Opinions: Thrift shopping - the good and the bad

Thrift shopping has been around in the Western world for the best part of the last century. To state the obvious, before the industrial revolution, clothes were considered more valuable, and a piece of clothing would usually be recycled and reused within the family or household. “If you had a dress and it got worn out, you’d tear it up and make a pinafore for your daughter, and when that got trashed, you’d tear it up and stuff your chair with it,” explains historian Jennifer Le Zotte, author of From Goodwill to Grunge: A History of Secondhand Styles and Alternative Economies. But, after it became easier to produce clothes, people began thinking of them as disposable. Thus, the vicious cycle began. 

Thrift shopping wasn't always considered trendy. In the beginning, it held a negative stigma of being for 'poorer' people, and there was a bias against the marginalised groups selling them - Jewish immigrants. 'For example, the May 3, 1884, issue of the Saturday Evening Post ran a satirical story about a girl who got smallpox from a dress she bought from a Jewish-owned resale shop.' Yikes.

Over time, this perception of thrift shopping has shifted away from the negative stigma, and more people are willing to buy secondhand and vintage. Partially because there is a nostalgic charm that only vintage clothing genuinely posses, and shoppers like the idea of being able to give back or help a community through their purchases.

However, a unexpected problem has arisen. With thrift shopping becoming increasingly trendy, trendy hipsters, influencers and Youtubers have taken to the idea of buying bulks of clothing at thrift stores and performing various types of customisation on them. While the buying and customising aren't too big of a problem, it's what they're buying. It seems that many shoppers are buying oversized clothes, and tailoring them to fit their size. Some people may read this and wonder ' -why is that a problem?'

In a Twitter thread by Ophelia Brown @opheliajcbrown) posted on 17 August 2019 that has garnered over 9000 retweets and 38,000 likes, they detailed the exact reason why. 

The main problem here is that clothing sold at thrift shops are usually really affordable, while still being in good condition, and trendy in some cases. When people buy oversized clothes only to cut it up, or alter them to fit their smaller bodies, it takes away a crucial resource for lower-income and plus-sized individuals.

We wouldn't go into a fast-fashion retail store like H&M or Topshop and wander over to their plus-sized section to pick out a large t-shirt, only to take it home and cut off the sleeves, or make a crop top and skirt set. Because in that context, we understand that plus-sized clothes are designed for plus-sized individuals.

So, why do we do that to clothes that we thrift?

Don't get me wrong, I still believe that thrifting is essential to a more sustainable lifestyle, as it reduces waste and encourages people to reuse and upcycle. It fights the cycle of fast fashion and the unethical and unsustainable production and consumer behaviour that the industry is infamous for. And let's just face: vintage clothes are really cute.

So the question at hand is - is it ethical to take  resources away from underprivileged and marginalised minorities in our society to ‘feed your aesthetic’? The jury’s out, but, we could certainly help by making more conscious decisions with our thrifting, allowing everyone in our society to have an equal chance at getting affordable and adorable second-hand clothes, so we can move forward to a more sustainable and ethical future together.

-

Hello, and welcome to my very first opinion piece. I hope you enjoy it, and let me know what you think in the comments below.

Love,

Bernice


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published