Big Rube’s Philly: Thrift Shops

I’ve been going to thrift shops since 1988. To me, thrift stores are hidden gems because although they sell the kind of classic, made-in-the-U.S.A. clothing that my mom and grandmother, both seamstresses, used to make — with small price tags — most people don’t want to go through the process of finding the treasures.

When I was younger, I would take the El, then the 100 train, and get off at the Bryn Mawr stop for Bryn Mawr Hospital Thrift, which used to be in an old building across the street from where it is now. I once walked out of that shop with a middle-aged guy who’d just bought a sportcoat. We’re leaving the shop together, and he jumps in a $300,000 Ferrari. I say to myself, “That’s how the rich got rich. You can shop retail all you want. But people that have means go to thrift shops.”

The Main Line is the place to go for thrifting, because of the lifestyle people have there.

Over the years, I’ve gotten a Bill Blass tuxedo, a leather Natuzzi couch for less than $500, Le Creuset cookware for catering, a Brunello Cucinelli trench coat for $150, and vintage film cameras galore. But I’ve also found things for my photo and styling business: Oleg Cassini gowns with capes — still in their dry cleaning bags — for $18 apiece, bustiers and corsets, (which the young ladies are now wearing with jeans). And, I’ve built relationships with the people who work and volunteer in these places. Now, they set things aside for me.

Modeling these locally-thrifted looks: my friend and fellow vintage fashion connoisseur Megan Elkin. We met when she and her fiance were walking down Main Street in Manayunk, and I noticed her style.

Bryn Mawr Hospital Thrift

They used to say, “New York designed it. Philly made it.” That’s what I think of when I go to this spot. Nine times out of 10, you’ll see the top, the highest-end pieces, at 95 percent off the retail price. 804 County Line Road, Bryn Mawr

Here, my friend is wearing a BCBG skirt from Bryn Mawr. The sequined beret she’s wearing in some of the other photos is from Rachelle, a luxury consignment shop also in Bryn Mawr.

Penny Wise Thrift Shop

Like Bryn Mawr, this thrift shop benefits a hospital, but this time it’s Thomas Jefferson. I have a great relationship with Liz Bench, who started working there about four or five years ago. She’s an original WASP. I style my clients from things I find here, and am willing to sift through what they have. 57-59 E. Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore

Elkin is wearing a blue Gianfranco Ferré ruffled silk dress that can be layered as a cape.

Renaissance Consignment

This is more of a consignment shop. It’s where I found that Brunello Cucinelli trench coat for myself — a $3,000 jacket, and I bought it for $150. They had it marked a little bit more expensive, but there was a little spot on it. Still, I was like, “Are you kidding me? A Brunello Cucinelli?” 848 W. Lancaster Avenue, Bryn Mawr

Elkin is wearing vintage Yves Saint Laurent heels with a Diane von Furstenburg dress, both from Renaissance. Pictured with Elkin: Sophia.

Outside the shop, she models a red mini dress by Albert Nipon.

Thrifting in Philly

My spot in Philly isn’t there anymore. Where ORT used to be on 19th Street is a hotel now. I would play security there on Fridays while I was doing my Streetgazing column for The Daily News. When people who lived in Rittenhouse Square would pass away, their families would give ORT all their Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel …

Philly AIDS Thrift in Bella Vista has been a good source of millinery for me.

Retrospect Vintage

Retrospect is known for basically trendy edit from the last 30 to 50 years, especially the 70s, 80s and 90s. They’re part of Goodwill and source out of a warehouse of donations. I once found made-in-the-U.S.A. Ralph Lauren Polo shirts there that still had Goodwill tags on them that said $3.99, so they had to sell them to me for that price. 508 South Street

A woman in a belted 80s one-piece bathing suit with a geometric pattern stands on the sidewalk along South Street in Philadelphia. He holds an old-fashioned telephone to her ear, and is wearing large sunglasses, black heels, and is carrying a large black handbag.

Elkin stands on the sidewalk outside Retrospect in an 80s bathing suit, as one does.

Inside the shop, she sports a Lee jeans suit. Lee jeans.

Standing in front of Retrospect, Elkin models an animal print mini dress with shoulder pads that reminds me of Melanie Griffith in Working Girl. I once sat down next to Harrison Ford at Rouge when he was in town shooting a movie. I told him I loved that they made Indy boots for him, but Working Girl was my favorite movie — him with the double-breasted suit, and the women with the big hair and high fashion in the office.

West Philly born and raised with a slosh of Brooklyn New York in between, Big Rube partnered with Mitchell & Ness in 2000 to help make it a global brand marketing and selling high-end vintage jerseys. He has been photographing Philly since 2009, including in a Daily News Column from 2011 to 2017. He’s also a chef, currently at Pitcher’s Pub in Manayunk Thursdays to Sundays, selling the best handmade food in a Main Street dive bar.


Megan Elkin outisde Retrospect on South Street. Photo by Reuben Harley.

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