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The Rise of Thrifting

Some one or two hundred years ago, mass production of the industrial revolution brought fashion and luxury to the masses in the form of the department store. In contemporary times, however, the economic accessibility of shopping secondhand — whether thrift or vintage — is what makes fashion a more accessible creative outlet to many.

Frugal 20s who have bills to pay and dreams to live and save for (not to mention rising education and rent prices) have begun to abandon mass-produced purchasing. We explore this phenomenon through a conversation with Caelan Nardone and Zachary Davis, who share their experiences as long-time thrifters who participate in a culture and use thrifted resources to advance queer style in their own ways.

K : Where do you thrift and why?

Z : I feel like in New York, it’s always one of two places for me : L Train Vintage (any of their locations) if I’m looking for cheaper stuff, or Search & Destroy if i’m looking for more vintage items.

C : Same here. Back in Rhode Island, I would go to Savers a lot.

Z : It’s like Goodwill, but bigger and cheaper — and I kinda like it better.

C : Yeah, you can go every two weeks and you’ll find something new.

K : What kinds of things do you look for or take into consideration when you’re shopping secondhand? Are you ever shopping for specific pieces, styles or brand names?

C : It really depends on where I’m going. If I’m going to Search & Destroy, I kind of expect that whatever I like is going to cost a lot of money (laughter). Sometimes I’m looking for something more specific, but a lot of times with thrifting it’s just sort of a gamble. I feel like you’re most successful at thrifting when you’re really not looking for anything, you’re open-minded.

Z : Yeah, you can’t be specific. You’re going just to find new pieces. Almost always I’ve come out with things I’ve just found. If I am ever looking for something specific, it’s [still] general — like shorts or t-shirts — things that could take on many forms.

K : Vintage versus thrift? How does what you may or may not be looking for affect where you choose to shop?

Z : There’s a very select few vintage stores that I’ll go to — Search & Destroy is one of them. Really I go there because it’s stuff you can’t find at the less expensive warehouse places. Their collections are always refined and curated; they know what kind of taste their customers have and what people are searching for.

C : Yeah, there’s more of a branded side to vintage stores versus thrifting at a giant warehouse.

Z : It’s less of a gamble.

C : — and definitely more expensive.

Z : I guess one thing we don’t really care about, actually, is brands. I look for things that look good and are made of cool materials, but that are also affordable. Even when I go to places like Search & Destroy I’m still always looking for the cheaper, sale stuff — even there, they have entire racks of $5 shirts. A lot of it is actually priced what it’s worth, though — like, I understand the customized creepers and leather jackets being a bit more expensive.

C : A lot of times I’ll find things that I can somehow craft with or alter myself, like cheap denim.

Z : That’s something that’s so fun about thrifting: being able to customize inexpensive pieces.

K : What are your favorite pieces that you’ve thrifted and altered?

C : I thrift a lot of vintage tees to crop or cut the sleeves off of for the club and stuff. I like jeans as well; I love finding high-waisted jeans and cutting or fraying the legs to make them capris, things like that.

Z : I really like distressing old sweaters. I look for ones that are oversized, or have cool knits or patterns. If you put a bunch of holes in one and stretch out the knitting you can get really cool textures, which are my favorite.

K : The practice really lives up to the name of “Search & Destroy.”

Z : Although usually when I go to Search & Destroy I’m not buying something to cut it up (laughter).

K : Would you say that thrifting is becoming a more popular, mainstream way to shop? Why do you think that is?

C : Um, yes (laughter). I definitely think it’s trendy to thrift but I think that people do it for different reasons. Some people do it because they like the idea of thrifting — it’s become more mainstream, I’d say, especially in recent years. While someone may start out doing it just because it’s cheaper than Zara and H&M —

Z : — it’s a lot more fun as a shopping experience than fast fashion places like those.

C : (Nodding) Yeah, the thing about those stores is that someone else will be wearing what you’re wearing, versus going thrifting you tend to find your own style through pieces that someone else won’t have.

K : Some people would say that thrifting as a rising trend among college students takes resources away from those of lower income, and argue that that’s the demographic for whom thrift stores are intended and other people shouldn’t be shopping there. What are your thoughts on this?

C : It’s supply and demand, in my opinion, because I’m thrifting I find that there’s always an excess. There’s always so much clothing to sort through — especially at the bigger stores like Savers or L Train. I feel like if there was less of a variety, it would be more of an issue.

Z : I don’t really see it as a resource that’s going to be exhausted. Every time you go in a thrift store —  big warehouse ones especially — there’s always a vast amount of turnover. There’s always new stuff, the racks are always full.

C : Like we were saying about savers, you can go every two weeks and find something new because people are constantly donating. And that’s another thing —

Z : — I’m not hoarding all my stuff (laughter.)

C : Exactly.

Z : When I’m done wearing something, I donate it back, which is an essential responsibility that goes along with it.

K : How would you say thrifting compares to using user-to-user resale sites like Depop? Have you had any experience with those?

Z : I feel like with shipping prices and everything, thrifting is generally cheaper, and I feel like I’m just the kind of person who likes going into a physical store and picking the things I like off of the racks.

C : Instant gratification!

K : It’s really interesting that you mention that “instant gratification” that’s one of the main testaments to in-person shopping experiences in our increasingly digitized world. What keeps people going to stores in person when the draw of merely purchasing an item is no longer sufficient?

C : It’s a whole experience; there’s a culture around it, I feel. In Rhode Island — Zack can attest to this — we would go thrifting every two weeks or so.

Z : We’d go when we were bored and spend less than we would on lunch, getting just one or two things.

C : I’ll find the weirdest pieces — like something that was once a nightgown —  and think, “how can I work this into my wardrobe?” It becomes a creative challenge — a fun challenge — and something to look forward to.

All clothing pieces shown have been purchased secondhand; accessories are handmade or bought directly from local artists.

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