21st-Century Thrifting: On the Hunt for Dries Van Noten

Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner — the Mason-Dixon ladies — are two of my favorite people in the yarn world, and I’m really happy they now have a webshop and warehouse because it means Ann now works in the same building as me, which means I get to have lunch with her from time to time! A couple of weeks ago, she told me about her idiosyncratic take on thrifting, and I thought it was the perfect way to kick off Long-Worn Week of Slow Fashion October. So here’s Ann—

21st-Century Thrifting: On the Hunt for Dries Van Noten

I have a very specific way of approaching slow fashion: I buy old clothes on the Internet.

One very specific kind of old clothes: anything by Dries Van Noten, the Belgian designer.

A decade ago, I discovered Dries Van Noten when I was lying flat on my back in bed with a cold. It was late, and the Nyquil was kicking in. The Style channel was on, and Elsa Klensch was recapping fashion shows. Willowy women floated into my bedroom, wearing Japanese-inspired fabrics and shapes, and Elsa talked about how this Dries Van Noten person was drawing on paintings by Whistler for inspiration.

Sublime. I thought I was hallucinating. I was a goner.

And I was really gone when I found that his clothes came with astronomical price tags.

That was in 2006. I began to follow Dries the way some people follow the Green Bay Packers. I await each new season, curious to see what will happen next. His fashion shows in Paris — here’s the most recent one — are ten-minute dream worlds where his explosions of color and pattern and texture and shape can bring me to tears.

I do not typically cry about a pair of pants, just saying.

I sense in him something rare: a combination of patience, curiosity, discipline and refinement that should be held up as an ideal for anybody who creates things. The energy necessary to create four collections of this quality each year — two for men, two for women, for 25 years — is hard to imagine.

This is my favorite Dries video because it shows him talking, filmed in his gorgeous Antwerp studio.

21st-Century Thrifting: On the Hunt for Dries Van Noten


Dries Van Noten runs his fashion empire in an unorthodox way. He owns his company, meaning that he answers only to himself, not to a corporation pushing him to improve profits, expand The Brand, or create bedsheets or beach towels or derivative crap. He preserves a pure vision this way.

The Independent writes:

Van Noten isn’t interested in keeping up with his competitors. In fact, he refers to them as “colleagues” – an indication, perhaps, of a magnanimous spirit that is rare in an industry transfixed as much with the bottom line as it is with hemlines. “Style-wise I do the things that I want to do,” he says. “But organisation-wise you have to run a company, you have responsibilities.”

Those responsibilities include to his stockists, his staff, and his suppliers. “I try to see that every season we have prints, so that we can work with our six printers. In India we have a cottage industry involving 3,000 people working on many techniques of embroidery, so for me it’s important that in every collection we have embroideries. Sometimes they’re very in-your-face and visible, sometimes they’re subtle. But they’re always there, so that I can give work to these people.”

The Financial Times writes:

Dries Van Noten, the Belgian designer for whom embroidery is a part of his signature, has been working with the same family-owned business in Calcutta for the past 25 years. “A lot of people assume that if you are going to do embroidery in India, it’s ipso facto ethnic,” says Patrick Scallon, a spokesman for the designer. “But it’s a very respectful creative process. He has his designs, they have their views, and they both inform each other.”

Dries Van Noten’s relationship with the Indian embroiderers has been carefully nurtured, with one full-time member of his staff essentially splitting time between the workshop in India and the designer’s base in Antwerp, as choices are made about beads and fibres.

“It demands investment,” Mr Scallon said. “You can’t just phone it in. Maybe some companies send the work off through an agent but it is worth it to invest in this relationship.”

Most extraordinary: Dries buys no advertising. You will never see an ad in Vogue from Dries Van Noten. But you will see him in the editorial pages, because the editors can’t deny the quality of his work.

21st-Century Thrifting: On the Hunt for Dries Van Noten


My first piece of Dries was a skirt I found in London, 60% off. It was by far the most I’d ever paid for a skirt. Ten years later, it’s my favorite skirt, a dark jacquard with asymmetrical tucks that make no sense except that they shape the skirt in a fantastically tidy way.

