From Riches to Rags: The Untold Story of Thrifting


  The trademark blue logo of a local Goodwill gleams above a group of teens basking in the light of the storefront. Each shopper has spent their Friday night carefully sifting through the racks of second-hand clothing and is eager to show off their five dollar finds. 

  It is safe to say that the thrifting epidemic has officially taken over as one of the top trends. In the past, low-income people were the primary consumers at second-hand stores like Goodwill, Salvation Army and Savers, because these outlets were often their only affordable options. 

  Today, this is far from the case. As a result of high praise from influencers, one is more likely to find bargain-hunting high schoolers than someone living paycheck to paycheck in a thrift store. In fact, many young people are turning to second-hand stores as their primary source of clothing. 

  However, although praised for its environmental sustainability and socioeconomic benefits, the recent boom in thrift store shopping has its pitfalls.

  Unsurprisingly, as more and more people jump on the thrifting bandwagon, those relying on low-cost items are negatively impacted by rising prices. Due to higher prices, people facing financial struggles may be putting money towards clothing that is better spent on food or health expenses. While the rise in prices may seem insignificant, for those with little money to spare it may be a matter of survival. 

  As a result, long-time customers of second-hand stores have spoken out about the increase in prices and the decrease of quality merchandise that has accompanied  the growth of thrifting. They claim that the clothing section in particular often appears to have been picked through for the best items, sometimes leaving little behind for others.

  There is also another aspect to the dwindling resources for low-income people. Apps like Depop and thredUP are alternatives to physical thrift shopping in which users can buy and sell used clothing. Although originally intended to create easier access to affordable merchandise, many users have taken to purchasing cheap items and subsequently selling them for two or three times their thrift store cost. This takes away from those who depend on reduced prices by excessively marking them up for profit; add in additional shipping costs and app fees, and items effectively become inaccessible. 

  The issue of marked up prices may even continue to escalate as department stores like JCPenney and Macy’s introduce partnerships with thredUP. Retailers are looking to take advantage of the vintage shopping trend by creating second-hand sections in their stores at retail prices, without consideration for low-income consumers.

  As some may know, the majority of thrift stores are run by charities and non-profit organizations to raise money for disadvantaged groups, or to simply provide for those facing financial struggles. Attempting to capitalize on the affordable merchandise that second-hand stores make available detracts from these goals, essentially defeating their purpose and allowing big business to triumph over giving back to the community.  

  Is this to say that consumers who can afford retail prices should turn back to fast fashion? Not necessarily. A major way that customers can take part in the thrifting craze while also supporting second-hand stores is by donating their used clothing to thrift stores, local coat drives or groups like the Vietnam Veterans of America. Donating items such as shoes, pants and jackets is especially  encouraged, as they are more expensive and more important for remaining protected from weather conditions. In addition, if one can afford to purchase these items new from small businesses or ethical brands, doing so would allow them to remain environmentally responsible while also supporting their community.   

  Alternatively, one of the main points that advocates of thrift store shopping tend to bring up is its minimal environmental footprint. While it is true that buying from used clothing stores is typically much more environmentally friendly than buying new items, there are various sustainable brands that provide other avenues for eco-friendly shopping. Sustainable brands are often much more expensive than some can afford, but if one is willing to invest in purchasing even a few items, they could be making a major difference in keeping thrift store prices low. The more merchandise available, the less likely prices are to increase. 

   With all of these things in mind, consumers should remember that thrifting is not limited to those with a low-income background, as many aspects of the current trend positively impact both the environment and our wallets.    Nevertheless, it is important to consider the impact that the thrifting trend can have on those with socioeconomic disparities, while doing our part to support them as we share their resources.

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