This article was originally posted on the College Year in Athens blog as part of my MediaLab internship.
Back at school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, I work at a local second-hand clothing store called Rumors Thrift Boutique. I’m surrounded by thrift, vintage and consignment constantly. In 2018, I gave up shopping fast fashion and strictly bought only pre-owned clothing and shoes. When I came to Athens in January, I was so excited to thrift unique pieces here. I could buy a simple sundress here, return to the U.S and say: “This dress? It’s from Greece.”
A number of other students were also searching for the best thrift store in Athens, a trend CYA’s social media coordinator Sofia Stavropoulou says has grown in recent semesters.
The first thrift store some students and I shopped at was The Kilo Shop. We were a group of 10 or so Americans running in and out of the dressing rooms trying on everything from mom jeans and cyberspace-silver skirts, to peasant tops and wedding dresses.
I was looking to buy a pair of jeans and asked the associate where high-waisted pants were racked. After looking around more, I ran into the same sales associate, who carried with her a pair of blue velveteen pants. “For you, I think.” she said. Unfortunately, they didn’t fit, but it meant a lot that the sales associate took the time to help me find a unique piece.
The Kilo shop is probably the most well known thrift store among students. Everything is priced by kilo, marked by different colored tags indicating whether an item is 20 euro or 40 euro per kilo. The price is daunting at first, but for a lightweight skirt or top, the cost is usually less than 10 euro.
However, not all thrift stores are built alike. So far, I’ve visited five thrift stores, each with their own unique qualities. Some are great for a quick find for a surrogate sweater that you forgot to pack on your way to Greece, others are perfect for a special vintage find.
Studying abroad often limits wardrobe choices for students and many rely on finding items here to substitute for missing pieces. For me, I needed a new pair of jeans to replace a pair that ripped and nice shoes I could wear in a professional setting (the Delphi Economic Forum I wrote about here).
Obviously, I looked toward the thrift shops before checking stores like H&M, Forever21 or Bershka, but I found thrifting here to be a bit more difficult than back at home. Granted, I worked at a thrift store twice a week, so it was quite easy for me to find what I needed (read: wanted).
The first struggle I encountered was figuring out the sizing. At stores like H&M and Forever21, the sizes are listed in US, EU, Canada and more. When shopping second-hand, you really have to guess what will fit–especially if you’re shopping in a different size scale. I learned this the hard way when I stepped into the nearest consignment store to buy a pair of shoes and the store clerk asked for my size.
“Well, it’s tricky because I’m a half size, so I can fit in anything from a 6 to 7.” As soon as the numbers slipped out of my mouth I recognized my mistake, which was confirmed by the woman’s puzzled look.
European shoe sizes are organized by numbers ranging from 35-43 for women. I remember working at the thrift store in Chapel Hill, I had to reference a chart behind the jewellery display that cross-listed the different size charts when we needed to label a shoe that had come from Zara UK or Asos.
“Hmm… Or somewhere between a 36 and 37?” I corrected myself. Which, I found out, apparently is a size too small and uncommon for most thrift stores around here to carry and is also not my shoe size. A problem I seemed to encounter at other shops as well.
I would pull skirts and pants that were similar sizes to what I’d wear in America, or looked like they would fit, to no avail. The proportions didn’t work well; a lot of the bottoms were very low waisted with slimmer legs. I don’t understand why it’s off. The metric system, maybe? Or Europeans are truly hipper than Americans.
In the end, it was much easier for me to find the shoes I was looking for at Forever21 considering the time crunch I was in. I do wish I found the perfect pair of vintage Greek shoes but sometimes things are just not meant to be.
Although, when looking for souvenirs, gifts and other items to remember my time in Greece, thrift stores, antique shops and street vendors always provided the greatest treasures. I cherish the one-of-a-kind keepsakes like the precious barrette from an antique shop in Plaka or the sparkling silver skirt from a thrift store in Monastiraki. If you have the time to slow down and appreciate the history, culture and memories found in previously loved items, the best will always surface–like a diamond in the rough.