I found a few pieces on sale here and there: A coat with a deep brocade border; a quilted skirt; a jacket with Japanese fabrics; a shirt with crewelwork all over it. For the most part, and for many years, my fascination was abstract. I couldn’t see how to justify spending so much on clothes, no matter how much I admired them.

Technology, as has so often happened in my life and work, changed the whole Dries situation.

Clever shoppers have shopped thrift stores for ages, but I never had the focus for them. Too much randomness for me. Now, the Internet has revolutionized the market for clothes sold by consignment. Sophisticated technology allows you to find exactly what you’re looking for. The online consignment business has exploded, and it’s possible to buy the most exquisite clothes in the world for a fraction of their original price.

The Dries I used to dream of is now something I can collect without any pain to my pocketbook. It is indulgent in its way, sartorial ice fishing. You never know what you’ll catch. And often, you come up empty. But I’m telling you about this because this new consignment technology means that beautiful, well-made, enduring clothes are available to us in a way they really weren’t, even a few years ago. Yes, eBay has been doing this for years. But eBay is the Model T of this technology.

If the goal is to find clothes that last, that are made by designers who care about the people making their clothing, that inspire you every time you wear them, then sites like The RealReal and Poshmark are doing something of real value.

And something that is a lot of fun, too.
Ann Shayne


Thank you, Ann! For my part, although I’m a devout garage saler and flea marketer when it comes to furniture and home goods, I’ve never been a clothes thrifter. But over the past couple of decades, I have managed to hold on to some things so long they’re actually vintage — it’s just they’ve been in my closet the whole time! That’s what I crave now, as I said last year: clothes with long lives and legacies. What about you — is thrifting part of your wardrobe, and how so?


PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: Elsewhere

41 thoughts on “21st-Century Thrifting: On the Hunt for Dries Van Noten

  1. My favorite way to thrift is through Army Navy Surplus stores and websites. They have the best-quality stuff! It may have been through a battle or two, but still looks great. I bought some medic messenger bags that I plan to paint and use as knitting bags. My most recent purchase is a russian general’s wool coat that was $40! I do need to dry clean it to get the moth ball smell out, but it’s in excellent shape. I’ll be showing it on my IG account (@mojorao) this week with the #slowfashionoctober hastag.

  2. Generally I only look at hand knit Fair Isle sweaters from Scotland and Ireland. I zip through the aisles and look for colors that catch my eye. Amazing what’s out there and I only go to one store. I did score an Issey Miyake Shower Curtain skirt at either Off Fifth or Last Call for fifty dollars about 12 years ago. So much good stuff out there

  3. I dont have the time or patience to be a serious thrifter, but there are a few places I regularly stop to visit, and when I do shop I look for specifics: Eileen Fisher, Peruvian Connection sweaters (generally sadly underpriced because the consignment stores do not realize that they cost $500), high end cashmere sweaters. Coats (I live in Minnesota, multiple coats are a necessity here) are something I always buy in this way. I wear them till they wear out, but the difference is that I wear them every day…. I don’t save them for “good”. I don’t ever buy online because I have a hard to fit body, and buying something I can’t return is really just adding to the landfill.

  4. Thanks for the great post! He’s always interesting. I have one Dries dress — a lovely, floaty silk number with an asymmetrical neckline and a kind of ombré pallete of charcoal fading to cream. It’s a consignment find and one of my absolute favorites. Never thought though, about the internet stalk. Hmmm. Should have. Funnily enough, consignment shopping for clothes is what brought me back to sewing. The construction of the garments can be so beautiful that it’s hard to go back to the everyday items more in line with my budget. The ones that aren’t lined in silk charmeuse (!!) or made with unusual fabrics. So I am slowly — and sometimes painfully — learning how to make lined dresses and, maybe, the proverbial “little French jacket” in addition to more workaday clothes.

  5. Thrift stores where I live are not that good.. People that live here do not buy designer clothing and I rarely see anything that is worth buying. Most of it is people’s fast fashion castoffs. If I wasn’t going to buy it new I certainly won’t buy it used. I dont have the desire at all to pursue it online.

