The Meaning of Thrifting

November 11, 2022
I am a big “thrifter.”  It’s probably my favorite thing to do.   “Thrifting” is the word we of Generation Z use to describe buying used-closes at thrift stores.  Thrifting has become extremely popular and trendy.  Some may call it a hobby but I call it an art form.   My passion for it knows no bounds.   I am not a morning person at all.   However, I will wake up early on a Saturday morning to stand in line for an hour in the cold for a chance to buy used clothes in South San Francisco’s Goodwill Warehouse.  I am also known to go thrifting spontaneously, dropping all my plans to go to a new thrift store.   Just ask my dad.  He knows how I will beg him to stop the car if we happen to drive by one unexpectedly.   
The most obvious attraction of thrifting is the low prices and bargains.  Shoppers can save tons of money buying used clothes vs new clothes.  The variety of name brands to choose from — Levi’s, Ralph Lauren, Adidas, Lululemon, Doc Martens — to name just a few, are simply amazing.   The other thing about thrifting that is now pretty much common knowledge amongst thrifters like me is that the clothes aren’t always worn.  I often find new unworn dresses and shirts with the price tag still attached.  Another thing I like about thrifting which non-thrifters might find unusual is something I call the authenticity factor.   Whereas in the mall you have plastic mannequins and posters of models dressed up to entice you to buy, in thrift stores, you think about yourself in the clothes. In this sense, thrifting has greater power to make you feel good about your own image because you are not comparing yourself to someone else’s idea of beauty.   You should be able to create your own identity without feeling pressure to conform to impossible ideals of perfection and youth-everlasting.
The other thing that is special about thrifting is the experience of wearing someone else’s clothes.  Sometimes I think to myself, “who was it that wore these clothes? Who was she or he and what did they look like wearing them?”  This type of thinking requires imagination, even creativity of a certain kind.   Then, you also have to imagine yourself in them and feel comfortable enough with the “look” to “borrow” their clothes to add to your new wardrobe.   In a way, I feel like the clothes are this bridge between the old dresser and the new one which is me.   Buying someone’s else’s clothes also carries an implicit approval of yourself by another person who, like myself, once considered buying the article of clothing.  I’m sure they must have felt similar feelings of self-pride and self-love as they put on a beautiful blue flowered dress or a black leather jacket (see pic).   It’s really impossible not to wonder about this as you touch the fabric which touched them and symbolically, their life.   The connection is there to this other person who gave part of themselves to shape who you are in the present, as you look at yourself in the mirror, standing in a new pair of black high-top Converse shoes you tied and are hoping will fit.  

Practically speaking, I used to just go shopping all the time at clothing stores in the mall such as Hollister, Tilly’s and Forever 21.  Since discovering the joys of thrifting, I can now buy those same high-quality name brands for a fraction of the price.  However, the affordability of used-clothing at thrift-stores is clearly not the main reason I go.  Instead, I go to thrift stores like Plato’s Closet in Pacifica, Goodwill in San Bruno or The Salvation Army in San Francisco in the Mission District.     In creating new fashionable expressions from the identities of others who came before me, something remarkable happens to me.  A floral dress of red and white roses or a black hoodie can transform me, and not just externally.  Internal transformation occurs as well.  New feelings arise when you put on the clothes that once belonged to another.  You can even remake yourself as a snake grows new skin again and again.
Each article of clothing has a life of its own.  New store-bought clothes cannot confer this power.  Only thrift stores can.  They represent the intersection of my life with another person’s life.  When I dress in another’s clothes, I walk in someone else’s shoes, imagining the places they went, the ground on which they stood, joys, sorrows amid life’s twists and turns.   Maybe they were worn at a birthday or before you met for your first date, or maybe just when you were alone looking at yourself in the mirror.  They could have brightened someone’s day, made them feel beautiful and noticed.  They now can brighten mine…
The beauty of my love for thrift shopping or “thrifting” as my friends and I call it, is the pieces of clothing that have been passed down from one human to another.  Falling into my hands, I now can take a new journey in them.  The shedding of a pair of Vans sneakers, like a tree dropping a seed, can give rise to a new life in the new wearer of those shoes. 
There is also the gift thrifting bestows on our environment.  The act of buying clothes from second-hand stores like The Salvation Army, keeps clothing out of landfills and reduces carbon and chemical pollution.   As each set of pants, shirts, shoes, is donated it goes through a cycle of life.  As I put on a new dress or pair of blue jeans, I am reborn.  I feel adorned, adored and connected.  
Finally, the idea of thrifting has been passed down to me. My great grandmother who is deceased went thrifting all the time.  She always had the most unique put together outfits and I have kept the tradition alive. When I find a unique piece of clothing my brain spirals into the many ways I could incorporate it into outfits to feel confident. Thrifting is my most creative side to myself because of how well I am able to express myself through everything. 
Second hand clothing has been judged as dirty by some.  On the contrary, the life cycle of clothing going from one person to the next, helps our environment.  I find myself going through racks of clothes in every aisle for hours on end.  Even if it means I find nothing, I make pictures of the souls who have worn the clothes.   
Madeline Grassi, Guest Author
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Trish Althaus
Trish Althaus
1 year ago

I love this article!!! I have done some thrifting, but have definitely donated more clothing than bought. That being said , my kids thrift shop a lot. I really enjoyed reading your explanation on what makes thrifting so great. It was very insightful.

Shalini Kaushik
Shalini Kaushik
1 year ago

Loved it !! I have a new perspective to thrifting !!

Carolyn Grassi
Carolyn Grassi
1 year ago

Wonderful article Madeline! I am proud of your thrifting philosophy for recycling and your empathy for those who wore the clothes you purchase. Also, your writing is fantastic!

Alisa Grassi
Alisa Grassi
1 year ago

Great article Madeline! You have always been such a great writer. Your grandma Thomas shares your love of finding the hidden treasure, mostly when it comes to antiques.

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