Thrifting Privilege

thrifting privilege
Thrifting, as a cultural phenomenon, is incredibly odd when you really get down to it. This is not to say I don’t enjoy it — the bulk of my closet is secondhand, but I think it’s an oversight to ignore the way that people’s perceptions of charity/secondhand shops have changed over time.

As it stands now, a lot of people treat thrifting is kind of a fashionable hobby; it’s often seen as a way to distinguish yourself with unique or vintage pieces, but this attitude relies on a certain level of privilege. Going to a thrift shop to make yourself/your personal style stand out can feel like a slap in the face to someone shopping there because they can’t afford something else — when it comes down to it, wealthy people wearing unusual outfits are praised, while a different person wearing a similar outfit is going to face negative feedback for it.

Fashion, and especially the feedback we receive on it, is intrinsically linked to our perceived position in society — pay attention to the way trends jump between groups and the way attitudes towards them change as they’re adopted by other demographics. This happens a lot when a fashion is started by women of color, but only gains acceptance when adopted by white women. Another example is in pixie cuts, which are more accepted now that they are not seen as exclusively queer.

Another aspect of thrifting privilege is one that is shared by most other retail outlets, and relies on thin privilege. Going to a thrift shop for fashion relies on the assumption that there will likely be something there for you: that there will be a variety of options that will fit you, so you can choose what you like. This is something I had never really considered, until a friend and I were talking about where I got something and she responded with, “That sounds awesome, but I can never seem to find anything that fits me in thrift stores.”

Of course, there are a lot of good reasons to shop at thrift shops, like the fact that they help reduce waste by allowing items to be reused and often (but not always!) raise money for good causes. I don’t necessarily think that going thrifting for fashion is inherently bad — just that ignoring the dynamics of the interaction is insensitive and irresponsible consumption.


EDIT: I wanted to mention something that came up in the discussion of this post on twitter, which is that some (if not many) thrift shops are run by religious organizations that discriminate against LGBT+ individuals — and in this situation, shopping in discriminatory shops is linked to the privilege of being able to disregard the politics of the charity the shop raises money for. 

Do you shop in thrift shops? What do you think of the way thrifting is perceived?


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  1. 1

    It is really wild to think about how notions towards thrifting have changed. I remember being embarrassed as a child when my mother would take my brother and I to secondhand clothing stores. Even as I grew a bit older, people always gave me weird looks when they asked where I got an article of clothing and I told them it was secondhand. Now it’s all the rage! From an environmental perspective, I am very happy that secondhand clothing has caught on since it reduces waste and materials!


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