A Thrifty Flee from Assimilation

By Chinedum Joan Charity Emelumba

Beeeeeeeeeeep! Beeeeeeeeep! Beeeeeeeeeep! Beeeeeeeeep!

Thunderous vehicle sounds echoed from outside of the Unique Thrift Shop. The “It’s your world, make a difference, recycle!” truck slowly backed up in the front of the building, as the driver carefully aligned his wheel parallel to the sidewalk. Two sales associates draped in a droning, red body clasping uniform tops greeted the driver, while helping him unload the heaps of donations, stuffed in glossy black garbage bags. Aromas of Orchard Bloom Arm and Hammer softener seep from the back piles of bags, filling the air all around. God bless the souls of those individuals kind of enough to pass down their possessions to others.

It’s a journey alright- a journey for underpaid workers to labor over several thousand articles of clothing daily, then for those clothes to be shipped to companies and sold in retail stores at gut-wrenching prices. Consumers constantly raid these high-end hot shopping spots to add the latest trends to their closet. After a while, these clothes that once were “must haves” are washed, tossed in trash bags, along with other second-hand pieces and shipped to Goodwill shops all over the country. These pieces travel for miles and miles, and the journey ends here in this donation truck.

Thrift shops are noted as non-profit organizations that function as philanthropic outlets that provide goods and services, generally for financially incapable individuals. So, it would only be fitting for these organizations to branch out and form stores that specifically sell recycled apparel and other accessories to the public. According to a popular business website-smallbusiness.chron.com– thrift shops require a license by appropriate charities and are run as small businesses under contract. A popular presumption by society is that those individuals, who waste hours digging and hunting through grubby heaps of passed down apparel, are nowhere near the top of the financial ladder. The correct response to this assumption would be that, indeed some dedicated thrifters are in no position to lavish their savings on inflated retail prices. But, there are still some people who willingly chose to dig through mountain’s of used apparel; these individuals enjoy the voyage of tapping into a portal of individual discovery- the satisfaction that cannot be obtained by shopping through the crispy and clean racks of a Macy’s or Hollister store.

Demand Media Writer, Tracey Sandilands, pointed out in an article titled “Thrift Stores and Average Income”, “[t]he resale industry in the United States experienced a comeback after the start of the economic downturn in 2008”. She noted later on in the same article that this surge in sales by resale, consignment, and thrift stores during the year 2011, simply “mirrored the aftermath of the 1990s recession.” An economic slump normally does not reflect well on the bank accounts of many individuals. So, it would make perfect sense as to why people began to cut back on spending habits, hoarding every penny that they could. Members of the National Association of Resale Professionals (NARP) took notice of the rise in revenue by resale shops. The organization cited a number of reasons, including the obvious, as to why people began turning to thrift shops, while developing their penny-pinching habits. When asked about their perspectives on the climb sales by resale shops, they responded,

“[t]he reasons for this [the fact that the boom in resale shops mirrored the aftermath of the’90s recession] included an increased need for households to sell unused items for cash and reduces quantities of disposable income that made it necessary for people to shop at cheaper outlets.”

This particular day at the Goodwill, in Roselle, NJ, brought in an unusually high volume of customer’s according to one sales rep that stood in the corner of the store and gazed at customers squirming around from one end to the other trying to score an additional bargain. “Everything is half off of the marked price tag,” he squealed from the left corner of the building. His announcement echoed like a gunshot to the sky. Upon hearing this statement, customers scurried instantly, leaping over their filled carts to grab the items that their eyes connected with on the other side of the store.

Nearby the checkout line, a flustered mother of two belted out in utter annoyance, “[S]top touching things that don’t belong to you Xavier!” She marched over to her son, who stood transfixed with a confused and slightly frightened look plastered on his face. At first, he stood still as the water in his eyes, bubbled up under his eyeballs. The tears escaped his eyes as Xavier threw his arms in the air and fell to the ground- all a part of his ostentatious temper tantrum.

Amidst the chaos and calamity that was going on at the rear of the store, some other shoppers directed their attention to enlivening their personal style. “Excuse me sir, these boot is speaking to me, so I wanted to know if you happen to have them in any other size?” the pale woman asked a sales rep, holding up in her left hand, a right-footed auburn cowboy boot. The sales rep giggled and responded, “[w]ell you know what good for you; sometimes clothes speak to us. But, to answer your questions ma’am, we don’t have that particular boot in any other size. Whatever is out on the floor is all that we have.” The woman remained silent, nodding her head in slight disappointment.

Washed out denim jeans ranging from low-rise, to high waist, to straight skinny leg hung on a tarnished rack near a life-sized mirror, which was parallel to the dressing room. With washed-out hemlines and frazzled prints, the denim stand blocked the smaller rack behind it that held a short sleeved, black t-shirt with the face of legendary reggae musician, Bob Marley, on the front. A world full of large, leather handbags and vintage clutches dangled from the dingy walls all across the back of the store, presenting itself to every passer-by.

