Joan M. Von Feldt, MD, MSEd, loves fashion—everything from the feel of natural fabrics and the fit of a well-crafted garment to mixing and matching colors and textures.
As a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and editor in chief of the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology, she enjoys being well dressed and, like most people, finding a good bargain. But she’s not a snob about where she shops. She’s just as comfortable scouring the racks at Nordstrom as she is bargain hunting at flea markets.
Among her favorite ways to shop is by combining both of her passions—fashion and medicine. Dr. Von Feldt explains that some resale or thrift stores near her home in Wilmington, Del., donate their profits to local hospitals or causes like the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition. Roughly one-third of her eclectic wardrobe comes from such shops, and she encourages people to patronize stores that do more than earn a profit.
After graduating from the Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1981, Dr. Von Feldt spent the next three years completing her internship and residency in internal medicine at Wilmington Medical Center.
She then worked at a community health center in Winter Park, Fla., which was supported by the National Health Service Corp. Her experiences at the center contributed to her growing interest in rheumatology.
“I cared for a number of women who were migrant workers or local residents who worked in the orange groves and had autoimmune disease,” recalls Dr. Von Feldt. “I went into rheumatology because I like taking care of women. I like immunology, and I enjoy taking care of [patients with] complex diseases, such as lupus.”
She completed her fellowship in rheumatology at the University of Pennsylvania between 1988 and 1990 and has remained at the university to this day—30 years later.
In 2005, she also received her Master of Education from the University of Pennsylvania, with help from a career development award—the Clinician Scholar Educator—from the Rheumatology Research Foundation.
“It wasn’t easy going back to school, working full time and having demanding teenagers at home,” she says, adding that she was grateful for the opportunity to advance her career.
Dr. Von Feldt learned about shopping from her mother, who was an avid bargain shopper.
“In my family, bargain shopping was important,” she says. “We were not affluent by any means. My mother is from Guatemala, and I love Guatemalan textiles with rich colors and complex designs. They frequently influence my taste in clothes. I also love vibrant silks from India and enjoyed wearing these on a recent trip to India for the India Rheumatology Association meeting.”
She also learned many shopping tips from an unlikely source—her husband, Blake, who was a chemist and worked with textiles. He taught her to stick to natural fabrics, such as cotton, silk or wool, because they wash and wear well, and avoid clothes made out of rayon, because they don’t.
“Anytime I don’t inspect the clothing, I regret it,” Dr. Von Feldt says. “We all do impulse shopping. But when I do that and am not careful about the fabric itself, I sometimes make mistakes.”
Likewise, don’t make assumptions about any shop. She says even your local Goodwill store may have terrific clothes and accessories at bargain prices.
Keep in mind that not all designer clothes are worth their value. Some are flimsy or inferior in terms of how they’re made, she says. Buy clothes made out of fabrics that wear well, make sure they fit and know what styles work best for you. Fashion accessories, such as jewelry, scarves and pocketbooks, can give an outfit a “put-together look,” she says, and can be easy to find and inexpensive.
One of her favorite stores is Great Stuff Savvy Resale in Wilmington, Del., that also carries home goods. Roughly 25% of her extensive wardrobe, which has now infiltrated her husband’s walk-in closet, comes from this shop.
“I discovered this shop about seven or eight years ago,” says Dr. Von Feldt, adding that it’s staffed by volunteer women, many of whom are breast cancer survivors. “I’m a regular there and enjoy visiting the people in the store. It’s a community network of women who believe in a cause.”
[Dr. Von Feldt] encourages people to patronize stores that do more than earn a profit.
Dr. Von Feldt has also passed on her shopping skills and savvy to her daughter, Christine. Years ago, when Christine was a teenager, she was having trouble finding the perfect prom dress. While vacationing, the pair combed through the racks at an upscale department store. There it was—a beautiful, gold, glittery gown that had been repeatedly marked down from several hundred dollars to $19.99.
“That’s the gown she wore to her prom,” says Dr. Von Feldt. “It was funny because as a teenager, she was always critical of my bargain shopping.”
She says people first need to develop a basic wardrobe and select a color palette that looks good with their skin tone. Make sure to pay attention to the fabric, stitching and other details, and of course, the fit. “Better fabrics last longer, drape better and look better,” she adds.
Meanwhile, she’s always on the lookout for resale shops that give back to their community. She says people can Google “resale shops for charity” or “resale shops cause” to find stores near their work or home that donate to nonprofits, such as health care for seniors, the homeless or even animals.
“I mean business when I go shopping,” Dr. Von Feldt says, adding that she only has time to shop once a month. “I go in a store, find something I like and get it. I try to make shopping as efficient and altruistic as possible.”
Carol Patton is a freelance writer based in Las Vegas.