Renegade Rustlers' Guide to Thrift Gifting for the Holidays

Funky finds in the storage unit of local vintage vendor Renegade Rustlers.
Funky finds in the storage unit of local vintage vendor Renegade Rustlers. Photo by Julienne Gage
Connoisseurs of boho-chic style can easily fall prey to local vendor Jozy DeFord’s Renegade Rustlers vintage goods. On Sundays, she can be found hustling and bustling around her trunk show on Lincoln Road or the Vintage Drippin' Market at R House in Wynwood, talking up customers with the precision and speed of a skilled auctioneer.

So for those looking to save some cash, cut down on gluttonous consumerism, or avoid the impersonal exchange of gift cards, vintage vendors like Renegade Rustlers might just be the solution. Sure, thrift gifting might sound weird at first, and it will take some planning, but it’s all the latest rage in climate activist Greta Thunberg’s native Sweden where buying new now comes with a dirty word: köpskam, or the “shame of buying.”

While Miami has lots of vintage vendors, most of the well-curated ones don’t sell as cheap as Renegade Rustlers. For DeFord, there’s a shame attached to up-charging people much for used items she got for very little to free.

“I keep my prices low because I buy low. It stands behind the model that I have, which is that you don’t have to spend money to have style,” says DeFord, who’s been running this business in Miami since 1993.

Born and raised as a boy named Ira in Bloomington, Indiana, DeFord says she grew up learning the value of resourcefulness and self-expression because her father was a broke doctoral student at the University of Indiana’s school of geology and her mother worked as a part-time model.

“We were forced to shop at the thrift store. We didn’t have money to go anywhere else, but my mother used to say ‘style doesn’t make you, you make style,’” DeFord says. “You’re creating a dialogue in society through the colors, the textures, the palette that you’ve got. That’s your speech. That’s your introduction to people.”

With these concepts in mind, New Times spent a good long while visiting the Renegade Rustlers trunk show on Lincoln Road and then digging through bins back at the ranch, a storage unit in Wynwood. The following is a list of ideas based on that hunt.
click to enlarge A colorful Mexican throw can go great on the body when Miami's winter temperatures dip and great on the wall as art decor during the rest of the year. - PHOTO BY JULIENNE GAGE
A colorful Mexican throw can go great on the body when Miami's winter temperatures dip and great on the wall as art decor during the rest of the year.
Photo by Julienne Gage
Home Décor and Furniture
Look around the prospective gift recipient's living room and bedroom, snap a few pictures when they’re not looking, and take note of the color scheme. Regardless of the season, a blanket makes for a nice adornment over a couch or at the foot of a bed.

“We need to be surrounded by beautiful objects, and on chilly nights we can cuddle up in these blankets or throws with significant others,” DeFord says.

What about the walls? Do they lack artwork or do the shelves look a bit bare? What’s the overall look and feel? Mid-century modern or its hyper-local cousin Miami MiMo? Quaint and rustic or bold and bizarre? Maybe one of those throws could double as a tapestry for South Florida’s many warm months. Perhaps they could use a set of bookends for those books they just couldn’t part within the digital age.

And then, depending on how much shelf space they have and what themes they might have going on around them, there are always curio pieces such as soapstone figurines depicting star-crossed lovers or figurines of roosters and countrymen that could be interpreted as old Americana, or might double as symbols of African or indigenous spirituality. Who cares that they aren’t actually antiques? It might be better if they’re not. Some ancient artifacts are actually stolen, whereas tourists may have bought direct.

“It’s the fact that somebody could have bought that from a local artist and the carried it across the ocean, kept it, and moved it around. How many lives has it seen?” DeFord asks.

If you can, find out where the was made, do some research, or check in with a historian, then jot down what you learned on a handwritten note and stick it to the bottom of the piece.

There’s also the occasional art piece, in fact, DeFord paints some of her own, and then, every once in awhile, she might get an antique trunk or a funky set of footstools, but furniture really isn’t her thing. Plus, it’s a little hard to hide the couch under the tree or stuff an armchair into a stocking.

