is an extension of the other art she creates. With a degree in architecture, she has an eye for structure and design. She also paints and creates collages, incorporating found materials into her work.

McCharen learned to sew during a stint making costumes for the drama department in college and applied what she learned to her own wardrobe.

One of McCharen’s favorite creations is a pink and white cotton dress she fashioned from a pair of oversized pajamas. The dress has a bustle in the back and quirky details, like a miniature pocket that covers a stain on the fabric. Today, McCharen wears a homemade red skirt that looks like an upside down rose blossom. On top, she wears a striped collared shirt and a navy blue hoodie with the sleeves cut out.

McCharen’s second hand style is also about recycling. She went through a phase in college where she vowed never to buy anything new again, relying on second hand stores and discarded items from Dumpsters.

“I was one of those punk kids,” she says. “So against ‘The Man.'”

Now, she says she has the same ideals but is less extreme about implementing them.

Down to earth

Jen Rahn, 23, a Floridian who now lives in Lynchburg, is a minimalist. She owns a modest number of clothes, and gives what she doesn’t wear to friends or to homeless shelters. But it wasn’t always that way.

In high school, Rahn was a self described “fashion diva” always trying to keep up with the latest trend.

But it wasn’t sustainable on a monetary or personal level. Too much of her identity was tied up in her fashion choices.

Now, Rahn mostly wears neutrals and describes her style as an “earthy, antique look.” Today, Rahn is casual in faded skinny jeans and a green tank top. Her hair is wavy brown and a silver ring pierces the middle of her lower lip.

“I’m not really into paying $30 for a shirt that’s going to end up here anyway,” she says.

She alters thrift store clothing to make it fit better or to tweak the look. For example, she will turn a long sleeved shirt into a vest or tank top. She also shops for material to use for patches, belts and headbands.
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