Alright so this weekend I was able to indulge in a beloved hobby of mine. if you're thinking underwater basket weaving......You are way off base. I had a long weekend so I decided to go shopping in Seoul. Specifically I spent most of my money in Gangnam. If that name sounds familiar to you let me refresh your memory.
This guy increased America's Korean vocabulary by two words. Gangnam is a section of Seoul. (Like how New York City is divided into Brooklyn, Manhattan, etc.... same idea) Gangnam is notorious for being hideously expensive so I wanted to test a particular skill set of mine. Thrifting.
I have many fond memories of long hours trawling through hole in the wall shops looking for something cute and unique for a fraction of the price. I was trained by the best and consider myself to be a veteran thrift shopper. So when I was informed of Gangnams' reputation I took that as a personal challenge. One google search later I was armed with a list of potential stores and was ready to start my adventure.
Before I go in depth in my experience of fleecing Gangnam let me give you a few pointers to enhance your own thrifting experience. (many people I've spoken to seem bewildered by my abilities, it's not that hard.)
1. The nose knows. The first thing to do when you walk into a store is take a breath. Thrift stores often have a unique aroma but don't panic. There are two things I look for when I'm judging the smell of a store. If it smells like moth balls and old lady perfume don't worry; that's something that is easily over come with fabric softener or even just plain old laundry detergent. If it smells like cigarette smoke and cat pee....Leave. No amount of washing can salvage those garments. I don't care if there is a brand new, tags still on Louie Vuitton bag in the window. Don't do it.
2. Show up early. A lot of stores have weird schedules and most close early on the weekends. So to maximize your shopping time, look up the opening and closing times of the stores you're interested in and plan to hit the early closing ones first. Another good point is when you arrive early you have a better chance of finding the good stuff since it hasn't been picked over yet.
3. Carry cash. In my experience a lot of these stores are family owned or are a part of a larger charity and are manged by retirees. The technology for card readers hasn't bled over into all the stores and if it has it's slow as all get out. Carrying cash also gives you the benefit of sticking to your budget and haggling leverage. People are more likely to give you a discount if they see you armed with a fistful of ones. (if only so they don't have to count as much.)
4. Employ the two handed browsing technique. this is something you have to practice to perfect but I've found it to be the most effective way to go through the racks quickly. When looking at clothing, send your non dominant hand ahead of your eyes. Stick your fingers between the hangers and if you feel something you like, pull it out for your other hand to grab. then you can decide you like the way it looks. This method eliminates the need to check every single hanger. My philosophy is that you should never wear something if you don't like the feel of it.
Now, without further ado: My Mapo Gangnam style. In the past when I've gone thrift shopping I had the luxury of my own vehicle. That was not the case this time so I had to make some allowances. Basically I had to exhibit some impulse control because everything I bought had to fit in my book bag and I had to be willing to drag it around Seoul with me. with this in mind I armed myself with 90,000 won (roughly $84.00) and took to the subway.
My first store was one stop away from Gangnam station in Yangchae. Called the Beautiful store it was one in a chain. Beautiful store is similar to Goodwill in the United States. They accept gently used clothing and provide job opportunities and support for needy individuals. This store opened at 10:30 am. I arrived a few minutes before it opened and found people already standing at the door. I stuck out like a sore thumb with this crowd (not because I'm American, come on people) because I was a) young b) not at work. Let me tell you something I've noticed about old folk around the globe. They're all the same. I was taught to respect my elders and I try my dead level best to treat them in a loving and revering manner..............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................But the moment I take a walking stick to the ribs it's all over. Don't let them fool you. They might look frail and sweet but those conniving grandmas will absolutely cut you off in line at the counter. So don't feel bad about shoving past them when they refuse to choose one side of the aisle or the other. I digress. This store had a lot of different things and I bought the most at this one. It was organized by article and color so if you're looking for something specific quickly this would be the place to go. Besides clothes they also had household items like flatware and other dust collecting chotzkies. I walked out of there with three blouses and a book (second Harry Potter in Korean if you're curious.) grand total spent=14,500 won. ($13.50)
My next two stops was actually the same store just two different locations. Vin Prime. These two stores are located inside Yanchae station and Gangnam station. (website gives you directions. It's in Korean but it's not difficult to figure out if you can read. http://www.vinprime.com/main_frame.htm ) Vin prime is different because it's a vintage store that specializes in imports form Japan and Europe. As a result some of the articles smelled like formaldehyde but it wasn't too terrible. If you like frothy, lacy or colorful prints this is the store for you. Things were a little more pricey but the quality and name brands make the extra few dollars worth it. I saw some lovely Burberry coats and blazers. I bought four more blouses at these two stores and my total came out to be 40,500 won.($40.00)
The final store that I went to was not in Gangnam but in Mapo which is a little north of Gangnam. This store is the highlight of my trip. For starters, the store I was initially hunting for no longer exists. I was looking for this eccentric vintage store and in it's place I found a quaint accessory boutique. Secondly I walked past this place three times because I was having doubts about google maps and it didn't have what I consider to be the usual storefront. At first I thought I was invading someones house. Good thing societal etiquette didn't stop me from wandering further in.
It's called Pomelo and while it wasn't what I was looking for, I'm glad I found it. The owner sells a beautiful array of jewelry. Rings necklaces, earrings you name it. The atmosphere of the place was charming as well. It was a stroke of luck that I found it though because at the end of the month they will be moving to a different location. I've followed the store on Instagram at Pomelo_seoul so if you want to get a closer look at her wares take a gander there. I'll definitely be looking forward to visiting the new location. Two pairs of silver earrings cost 28,000 won. ($27.00) I wouldn't place this under the thrift store category but it was worth the trip and I consider it money well spent.
Four stores, seven blouses, two pairs of earrings and one book later equals====83,000 won. ($78.00) Not a bad day at all.