  6. I have taken on an extreme dislike for shopping of most forms. I’m ok with grocery/food shopping, but everything else makes me squirrelly. Reading this makes me realize I am probably missing out, but think I did enough thrift shopping as a teen to last me for a lifetime. Remember some truly astounding 1950’s dresses I found back in the late 70’s/early 80’s…. Thank you, Ann & Karen, for opening my eyes to Dries Van Noten, I feel a small drop of optimism knowing more about this creative designer….!

  7. Excellent addition to the Slotober discussion. I have started to make consignment shops part of my wardrobe shopping, not really thrift stores. But I think anytime one has to spend the time looking for something, it makes the purchase much more considered, which is a large part of slow fashion to me. I had heard of TheRealReal before, but not Poshmark. Thanks for sharing, Ann and Karen!

  8. Last year I started thrifting for cashmere sweaters to unravel, and after a few trips I found that my eyes had gotten better at seeing through the chaos to pieces that I actually wanted to wear. I’m hugely pregnant now, but next spring I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for quality pants in my new size (whatever that turns out to be!). I hate shopping traditional retail, but thrifting feels more like a treasure hunt and I actually really enjoy it now.

    Also, aside from a few gifts and handmade items all our baby clothes are second hand which saved us so. much. money. and I feel pretty good about where they came from. Ditto for my maternity clothes, which are possibly the only exception to “no one wants your old clothes.” There is definitely a thriving market for professional maternity wear in good condition, at least around here, and I feel like I have just paid to borrow them for a few months rather than really owning them.

  9. I like to look. My husband can’t understand my fascination with going into a store for over an hour and coming out with nothing. I like a few local thrift shops and from time to time find a cashmere sweater for $7 or really vintage White Stag and Pendleton wools. I have also felted some for doggie sweaters.

  10. Fun! Yes, I still shop at thrift stores for clothes once in a while. Much less often than I was young since it takes time. Now when I buy used clothes, it’s more likely to be at a pricier “vintage” or consignment shop where the initial sorting is done for me by the buyers.

    I like this idea of searching online for a specific designer’s secondhand work. I don’t have one big favorite like the author but will mull over whether this might work for me. In general, I haven’t found online secondhand shopping works for me. I buy a lot of my new clothes online, but somehow with used garments it seems harder to assess what I’m looking at and whether it will work for me in pictures.

  11. I’ve shopped thrift and consignment on and off since I was a teenager (sometimes for fun, sometimes out of economic necessity), but I’m not sure I can say it’s been a successful approach for me. One issue is the time commitment: I can see some merit in the idea that investing lots of time to find what appeals (and fits) might make purchases more considered, but it also has made thrifting an increasingly unrealistic strategy for me as my life responsibilities have multiplied. I’m not much of a collector, so I guess I’d rather spend time making something myself instead of searching.

    The other issue is related: if I’m being really honest, I can’t say very many of my thrift purchases have actually worked out. When I think about the clothes of mine that have that guilty association with excess (the never-worns, the never-happy-withs) they’re actually dominated by secondhand purchases. Maybe I don’t know how to do it right? I feel like I have trouble comparing clothes in thrift or consignment shops to an absolute standard, and instead feel pressure to Find A Thing and wind up buying something because it was better than the other stuff on the rack, not because it really made sense. It’s weird to me that I have far less difficulty with that when shopping new.

    I’ve always envied people who are really good at thrifting. I don’t know — maybe it’s okay, and every strategy for more thoughtful clothing use and reuse doesn’t have to work for every one of us?

    • I agree, thrifting does have some skill to it. If you have better luck with buying and keeping stuff long term when you’re buying new, I say go for it. We aren’t trying to avoid new, we’re trying to avoid the endless cycle of buy-purge-buy-purge, especially when purge means it goes in the landfill.

    • Many of my thrift purchases don’t work out either– I think I have on rose-colored glasses because I don’t have to grapple with so many ethical considerations when I buy second-hand. And you’re so right about walking out with the best thing you can find, I have a pretty hideous seventies polyester dress that I have yet to wear but I bought it because it looked better than everything else that was on offer that day!

  12. I used thrift shops a lot when I was younger and poorer, I am now revisiting them with my daughters. Serendipitously, in the last year of two our inner-city suburb in Sydney has become a centre for amazing thrift and vintage shops. We even have a couple of shops run by amazingly stylish women who present fabulously curated collections of vintage clothes.

