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Thrifting (Clothing): What is it? Why and How Should You Do It?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UVA chapter.

A year ago, I started thrifting the vast majority of my clothes, and I’ll never go back. 

In my opinion, thrifting, or shopping second-hand, is the ultimate secret to finding creative liberty, personal style, and character within your wardrobe. And while thrifting well is certainly more strategic than first-hand shopping, once you learn how, there’s no looking back. Allow me to elaborate… 

What is Thrifting? 

Simply, thrifting means to shop for second-hand items at a garage sale, flea market, or thrift store, such as Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or CHKD Thrift (Aldrich). While most people think “second-hand,” they often associate it with poor quality, outdated, unwanted items, but those (like me) who’ve discovered all that thrifting has to offer beg to differ…

Why Should You Thrift? 

Shopping “second-hand,” despite its negative connotations, grants you a creative freedom from the current stage of the trend-cycle because you aren’t forced to choose from what’s available at the moment at first-hand stores. For example, a couple years ago, the market for pants was dominated by the high-rise trend, evident on popular first-hand fashion sites like Zara or H&M where it seemed like mid and low-rise were non-existent options. Now, with the Y2K (early 2000s) trend permeating throughout the fashion community, it’s seemingly become a rarity to find high-rise pants for sale. Instead, all we’re noticing are 2000s-icons-(ie. Britney-Spears, Lizzy McGuire, Lindsay Lohan)-style mid-low rise jeans. But if you choose to thrift, as opposed to buying first-hand, you get to pick from a variety of garments spanning decades of fashion trends. Whether it be some donated bell-bottoms someone’s grandma wore in the 70s, a leather Harley Davidson biker jacket someone’s dad wore in the 90s, or high-rise pants someone wore in 2016, the thrift store offers a plethora of options that grants you the full creative liberty to choose styles that fit and resonate with your body, personality, and personal taste– not just what’s available new and fresh off the market. The vast openness of options available within thrift stores enables you to find a personal style, free from current trends and limited only by the bounds of your creativity. 

Additionally, because second-hand items are often no longer being produced, they are frequently one-of-a-kind, having characteristics that index another past moment in the trend cycle. They are also often of at least decent quality, many having lasted through years of use. 

How to Thrift

Thrifting successfully requires an open-mind, an acute eye, and patience. As mentioned before, many second-hand items have character, and nowadays with first-hand markets being so specific to today’s trends, we are accustomed to garments being similar and fitting a certain popular mold or set of criteria. Second-hand items, however, are usually a bit more unique, possessing characteristics from past trends within the fashion market. Therefore, to find items you love and can create outfits with, you need to be willing to embrace unique, often unconventional pieces. According to Shannon Aldrich, a writer for the thrift store Goodwill’s website, “most thrift store shoppers are also creative people. They’re able to think outside the box to envision a new life for a gently-used item.” Aldrich agrees that an open-mind or “outside-the-box” thinking is important to adopting a second-hand garment. Thrifting requires patience, as well. Because thrift stores offer so much incredible variety, in order to find pieces that speak to you, you need to have the patience to look thoroughly, rather than just passively waiting for something to catch your fancy. You need an acute eye, too. With so many unique options available, it’s important to look carefully and imagine how you’d style the items you find in a way that feels personal and fun and doesn’t feel strange or outdated to you. While thrifting successfully looks a bit different to everyone, open-mindedness, an acute eye, and patience are indubitably bound to help you find unique pieces that you’ll love and use. 

If you’re looking for creative freedom and character when it comes to curating your closet, thrifting is the answer you’re looking for. It was the answer I found a year ago, and I haven’t looked back since. 

Aldrich, Shannon. “What Does It Mean to Go Thrifting?: Thrift Stores.” Goodwill of Central and Northern Arizona, Goodwill, 14 Sept. 2022, www.goodwillaz.org/what-does-it-mean-to-go-thrifting-2/. 

Julianne Sweeten is a writer at the Her Campus Charlottesville chapter. She is a student at the University of Virginia and also serves as a member of the American Medical Student Association and the Futures in Fashion Association. On the side, Julianne is an avid romantic, enjoying music, movies, and thrifting as well as spending time with friends, family, and her beloved dog Kooper.