Rows upon rows of rainbows line the walls with a plethora of items from fluffy sweaters to old, beat-up-looking t-shirts. Stacks of jewelry, although carefully hung, are somewhat not perfectly professionally displayed or laid out. A feeling of warmth, friendliness, and home.
This is the typical image of a thrift shop that comes to mind. But, it might not necessarily be what the 2022 thrift shop looks like today.
Since their inception in the late 19th century, thrift stores have undergone a massive transition. What used to be a way for people to recycle clothes and buy second-hand, cheaper clothes has turned into a trend for majorly Generation Z. Thrift stores have seen an increase in customers in recent years, largely due to a move toward more sustainable fashion.
I sat down with a few thrift store owners and workers to hear their thoughts on the recent trends.
The popular New York City vintage store Metropolis started in Soho as an antique market. It later moved locations and planted itself in the more youthful East Village. The store is renowned for its vintage t-shirt collection, specifically its collection of niche band shirts. Owner Richard Colligan said the recent reprise of 1990s fashion trends has led to a boom in the vintage business.
Until the pandemic hit, Metropolis was having its best year, Colligan said. While trends have shown that booms in second-hand shopping can largely be attributed to the popular video app TikTok, Cooligan doesn’t think this may be the sole reason.
“The fashionistas or designers would come looking for inspiration,” Cooligan said. “But once [thrifting] got into the model world and you see celebrities wearing vintage pieces, it brought the boom.”
Hailie Keliuotis, an employee at the Evanston, IL branch of thrift store Crossroads, has also seen a rise in customer numbers. However, she said she has seen many customers who fall in the typical TikTok high school or college-age group come in and pick out designer clothing with the intent to just resell.
Just that morning of our interview, Keliuotis had a customer come in and buy a $20 chair that she planned to resell for $200.
This phenomenon has sparked great recent controversy among shoppers. While thrifting provides a sustainable alternative to fast fashion, which contributes to 10% of all carbon emissions, it also has brought in a wealthier clientele, taking necessary clothing away from those who cannot afford higher-priced retail.
“I can respect someone upcycling, but as far as coming in here and picking things from people who can’t afford to buy them new—that’s kind of shady,” Keliuotis said.
Along with controversy over whether it is appropriate for wealthier people to buy from second-hand stores, there has been further debate over the degree of inclusivity thrift stores provide.
During the heat of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, Keliuotis got a call from a woman stating that Crossroads was not for Black people and wasn’t inclusive enough toward customers of color. The clothing offered is catered toward Evanston customers, which by nature are typically soccer moms or higher income students.
“We do have people come in that aren’t that demographic, and we don’t have much to offer them,” Keliuotis said. “It’s a harsh cycle of they don’t come in to sell their clothing, so we don’t have anything to offer, and it looks like we don’t want them, but that is not the case.”
There is no doubt thrifting resale is a benefit for those looking to establish a new avenue of income, from straightforward resale to thrifting flips—the act of buying and tailoring second-hand garments for profit. However, this can be harmful to lower-income individuals and families who rely on low-priced everyday necessities.
While these debates over the efficacy of thrift stores and their value in the world of sustainability continue to permeate conversations in the fashion community today, one thing is clear: they are here to stay.