Thrift shopping has become an idealistic experience that I attempt to attain about one or twice a year. Ever since I saw Aquamarine and watched Emma Roberts, JoJo, and Sara Paxton find the perfect dresses for a summer dance, I became enamored with the prospect of finding my prom or wedding dress at a thrift shop. Then came the Netflix original Girlboss, chronicling the rise of the successful fashion empire known as Nasty Gal, created by Sophia Amoruso. Yet again this romanticized version of thrift shopping was thrown at me, and yet again I was left frustrated when all I could find at thrift stores were V-neck sweaters from J.Crew.
I began to wonder, are thrift shops really all they are cracked up to be? If you know what you’re doing, you can come away with a pair of rugged Levi jeans or perhaps even splurge on a Louis Vuitton change purse. But are the hours pushing through racks and racks of clothes, digging through plastic bins of discounted tees and shoes really worth it? Let’s get to the bottom of this fashion trend.
- You’ll live out your fashion dreams without breaking the bank.
Perhaps the biggest draw to thrift shopping, especially for us broke college students, is the prospect of saving money. Obviously, thrift stores sell clothes for lower prices than retail stores, so thrift shopping is ideal for those individuals who are smart about their money. “Being a full time student is expensive and thrifting lets me embrace my love for fashion without emptying my wallet!” says Zoe Walker, a student at Connecticut College.
Finding a good steal is quite a thrill, one which I’ve only experienced once or twice. My most memorable thrift store purchase was a pair of chocolate UGG clogs I found at a thrift store near my college for only $45. Another great find was an $8 pleather tank top from Zara, scrounged from one of the many thrift stores in Davis Square in Boston.
The joy of a good steal always makes the time spent sifting through racks of clothes worth it.
- You’ll be making a change one t-shirt at a time.
The positive elements of thrift shopping don’t stop at saving money. Shopping at thrift stores is also sustainable because you’re recycling clothes rather than playing into fast fashion.
“There are just way too many clothes in existence to justify buying new ones all the time, even if you’re only postponing its trip to the landfill by a year or two,” says Jessica Squires, a student at George Washington University. Not only do thrift stores help the environment, but they can make a difference in a lot of other ways as well. “A lot of traditional thrift stores are also nonprofits or affiliated with charities, so your shopping in itself is doing good,” explains Jessica.
A perfect example of how thrifting is a meaningful practice stemming from a love of fun and funky fashion is @thrifycamel, a college based thrifting account started by a Connecticut College alumnus (who will remain anonymous as one of the most important characteristics of the account is that it is accessible to all). After selling used clothes on campus her sophomore and junior year, @thritfycamel began her Instagram so that “local Conn students would be able to check for updates, try things on, return items that didn’t fit and negotiate prices and all on campus.” Not only is her account sustainable as “shipping, transportation, packaging, using new materials…accounts for a huge portion of pollution,” explains @thriftycamel, but also charitable as she donates 20% of her proceeds to Planned Parenthood.
- Thrifting helps you discover your true personal style.
Thrift shopping helps me reevaluate my intention behind a clothing purchase, making sure that it’s something I really want to buy. Although it can be tedious, taking your time to go through each rack and stack at a thrift store allows you to look at each unique item and evaluate whether it is truly something you will wear. But it really does require some patience, and “it takes multiple trips to gather clothing items that fit your style,” says Zoё.
Although shopping at a mall or online may be faster, thrift stores allow you to experiment with old and new trends and thus cultivate your personal style.
- The pieces you’ll find are more unique than anything at a fast fashion retailer.
I hardly ever go into a thrift store thinking, “Alright, let’s find some basic white tees and jeans,” because thrift stores aren’t about the ordinary. They’re focused on collecting an entire closet of unique items which don’t quite go together now, but will once they are bought. Instead, go in with the motto I want to find black, acid-washed denim cutt-off shorts and you will be rewarded. I recommend leaving the mall stores for your basics and relying on thrift stores for statement pieces. Thrifted clothes will revamp your wardrobe, helping you elevate that pair of black skinny jeans from a basic look to avant garde chic with a crochet peasant top from the ’60s or a silky tank form the early 2000s.
- Thrift shopping may be a challenge, but that’s part of the fun.
Thrift shopping isn’t always a success. “Don’t go in expecting to find the perfect vintage piece” and “be prepared to come out with nothing,” Jessica says.
While there are definitely certain clothing items you are more likely to find at thrift stores, like oversized t-shirts or retro pullovers, there are some clothes (like pants) that can be particularly difficult to thrift for, especially if you wear petite or tall sizes.
For Samantha Barth, Connecticut College ‘21, thrifting sounds great in theory, but doesn’t always work out the way she hopes. “Being short and curvy means that I’m a pretty tricky, unconventional size, so shopping at stores with a large selection of petite options is really important to me,” Samantha says. “With thrifting, you can’t reliably know what sizes are accommodated.”
This frustration is not new to me, as I almost always have to order jeans and pants in tall because most stores don’t carry them in the store. More than once I have found a pair of Paige jeans or Theory trousers with such a low price tag that my mouth hits the floor, but the regular sizing will look like cropped capris on me. But a secret hack for this is to check the men’s section for jeans. “They usually have the good brands and [more of the] the trendy, high waisted jeans compared to the women’s section,” says Zoe.
Needless to say, thrifting is not always a perfect experience. While it brings together a vast collection of clothing from all backgrounds, it is not always inclusive towards all bodies. Sometimes though, with patience and determination, you can find the next item for your wardrobe that will become your iconic look. As Jessica puts it, thrift shopping “encourages you to think outside the box of trends or typical outfits.”
I am still searching for my iconic look, but I don’t think I am going to find it at a mall.