    Our best buys this year were a (relatively pricy) scarlet 1950s cocktail frock for my eldest daughter and an extraordinarily bargain priced top end designer evening dress for my youngest. This may have hooked them both on thrifty shopping. It is such a thrill finding gems, and as my youngest said ‘You know that you won’t arrive at formal and find anyone else wearing the same dress’.

    So, yup, I like thrift shopping! I certainly don’t have the strength of purpose, or time, to make it the foundation of my wardrobe, but it has become a guilt-free source of indulgent buys and whimsies.

  13. The Housing Works (NYC) online auctions sometimes have items by this designer and the bids don’t usually go over @$75. I buy almost everything at thrift shops because I like the idea of recycling clothes and don’t want to spend much for them. You can easily determine the quality of things you’re buying as they’ve already been “test-driven.”

  14. We call it op-shopping here in NZ. It comes from the name that some of these shops had back in the day “The Great Opportunity Shop” which I think is delightful. I’ve been a committed op-shopper for 26 years now and very rarely buy things new. And I also find amazing fabrics too which means I have a well stocked stash for minimal cost and beautiful, high quality fabrics to boot.
    It is easy to make impulse buys when things are inexpensive, so I try to be very considered when second hand shopping – op-shop or consignment – so as not to buy for the imaginary clothing museum I have, rather than the wardrobe I wear.
    There are some designers I will look out for, but our geographic isolation means it’s not often you would see a big name European or American designer around these parts for second hand. What I do love finding is homemade items from other eras. They are always well-crafted, unique and often with a timeless elegance that isn’t found in commercially made items.

  15. More than half of my wardrobe is comprised of secondhand items. The half that isn’t is usually shoes, pants, and ‘technical’ athletic gear, although I’m trying to up my thrifted percentage on those too.

    I sometimes search online for something specific. Usually I just browse in-person – consignment if I’m looking for something like pants, regular thrift stores for everything else.

    I’ve really always shopped like this, with only a brief interlude of buying more new things for a few years. I like my thrifted wardrobe better – it’s higher quality overall and more interesting.

    Béa Johnson, who writes the zero waste home blog (and book), is a great source of inspiration for buying secondhand.

  16. ohhh! I loved reading about this. I’d no idea about his business philosophy, but I really like it. Although I love smart clothes, I am usually turned off by the fashion industry because it is so profit / expansion oriented. I know Brands want to be in the hands in as many consumers as possible, to scale up and make more money, but I feel like this is often done in such a way that it is detrimental to quality, dilutes the specialness of the brand, and creates this environment of never enough “growth” that is simply unsustainable.

  17. My older sisters introduced me to thrifting when I was ten because that was the cool thing they were doing and of course I wanted to do what they did. I’ve gone from a skater tomboy style to buying my work clothes there about 18 years later.

    My entire wardrobe except for shoes and undergarments is either handmade or from the thrift store. I mostly use two thrift stores that have fitting rooms so I can try on what I buy. I lost 30 pounds last year so I had to replace my entire wardrobe because nothing fit. I used a consignment store to buy enough to get by and then I took the time to rebuild without buying a look that makes me think maybe or I don’t know.

    I went to the thrift store with a plan and a list of what I needed on my phone. (what colors, materials, shape and fit) I spend an hour or two on most Sundays trying to find the perfect pieces that will fit in with what I’ve built. I have patience with the fact that not every Sunday is going to be a success and that I have to be willing to wait to find what I need at the thrift store instead of buying new. When I look into my wardrobe there is always something to wear, most of the pieces work together because I had a color palette and a plan. I was able to rebuild a new wardrobe for under 80 dollars. And that was for winter, spring, and summer for the office and casual looks.

    My old wardrobe went to different women who were also losing weight. I know the women involved will do the hand me down pass off before they donate the clothing so it makes me feel better since that article.