If you do want furniture, the Dragonfly Thrift Boutique in Little Havana also offers good deals and coveted hipster finds with proceeds going to the nonprofit organization LEAP, which helps women released from prison transition back into society. Perhaps the best way to gift furniture is to make your own coupon for a thrifting trip, and then make it a day-long excursion.
click to enlarge Antique art deco rings at Five Golden Rings in Sunset Place sell for between $85 to $100 and last forever. - PHOTO BY JULIENNE GAGE
Antique art deco rings at Five Golden Rings in Sunset Place sell for between $85 to $100 and last forever.
Photo by Julienne Gage
Jewelry and Accessories
Let’s face it, even the costume jewelry you can buy at higher-end stores is rarely made with semi-precious metals, and thus, the paint is bound to rub off. Meanwhile, you’ll have to pay for shipping and wait for backorders if you purchase on sites like Etsy. But all along Lincoln Road and in antique stores and pawnshops, you can find some truly amazing gems for about the same price.

Take, for example, the lost art of filigree. Can you go wrong with some of that spun into the protective-yet-inviting shape of a hamsa? What’s their favorite color or birthstone? Is there a pendant with that stone that you could easily have strung on a silver or gold necklace?

Want to peruse jewelry in a quieter, more organized fashion, or ensure you’re investing in a quality piece? In this case, visit true antique jewelers like Five Golden Rings on Sunset Drive, where an authentic art deco ring runs about $85 to $100. Plus, jewelry there can be resized or remounted.

“These pieces last and can be handed down,” DeFord says.

As for accessories, who in Miami couldn’t use an embroidered Hmong or Mayan beach bag or a woven seagrass tote for shopping? And with the Marley Family’s 420 Kaya Fest reggae extravaganza just a few months away, how about a red, green, and gold embroidered backpack with a photo of late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie printed on an iron-on patch?

“I bring these things in as a collection of curation, and I try to move them on to the person that they’re meant for,” DeFord says. “Sometimes I’ll hold onto a piece for three years and no one looks at it, and then someone comes in who says oh my god, I’ve been looking for this for forever.”
click to enlarge A little nostalgia goes a long way. - PHOTO BY JULIENNE GAGE
A little nostalgia goes a long way.
Photo by Julienne Gage
No matter the time of year, it’s always hot in Florida. Find your gift receiver's measurements, do a little digging for sizing and style in their closet, then carry a tape measure as your preferred hunting tool. Maxi skirts and satin slip dresses go well with just about everything — they can be souped-up with heels and shawls for formal occasions or dressed down with sandals and flip-flops for steamy, midsummer meals. Fur and leather jackets are great for northern spring travel while vintage jeans and military jackets are breathable in the summer and come in handy inside cold buildings.

Of course, when it comes to clothing, it can be tricky to know what’s actually going to fit. Obviously you can ask for measurements ahead of your hunt, and it would be wise to take a mutual friend along for a second opinion.

Any thrifted clothing should be thoroughly washed or taken to the dry cleaners. You should also consider the services of a tailor or seamstress to do any repairs or alterations or perhaps gift a coupon for one.

“Trust yourself, trust your instincts, think about their design, their color palette and who they are when they’re with you, then find something that moves you for that person,” DeFord says.

So while thrift gifting might take a bit more research, scavenging, and plenty of thought, it can ultimately get you and your receiver back in the holiday spirit.

“It’s a way for you to be more thoughtful, more present,” DeFord says.

Renegade Rustlers at the Vintage Drippin' Market. 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday, December 21, at R House, 2727 NW Second Ave., Miami.
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Julienne Gage is a Miami-based anthropologist and journalist who has worked as a reporter and as a civil rights and international aid communications specialist in the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe. Her fieldwork has exposed her to many forms of cultural expression, and during her master’s in anthropology, she studied at Cuba’s Center for the Investigation and Development of Cuban Music.
Contact: Julienne Gage