Somehow, over the last few years, wearing secondhand clothing has stopped being ‘gross’ and started being kind of ‘cool.’
Growing up in Chicago, a lot of my friends took pride in the fact that their clothing was from the thrift store and not Urban Outfitters, despite the fact that most of them could afford the latter. Maybe I just surrounded myself with hipsters, but I certainly had moments where I proudly told people of the $3 price tag attached to a ‘new’ – ‘cheap’ meant that that article of clothing represented some type of personal victory, rather than just the tax-bracket people’s parents fit into.
To those of you new to this whole wearing-other-people’s-clothes thing, not every type of used clothing store is the same. Thrift stores are different than vintage. Let me break it down for you.
Thrift Stores: These are the Salvation Army, Goodwill type of stores. The clothes here are straight up donated, so that means that they are the things people wanted to get rid of. That does not mean, however, that there aren’t gems hidden amongst the piles of clothes. After all, you know what they say about one man’s trash.
Thrifting can be an emotional rollercoaster; you find a cool shirt, but then discover a hole or find it’s the wrong size. All that digging is worth it when you find that one perfect item and see it costs 2 bucks. (I was nearly in tears when I found the most glorious brocade pants in just my size. After investigating the brand, I found they had retailed less than a year ago for $150 dollars.)
Everything is so cheap because it costs the store almost nothing to sell the item. Things are also not always priced based on how much they are actually worth.
Unfortunately, as the popularity of these stores increases, so has the awareness of the goods they’re working with. Thus, there have been some markups on goods at these kinds of stores.
Buy, Sell, Trade Stores: While an outing to a thrift store does not guarantee success, I rarely leave these stores of this ilk empty-handed.
At places like Crossroads or Buffalo Exchange, people bring in their gently-used clothing and get cash or store credit in return—but only for the clothes the store deems worthy of selling (i.e. ones people will actually buy). That means that everything you find here is in good condition and relatively contemporary – it’s just been worn before.
People with a strong knowledge of brands and trends do the pricing. In other words, you get what you pay for. The clothes are priced lower than they would be coming directly from the retailer, and I find things worth buying almost every time I go in. The last time I went, my mission was a faux leather pant and there were like three in my size to choose from. I got them for about $15 and was just about the happiest kid in the world
Vintage Stores: Clothing is considered ‘vintage’ if it was made between 1920 and 20 years before the present day. You can find this kind of clothing in thrift stores, garage sales or your Grandmother’s closet. Designated vintage stores are just a way for clothing from these various places to be consolidated and curated, so you have only the good pieces to choose from.
Though some of the clothes here are from the thrift store and just marked-up, increased price comes from extra work finding the best things in a thrift store, saving you a ton of time spent sifting through old clothes. The buyers often have a vast knowledge of clothing in general, and you can learn some of the history of the more nuanced aspects of the garment. This also means that the seller really knows how much the garment is worth, and they are priced accordingly. You end up with less of an ah-ha moment, but a bit more history.
Though the difference seems subtle, each of these types of stores can potentially bring something very different to your closet. Some people find an outing to the thrift store to be an adventure; others find it disheartening. It’s all about finding the kinds of stores that work for your style, your budget and your level of commitment to finding the perfect pair of pants.
Laura Koeller is a Campus Circle editorial intern. She also her own fashion blog called “The Critique of Pure Fashion.” Visit critiqueofpurefashion.wordpress.com.