Unbeknown to many, if not nearly everyone, Aug. 17 was the annual National Thrift Shop Day. Though this day is hardly anything more than a deal at your local Goodwill, thrift shopping has been prevalent for over a century and is still a popular choice today.
For centuries, clothes were never just clothes. “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,” said Jennifer Le Zotte, historian and author of From Goodwill to Grunge: A History of Secondhand Styles and Alternative Economies. An influx of immigrants during the 19th century caused cities to grow larger and garment production to hit an all-time high. Clothing lost its multi purposeness and became disposable as living conditions shrunk. A new market for thrown-out items emerged, and the amount of American charity giving reached a peak. Edgar J. Helms, a Methodist reverend, founded the movement that would evolve into Goodwill Industries, one of the most famous thrift store chains in the United States. The practice of thrift shopping or “thrifting” became a favorable choice during the Great Depression and remained popular as the desire for vintage pieces grew.
Today, there are over 25,000 resale (both for-profit and nonprofit) and consignment shops in the United States. Modern technology has also opened thrift shopping up to a broader market with online stores such as Poshmark, Mercari, thredUP and more. The popularity of thrifting is not unknown to the Pace community, either. In a collected survey of 47 Upper School students and faculty, 53.2% said they had gone thrift shopping sometime in the past year. 72.3% also reported having at least a few pieces of thrift store clothing in their closets. “Model UN encourages thrift shopping: some of our best male delegates have bought their amazing western business suits at thrift stores! MUN knowledge is essential, but looking dapper is always a plus!” said teacher Helen Smith. “Charity thrift stores do triple duty: clean out my closets, provide good buys at reasonable prices for shoppers and benefit the charity with needed funds! We need to stop buying cheap throwaway junk. Landfills do not need anything more!”
Though having a decreased stigma about purchasing second-hand clothes has benefited many, there are a few ethical concerns involving the practice of thrifting. For one, there has been a more recent surge in consumers buying clothing from thrift stores with the intention of inflating the price to make a profit. “A lot of young sellers raise the price on items they purchase from thrift stores,” says senior Allison Silverboard. “Because of the reselling, this causes thrift stores to raise their prices, making it less accessible to low-income communities.” Some customers have found their local thrift stores lacking in available sizes. An anonymous student wrote, “There are not many cute clothes for larger sizes. Extra-large and up doesn’t have many options.” While thrifting is a better choice for the environment, only a slim percentage of clothing donations ever make it to the rack. The others are usually used as rags, or sent to impoverished countries, which can disrupt local economies.
Still, the positives of buying secondhand might outweigh its negatives. The clothing industry is one of the most harmful to the environment. Thrifting keeps non-biodegradable pieces out of the landfill, lowers your carbon footprint, helps preserve water and reduces chemical pollution. Even donating clothes makes a difference, as it gives more options to those who need them. However, thrifting, both donating and buying, is not the answer to everything. Reducing the amount of clothing you buy does more than buying half a Goodwill’s stock. Remember, the most sustainable clothes are the ones already in your closet!