  18. I pretty much do all of my shopping for clothing at thrift shops. I love to wear linen, which would be completely out of my budget otherwise. However, at $5, $3, and oftentimes $1 per piece, I now have a nice little collection of beautiful long-lasting linen garments. I also look for very large sized linen pieces and buy them to use as fabric for sewing. I have purchased many wool sweaters and coats as well, either to wear or to repurpose. All of my kids clothing are either hand me downs or come from thrift stores. Why pay $30 (or more) for a pair of jeans that will either be torn or grown out of in a few months? After reading the article posted earlier about our unwanted clothing and watching the movie about the recycled clothing in India, it confirms to me that thrift shopping vs buying new is a very direct way that I can help slow down the frenzy of consumerism and resulting waste.

  19. I thrift for my husband. Most of the men in the area work desk jobs where it’s more important to be stylish than it is for their clothing to last. My husband needs to look professional, but his job is physical so he destroys clothes, even shirts. It just isn’t worth it to us to buy new for him, so I’d rather buy 5 button downs for $25 from brands like Lands End, J. Crew, Brooks Brothers, and Ralph Lauren than spend $20 for 1 shirt at Target. We do do new for pants though. I discovered that Levi’s makes a khaki colored jeans that have worn like iron. Normally his pants last 9-12 months before he splits a knee or the thighs wear through, these are going on 15 months with no fraying, no thin or faded sections. They’ve broken in, but not broken. Now we just need to find him some super durable work shoes.

  20. More than half of my wardrobe is second hand – either thrifted or hand me downs. The part that isn’t is mostly shoes, pants, and technical athletic wear – I’m working on finding more of those second hand as well. I sometimes seek out specific things online but I mostly just look in person. One thing I really enjoy is trying to guess the fabric content of something before checking – you develop a good “hand” for materials this way!

    While the idea of a long-lasting capsule wardrobe sounds nice, in reality both my tastes and body change. Thrifting gives me a way to adapt to those changes in an economical and less resource intensive way.

    Béa Johnson of the zero waste home blog and book is a great inspiration for second hand clothing shopping as a way of life.

  21. beautiful, ann. dries is the dashboard hula dancer of indie high fashion. catching a bonnie cashin or a clare mccardell out there thrills me. great stuff.

  22. I love to thrift shop! One of my favorite summer blouses was found this year for $2. I also buy items to make into new clothes: vintage sheets and fabric, knitting yarns and needles. Just this weekend I found a worn out (destroyed) orange tote bag for $1.00 which I bought for the leather handles to take off and attach to my favorite knitting bag (which has handles that have worn out). I noticed this linen type bag also has two zippers inside and “feet” which I can salvage and it is orange fabric – perfect to make a pumpkin appliqué for a Halloween pillow. And I also bought my first sweater to unravel. It is cotton/silk in a cream and denim color way.

  23. Dries Van Noten is a genius of fashion. I’m not into thrifting that much, because I just hate going through racks and racks of stuff. But my current wardrobe has gems as I used to buy a lot of designer clothes on sale, often between 70 and 90% off. I have a few incredible clothes I never wear, and I am seriously considering the online consignement option to recycle them and get a bit of money back in the process. So I am on the other side of the fence for now.

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  25. It is wonderful to find beautiful clothes for a bargain! My mother was a bargain hunter, my daughter is the QUEEN of good buys! I love garage sales, not as overwhelming as a thrift store for me. I was a sty-at-home mom who returned to the workplace part-time but I had my conditions. I refused to work Fridays. Those were the best garage sale days. I told my employers that they could not pay me enough to miss the opportunity to get the clothing and household goods I needed at bargain prices!! They all went along with it! My children had great clothes for a fraction of the cost of new.

    We celebrate the Epiphany as a family (A Serbian Orthodox tradition that is a nod to my roots) and the rule is that the gifts have to come from a thrift store and that it has to cost less than $5. I loved seeing my 15 year old grandsons eyes light up when he opened the beautiful wool sweater I found him at the Goodwill last year.

    My closet was lucky to be blessed 5 years ago with a huge pile of hand-me-downs from a friend who has the means to buy really, really nice clothes. When I dress up it is most often her clothes I am wearing and it always makes me so grateful. Love having beautiful clothes occupying the real-estate space of my closet as opposed to cheap trendy pieces.

