The magic of secondhand treasures, the practicality of thrifting your wardrobe and the importance of sustainable fashion
When I write, I tend to veer into nostalgia quite a lot. While that can easily become weary and overdrawn, I just can’t help it. I didn’t have a perfect childhood (who does? and my parents would be the first to admit it), but my parents made sure that, on and off the farm, we were able to take part in a wealth of experiences and worldly wisdom and made sure that we were equipped to take on the world. There are a lot of wonderful memories and lessons to call to mind.
I remember thrift stores and consignment shops as early as elementary school. My parents did alright for themselves, but money was tight. My mom stretched every dollar and every cent by shopping generic, working the sales and shopping secondhand.
One of my favorites was a set of three to five stores in a strip mall. It was run by a group of ladies from a local Mennonite church. Each store housed different types of merchandise: one, clothes and shoes; one, household items; another, furniture. You could get lost in the aisles forever – it could’ve easily been boring, but my mom taught us early to appreciate the hunt. She knows value – and you better believe if she didn’t know what it was, she was taking it home and Googling it. She drives a hard bargain when she needs to. It paid off for her – in addition to clothing herself, her husband and her five kids through their formative years, she also maintained a successful side hustle for a while selling gently used and vintage toys.
But we’re talking clothing – today is National Secondhand Wardrobe Day, after all.
According to Goodwill, individual Americans discard 60 to 80 pounds of textile waste a year. Purchasing secondhand is a heavy blow to fast fashion. Re-Fashion, a sustainable UK-based retailer, also weighed in on the environmental drain: “Fabrics such as polyester and nylon are created from petroleum, and according to the Council of Fashion Designers of America, over 346 million barrels of oil are used each year to produce them. Cotton is another material that requires a vast amount of natural resources to produce. A highly water-intensive crop, some studies suggest that it takes approximately 2,700 litres of water to produce just one cotton T-shirt.” Shopping secondhand keeps clothing waste out of the landfill and reduces the pull of the manufacturing process on the environment.
But not only is it better for the environment, it’s great for you and your family!
Shopping secondhand helps you model healthy money habits and drives home the value of the dollar for your kids. There is value in taking the time to search the aisles of a thrift shop for a nice coat (maybe your find is even designer) rather than buying a flashy foam and polyester creation from the internet that will cost you a hundred dollars or more and quickly fall apart – just because it’s the “next best thing” or “the coat everyone has.”
Thrifting can be kinder to your budget than shopping new.
A lower cost margin means it’s more feasible to sink money into another wardrobe of play clothes for your ever-growing elementary schooler or more barn shirts for your husband. You aren’t making the monetary investment that you would be shopping new.
It allows your wardrobe to have character. There is a lot to be said for the old adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” You’ll find the coolest castoffs – be it an estate sale or an attic cleanout, someone had enough of those pieces and wanted to get rid of them. But you can give them new life.
Constantly revolving inventory allows for great selection. Donations in the back door, sales out the front door. This means there will always be a new piece to catch your eye and there are always new options to consider.
All that’s old is new again. Fashion is circular. Shopping secondhand prolongs the life of your clothing. That dated shirt? Chances are it’s not as dated as you think – and paired with the right pants, it might even be back in fashion!
Where do we start? Blogger Kathryn Kellogg has a great article on her website, Going Zero Waste (www.goingzerowaste.com/blog/a-guide-to-secondhand-shopping/). While in many ways, there is nothing to it except opening the door and stepping inside your friendly neighborhood consignment store for the first time, she goes through some great first-time reminders you might not think of and talks through the different types of vendors: thrift store, consignment shop, resale shop, etc.
While navigating secondhand shopping online can be difficult from a quality-control standpoint, online options are also available and the offerings are growing rapidly. Sustainable Jungle has a great list of online secondhand retailers – some names you might know, some you might not (https://www.sustainablejungle.com/sustainable-fashion/best-online-thrift-stores/).
But maybe online isn’t for you. You like things to be tangible – the experience of fishing in the rack, thinking of that piece you need. That top catching your eye – the bright fabric a burst of sunshine. The experience of running the comfortable fabric through your fingers. You hold it to the light – thinking how lucky of a find this is…and how well it will go with your perfect pair of jeans.
It’s hard to explain. To some people it’s dirty, or cheap, or passé. Some people don’t get the draw. But to the right person, it’s a new world of possibilities.
by Andy Haman
I am a big fan of a super low cost wardrobe for working. A tear or a stain on a $2 pair of pants or a $1 shirt is not too upsetting. The occasional “fill a bag sale” is a great way to stock up on shop rags.
Thanks for sharing this article. My daughter and I have spent many hours in thrift and secondhand stores. There are lots of articles online about thrifting, but this one stands out because it combined good information and relatable experiences. I loved your description of the Mennonite-run resale mall!