Have you recently wandered into a thrift shop, only to discover that the price tags resemble those of a designer boutique’s? Did you curse Macklemore, saying, “These most certainly are not come-ups!” (Am I the only one that still finds “Thrift Shop” catchy?) Did you pretend to check a few items out while thinking, “I could never afford this,” before slowly, forlornly exiting the store?
Did you answer “yes” to all or some of these?
Firstly, “Thrift Shop” is a jam. I don’t care what you say.
But more importantly, chances are you didn’t stumble into a thrift shop at all–instead, you discovered a vintage store.
I’ve encountered this exact same scenario several times. I’ve walked into vintage shops, enticed by window displays of sick track jackets and cool concert tees, only to be dismayed to see that the prices were way out of my range.
And while the words “thrift” and “vintage” may seem relatively synonymous, they in fact are not. “”Thrift” refers to money and price–as in, the careful management of monetary resources. But “vintage” indicates year of production. True, “older” items can typically be of lower quality or simply outdated, therefore reducing the price. In terms of fashion, however, age can elevate a product to a whole new status.
Vintage shops offer rare, specifically curated items. Sometimes these pieces are by well-known brands, some high-end (Gucci, Vivienne Westwood, Oscar de la Renta), some less so (Tommy Hilfiger and Levi’s). From a business standpoint, brands are especially important to a vintage shop’s’ repertoire. Today’s trends champion “the name.”
In other cases these pieces are not brand-name, but are unique and exquisite, especially well-preserved despite the vulnerability of their material and carefully selected by the shop’s curator. Vintage shops also offer one-of-a-kind novelty shirts, like legitimate concert T-shirts from legendary shows like a Guns ‘N’ Roses or Led Zeppelin performance, or some kind of important sports event. I can’t really elaborate on that last one, but you know what I mean.
It’s important to note here that there’s a difference between vintage novelty shirts and, let’s say, Urban Outfitters or H&M novelty shirts. Vintage ones are from the actual event they commemorate. They could have been mass-produced or handed out to only a lucky few, but their production dates to that specific moment. Novelty shirts sold by modern fast-fashion shops are, unless they specifically indicate otherwise, created today. They refer to that event but have been mass produced recently for the modern market. And let me point out that while there are some major issues with fast fashion (some of which we have addressed) there’s nothing wrong with the “new” novelty shirts. I simply recommend you recognize that they are not legitimately vintage.
I enjoy vintage shops, but I’ve actually never bought something from one. I tend to shop for style, and not necessarily for the brand name… coincidentally, I tend to shop “thrifty” in the traditional sense of the word, so naturally I prefer thrift shops.
Thrift shops, or charity shops, peddle old clothing for ridiculously low prices. Their stock can offer more variety than that of a vintage shop, as it’s based on donation, not curation. The good news: prices remain low and the store will still make a profit, part of which many thrift shops, such as the Salvation Army or Goodwill, will donate (hence “charity” shop). The not-as-good news: more items can mean less organization. So if you plan to go thrift shopping, prepare to spend some time going through racks on racks and mounds of clothes.
Not only do many thrift shops act as charities, but buying secondhand clothing is also a stellar way to cut down on clothing waste. It’s a form of recycling, and decreases the amount of cloth materials that eventually end up in landfills. And, perhaps, it sends a message to the aforementioned fast-fashion companies whose dubious business practices raise ethical concerns.
A common misconception questions the cleanliness of thrift shop clothing. A 2010 South Australian Public Health Directorate report determined that the health risk of buying used clothing is very low, but recommended washing items in hot water after purchase and before use.
Finally, I find much more creative freedom and enjoyment in and through thrift shopping. Their wide range of items certainly satisfies my eclectic taste. But when I want a pair of jeans to craft into shorts or two t-shirts to Frankenstein into a half-and-half top, a thrift shop is the perfect source. And, I have to say, discovering a thrifted gem among mountains of items has to feel comparable to mining for the real thing.
Check out our favorite vintage shops and thrift stores in NYC below.