    Lastly, I have to say that I am amazed at how many of you say that you don’t have second-hand shoes. If it wasn’t for garage sales I would probably only own 2 pair!! I love my shoe and vintage purse/handbag (yes, real handbags for the 40’s and 50’s) collection. All from garage sales!

    I LOVE this discussion, LOVE finding like-minded knitters and shoppers! Thank you Karen!

  26. I live in an area with many thrift stores and consignment shops. I tend to stick with the church thrift stores, but I couldn’t visit them all in a week, if I tried. I stick with certain high end labels that I know fit me well. I am tall but it is amazing how often I find nice jeans and pants that are long enough. I bring things home, often to ‘try out’ even when I have already tried them in the dressing room. $8.00 is my ‘flinch’ point. If it is $8.00 or under, I don’t feel guilty if it ends right back into the thrift store bag. I also love assecories. Again, I have certain brands that I search for but don’t buy every one I find. I have leather soled shoes that I could never afford had I not bought them second hand. That is true of my leather handbags. What I can’t find I sew, because I have become to picky about quality. Finally, reading about others inherited clothes, I am jealous. I wish I had something of my grandma’s clothes. I do have a suede jacket that was my late aunts. It is becoming a bit dated, but I still love it.

  27. I don’t thrift shop. I admit I hate shopping in general (other than food and books – but even then, I hate spending money on ‘wants’ and not ‘needs’). The thrift stores near me don’t really stock higher-end garments, more often it’s gently worn fast fashion that I’m not interested in buying at all (echoing a post above here). I do own a fabulous purse/handbag made out of recycled seat belts. The company is called U.S.E.D. And they make purses and bags out of recycled seatbelts and sail cloth. They’re a Canadian company but ship world-wide. I’ve blogged about the purse (with a photo and link to the website) here: http://sheeptofrog.blogspot.ca/2016/10/used-slow-october-accessories.html

    Thanks for another thought-provoking post… I may revisit the thrift stores to see what I can find!

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  29. I usually bring no-longer-needed clothing to local resale shops instead of donating, and I have had great luck selling my stuff, but I haven’t always used the same stores as a source for my own closet. I am slowly trying to do more thrift and second-hand shopping and I love hunting for vintage on Etsy, though the prices are higher than Goodwill! I have a couple of searches that I save links to and check often, there is so much new stuff added all the time that it can get overwhelming. I can usually find a second-hand version of a new item I covet for a much lower price and of course a better ethical profile.

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  32. I’m from Antwerp, the home town of Dries Van Noten. His shop is marvelous, but his clothes are much too expensive for me.
    Twice a year we have the opportunity to buy clothes and fabric in the outletstore of our designers (there are some other famous designers in Antwerp). Last week his sale was on television because of the crowd waiting outside: Women from all over Belgium, Holland, even France and Germany!
    Years ago I could buy some silk and linen (lucky me!) and each time I want to go, but I’m not looking forward to be pushed in this crowd. Maybe next time?

  33. As much as I believe that second-hand clothes are the greenest you’ll ever find, I sometimes forget that buying quality clothes for a higher price (as in you’re actually paying for what you get, and not being charged way more just for the brand) is just as good! Well obviously except for the money you’re losing from your pocket, but hey sometimes it’s worth it right?

    Exactly like Ann said, it is so true that designers who actually care about the people making their clothing inspire us to wear their clothes. However, sometimes we just don’t have the money to buy these clothes. But that’s exactly what thrift shops are for! I love thrifting because it basically guarantees quality. Whatever you find at a thrift shop of decent and acceptable quality would have lasted however many years with it’s previous owner, and therefore it will most likely last however many more years with you! Also, apart from any physical damage to a piece of clothing, I think that there’s nothing a good wash can’t fix. I honestly don’t think there is any difference to buying a second-hand shirt and washing it when I get home, to buying a brand new shirt from a retail store.

    Thrifting may also not be for everyone, as going through racks of clothing can be very time-consuming and often people don’t have the patience for it. But with the rise of online shopping, of course there are also be great online platforms for buying and selling pre-loved fashion just like the ones Ann mentioned!

    I really hope more people will start to embrace buying second-hand and actively help reduce the negative environmental impact of the fashion industry!

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