The checkout line at every register extended to eternity, so it seemed. This scene of people scurrying from aisle to aisle, rummaging through heaps of jumble-sale clothing would seem questionable to any individual who has not yet embraced the thrift shop ethic. But what besides the good deal bargains compels these committed thrifters to come splurge their paychecks on recycled merchandise?

In his chart- topping hit song, “Thrift Shop”, Washington born rapper and musician, Macklemore, poses a series of questions to all the non- thrifters of the world. He begins the verse asking,

“What you know about rockin’ a wolf on your noggin? What you know about a wearin’ a fur fox skin? I’m digging, I’m digging, I’m searching right through that luggage, one man’s trash, that’s another man’s come- up.”

These few lines hold true to the fact that there is something magical and empowering about exploring one’s creativity through the hand-me-down’s of a fellow individual. There is individuality and a break from societal ideals of appearance that can be discovered in thrift shops. As Macklemore would put it, it’s a very beautiful thing to be a “cold-ass honkey”- that is, someone who is able to mix and match items from high-end department stores with resale merchandise from thrift shops.

Turning back to the literal definition of the word, style is described as a manner of doing something; a design or make in a particular form. If one were to apply this definition to the way that people dressed, then style would be referred to as the manner in which people take different articles of clothing and accessories and create looks that suite their personal taste and preferences. But, how is this freedom allowed to manifest when department stores constantly flood our minds with high-priced merchandise coupled with in vogue fashion brands? How does this aid in diversifying the average man/woman’s personal style? How does the promotion of expensive brands as socially acceptable, propel the growth of individuality and creativity amongst the people of this world?

When asked about her opinion on whether there is a problem with the average man/woman’s style, 21 year old, fashion blogger and keen thrifter, SheRea Delsol had plenty to say.

“I don’t think that there is a problem with people’s style today. I do, however think that people rely on brands in the name of style,” she stated.

Although she found no problem with the style of people today, Delsol did not hesitate to mention the misconception that people have about noted fashion brands.

“Brands are “fashion”, they are not style. Wearing Chanel doesn’t guarantee that you have a sense of style,” she added.

Fashion is an ever changing movement, in which the details and ideas of the present are pregnant with the past. Legendary, French fashion designer of the 80’s, Coco Chanel, once stated in an interview, “Fashion is always of the time in which you live. It is not something standing alone.” Osha Waiters, 22, student and freelance photographer noted the subtle difference in the style of people of modern times in comparison to several decades ago.

“I feel that people are more casual today compared to like the 40’s and 50’s when men and woman dressed nicely every day. But I do see some people that dress really nice and that makes them stick out from everyone else,” she affirmed.

According to the statistics reported by the National Association of Resale Professionals, Goodwill Industries produced retail sales of a whopping $2.69 billion, during 2011 from more than 2,500 stores. Members of the NARP also noted that this report specifically calculated would mean that the average sale per store was $107,600. With stats like these, it is safe to assume that the resale industry has evolved from the charity houses that they once emerged as. Several A-list celebrities, including Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, Miguel, Debbie Harry, and One Republic’s Ryan Tedder have admitted to “poppin’ tags” at their local thrift shops despite their glorious incomes.

It is often assumed that people who shop at thrift shops are low-cost consumers who are parsimonious with spending money, or who were struggling financially. But, this is not necessarily true if wealthy musicians and actors spend time digging through used clothing when they could simply buy up an entire outlet if they pleased. Many people are gripped by the idea that people will judge them by the way that they present themselves, so appearance means everything. Society feeds the public this message and we embrace it whole-heartedly. More often than not, it is very true that people will make superficial judgments of one another.

“Sadly, this is true. Appearance does matter because it’s the first part of the impression you give off,” said Joeline Sanders, 22, student from Jersey City, NJ. “But it shouldn’t restrict people to feeling like they have to conform to what is expected, unless you are in a professional environment,” she added.

Thrift Shops provide consumers with a place for them to fulfil their quest for individuality. Resale shops enable human beings to do what they probably fear the most- that is, to be trendily divergent! People no longer have to feel compelled to fill their wardrobes with name brand materials. Contrary to popular belief, people have the power to recreate and construct themselves through the things that they wear.

“I think people may look at thrifting as something to be ashamed of because society and pop culture makes many people think that shopping at the most expensive places means that you’ll have better styles,” said Waiters. “We know thrifting isn’t for everyone, some people can pull it off while others can’t, it’s an art,” she continued.

Indeed thrifting is an art form, just like painting, dancing, and most definitely writing. Through painting, dancing and writing, one is able to use a means other than speech to convey his or her ideas and emotions. Thriting is an artistic means of personal expression of style. No one wants to have someone dictate what he or she is allowed to wear every day of their lives. This is not to bash department stores of any sort; but thrift shops provide freedom of expression, freedom of style and a freedom from societal standards.

Delsol beamed, “I suppose they [some people] have the perception that thrifting is dirty and tacky. I am glad that I prove them wrong every time.”


See more stories from Chinedum Joan Charity Emelumba “Thrifty Fashion : Vintage Fashion – Bridging the Difference”