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Has Thrifting Become Gentrified?

Thrifting has turned trendy, but what does that mean for the community it originally served?

Photo: Pinterest

For trendy upper-middle class college students living in and around New York City, thrift shopping has become a regular weekend activity. Lined up on downtown street corners, it’s evident that, for them, thrifting is a game of sorts: a hunt for designer pieces at bargain prices. Hours later, they triumphantly exit with tote bags filled to the brim with vintage band tees, scuffed high heels, and worn leather jackets to add to their extensive wardrobe. Long associated with the working class, buying cheap, second-hand clothing is now a pastime of the everyday youthful urbanite in pursuit of an individual sense of style, with the money and time to spare to curate it.

Historically, thrift stores were outlets for lower-class individuals who could not afford shopping at name-brand stores, including immigrants and minorities. Owning second-hand clothing wasn’t considered fashionable; in fact, it carried a massive stigma with it, and was considered something to be ashamed of. However, with social media platforms such as TikTok and YouTube, the entire concept of thrifting has become reinvented. Influencers post massive thrift try-on hauls sporting “Y2K vintage” looks, or vlog their experience digging through racks at their neighborhood Goodwill to find hidden fashion treasures.

Photo: Pinterest

In addition to your everyday Goodwills and classic Salvation Army shops, vintage stores have also cropped up in major cities, offering a more curated experience for shoppers. Luxury or otherwise high-quality items are put on display for lower prices than they would normally sell for. New York City is home to many of these popular vintage stores such as L-Train Vintage and Crossroads Trading Co., as well as plenty of chain consignment boutiques like Buffalo Exchange and Beacon’s Closet.

Many have praised the popularization of thrifting for its sustainable nature, as it’s in direct opposition to overconsumption, and deters purchasing from the fast-fashion brands that contribute to excess clothing waste and are infamous for their poor labor conditions. Instead of purchasing massive hauls from Forever 21 and H&M each season, the practice of thrifting inspires a slow, more purposeful kind of art when it comes to shopping for clothing. According to the 2020 Resale Report published by ThredUp and GlobalData, the secondhand apparel industry is expected to be valued at $64 billion by the year 2024, a current projection based on its wild popularity. It’s evident that society’s relationship to thrifting has shifted.

However, as the public’s desire for second-hand goods has skyrocketed, there’s been an unanticipated negative effect: Thrift stores have upped their prices significantly to meet the growing demands. The industry has become gentrified as it begins to service a more elite crowd, detracting from the original purpose of servicing lower-income consumers. It brings back the financial strain that once sent people to these stores in the first place.