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Rare is one of four high-end concept boutiques opened by the Orange County regional Goodwill organization to win customers back at a time when brand new fast fashion is more affordable than ever, and shoppers have far greater options on where to spend their money, both online and in-store. Along with three other Orange Country locations in Tustin (502 East 1st Street), Huntington Beach (18631 Beach Boulevard), and newly-opened Lake Forest (23740 El Toro Road), the four boutiques are hoping to change the tides back towards the days when affordable thrift stores like Goodwill were regular shopping options for consumers of all income levels.
While there are 60 Goodwill Boutiques open across the nation, Orange County's four locations are the only in Southern California. As someone who fondly remembers the days in my early 20s when my roommates and I would scour the Santa Monica Goodwill, knowing that rich Malibu women would be discarding their oft-unused designer denim, Missoni dresses, and Rebecca Minkoff purses, I had to admit, I was intrigued. Consignment shopping isn't something that my generation tends to partake in as often as our sartorial predecessors (have you seen Target's sale prices? Or Nordstrom's insanely easy shipping and return policy?), largely due to the fact that consignment stock, and, well, clothing, just ain't what it used to be. But four boutiques that looked and felt like a fast fashion retailer I'd shop at now, conveniently nestled in Real Housewives country? Sign me up.
"Consignment shopping isn't something that my generation tends to partake in as often as our sartorial predecessors."
The first thing that stands out about the Goodwill boutiques is how damn popular they are. I did a tour of the Anaheim, Tustin, and Huntington Beach locations on a casual Sunday afternoon, and every single one was chock-full of customers from all demographics: teens, 20somethings, families. Most impressive, however, was how different the boutiques felt from any retail experience I've ever had.
Simply put: the Goodwill boutiques are a place to hang out. Blame the efficiency of online shopping, perhaps, but brick-and-mortar retail experiences have become far more streamlined experiences of late; shoppers are kept comfortable enough to browse at leisure, but not too comfortable that they solely window shop and lounge before wandering on. Goodwill, on the other hand, has turned these new locations into de facto community centers of sorts.
Each boutique, as mentioned, has a listening station with record players, stacks of vinyl, and individual headphones. Anaheim's Rare also has an artisanal lofted reading lounge, DIY'd straight out of a Pinterest board, with a backsplash made of books, emblazoned with a vaguely inspirational message.
While shopping at Rare, I saw multiple groups of kids marvel over the recent Jurassic addition to the listening bar: a cassette player. In an opposite corner, three teenage girls spent 30 minutes lounging on pillows and listening to records, before leaving the store sans a single purchase. The aesthetic is inviting; shop, lounge, anything goes - exactly the kind of relaxed environments most retailers seek to emulate organically.
The clothing selection is expansive, but savvy shoppers hoping to scoop up Laguna Beach-budget designer castoffs may be disappointed; the merchandise here trends heavily towards mid-range fast fashion: lots of Banana Republic, Express, and Bebe separates more than anything else. Designer denim remains an easy find, with racks upon racks of Seven jeans, Lucky Brand, and Diesel, scattered amongst more commontly known favorites.
The prices are a tad higher than traditional Goodwill stores, though not by much (around $9.99 for a top; $14.99 for a coat or jeans, with shoes closer to $19.99); and given that the majority of the clothing is of-the-moment, the boutiques are uniquely positioned to offer actual incentives to lure shoppers away from even slightly pricier mall merchants such as Forever 21 and H&M. The fanciest item I spotted was at Rare in Anaheim: a Louis Vuitton purse in better than decent condition, selling for $49.99.
This time of year, the Halloween section is fantastic (I scored a $14 vintage ice blue floor-length princess skirt made of tulle of such high quality, it stands up in my bedroom entirely on its own), but it's the home goods section that's worth giving special mention to. Not quite at the level of vaunted LA flea markets like the Rose Bowl and Melrose Flea, the OC Goodwill boutiques nonetheless end up with an excellent selection of furniture, kitchenware, electronics, and the ubiquitous hipster staple: racks upon racks of non-working typewriters.
The Goodwill boutiques, if it wasn't abundantly clear, are truly excellent. They offer an affordable upgrade in quality one might have found on previous Goodwill expeditions, while also bringing in a new demographic of clientele. Whether on a budget, or just looking to cut back on certain parts of your shopping allotment (say, moving funds out of the "Party Top" expense account and into the "One day I'll buy a Chanel purse" rainy day fund), the boutiques appeal to shoppers across the board.
A few helpful tips I learned along the way:
The stores put out new stock every single day, and if you stop by, you'll see that they're really putting out new stock hourly. If you don't find what you're looking for on your first stop, chances are in a few hours, your luck will have changed entirely.
The best finds are in Anaheim.
While each of the other Goodwill boutiques has to rely on donations that come through its doors (a prospect that does lend merit to the fact that the deeper into South Orange County the boutique, the higher the chances of finding designer apparel and accessories), The Anaheim location is the only boutique that gets first dibs on Goodwill's online auction site, ShopGoodwill. ShopGoodwill pulls in donations from around the country as well as other Goodwill locations, and though the site is open to the public to purchase items, the Anaheim location gets first stab at the stock before anyone else can bid. Accordingly, if these $9.99 Salvatore Ferragamo pumps are any indication, they often end up the place to go for designer wear.
The majority of the clothing you find at Goodwill is going to be closer to the stock you can find in any suburban mall: lots of Gap, Victoria's Secret, Express, Macy's, Bebe, and the like. Denim and shoes remain your best bet; lots of designer denim to comb through at every store, and shoes usually hover around the Steve Madden / Dolce Vita quality level, and go upwards from there.
They say only a fool makes a plan, and the place that this is best exemplified is indeed Goodwill. Halloween costume shop? Sure, excellent, but for general shopping, going in with a strict plan to find a specific summer-wedding shift dress is just asking for a headache. The racks are stuffed - absolutely stuffed - with donations, and the search can often be exhausting. The upside? The near continual delight of finding things you had no idea you would find at Goodwill, and instantly cannot live without (looking at you, giant princess skirt).