Growing up, my parents at times couldn’t afford to get us brand new clothes that weren’t from Ross or Marshalls. We often wore the same first-hand clothing till they didn’t serve their use or until we wore them so much we got sick of them. To me, thrifting was a way to experiment with different looks and express myself without my parents breaking the bank. To this day, I enjoy walking into the thrift stores back home and looking at the history the clothing has had. I enjoy the community thrifting brings, especially every last Wednesday of the month in which everything in the store is half off and the stores are packed. I enjoy participating in a circular economy in which the community reuses the same clothing until it’s passed its usage, and I really enjoy the prices. However, my love for thrifting wasn’t always strong.
I remember walking to my class in elementary school and hearing remarks about how my outfit I wore for no uniform day looked dirty and smelled funny because it came from a thrift store. Going to a private school, I already felt like I didn’t fit in, and the way I got my clothes was a physical indicator of it. For the rest of my private schooling experience, I felt ashamed to wear second-hand clothing. I just could no longer tell someone “I thrifted it” when asked about where I got my fit.
I have now been proud to say “I thrifted it” when asked about where I got my old, baggy shirts or my beat-up New Balances, but as I was growing to vocally embrace thrifting, it wasn’t long till it started to become a non-POC trend. Around my late high school years and during lockdown, I started seeing more and more “vintage shops” or “second-hand stores” pop up, catering to the newer generations’ trends. Clothing I grew up with, clothing that labeled me poor and dirty, was now being seen as “the look” and being sold in “second-hand” stores (which are often predominantly white-owned stores) and were upsold for outrageous prices. An Obama shirt I bought at the thrift store for $1.99 was sold at a vintage store for $50. I even found this pattern in Rochester when I went to the Lucky Flea Market the week before Thanksgiving Break and saw an old Carhartt jacket I liked and asked for the price, which was $70 for a jacket covered in coffee stains and moth holes. A cool Kodak jacket? $225 because it’s “highly sought after”. As much as I love that thrifting is becoming normalized, and the stigma of wearing thrifted clothing is lessening, the introduction to thrifting in non-POC/non-lower class spaces and the twisting of the focus from necessity to profit that came after is essentially just the gatekeeping and gentrification of fashion and has made it more difficult to continue to participate in the circular fashion economy (circular fashion economy meaning an economy in which no new product is being sold and customers reuse products until they are no longer reusable).
Predominantly white businesses have created a toxic system where the reseller goes to a thrift store and buys clothes in bulk, only to later upcharge the clothes to exorbitant prices. These stores often being where Black and Brown communities shop at given the aesthetics of the Y2K being pioneered by Black and Brown people and the “Clean girl aesthetic” being a watered-down, white-washed version of the “Hot Cheeto Girl” look. The average thrift store manager can make around $50K annually, but the average vintage reseller can make up to $250K a year. These second-hand stores are owned by people who can afford non-thrifted, non-fast fashion clothes but instead buy all the good clothes from thrift stores to make a profit. The result is that prices of thrift stores increase and people who depend on thrift stores are barred from buying affordable and pleasing clothing. Because of this, many low-income people now turn more towards fast fashion brands like H&M and Zara in order to get affordable clothing.
How can we solve this issue? How can we thrift ethically? We first need to get rid of the craze to resell thrifted clothes, which can be done by first educating the harms of reselling. The main thing we must do when thrifting are: Do not over consume—only buy for yourself (or for people in need) and only buy what you need; Do not highly demand items that are in low supply (unless you need to), meaning—do not buy professional clothing, winter clothes, plus sizes clothing, or children clothes unless you can not afford first-hand items in those categories; Donate clothes to local organizations—do not donate to Goodwill and other for-profit organizations that will upsell clothing; and lastly, boycott/limit Depop/local vintage clothing stores as they block the circular economy.
Written by Lugardo Marroquin-Cano ’24