The distinct smell of vintage clothes hits your nose as soon as you enter. The one-room shop is filled to the brim with racks of clothes: pants and shirts, dresses and ties and even plenty of hats.
That is what you experience walking into the Rescued Treasures Elmore SPCA thrift store in downtown Plattsburgh, New York.
According to NARTS, the Association of Resale Professionals, there are over 25,000 resale shops, including consignment and not-for-profit resale stores, in the United States alone.
Just like the clothes they sell, thrift stores come in all shapes and sizes as well. There are franchised chains of thrift stores that are nation-wide, such as Plato’s closet and Goodwill. There are also local-based thrift stores. Some thrift stores even donate part, if not all, of their sales.
Rescued Treasures Elmore SPCA donates all of their sales to a local shelter. Last year they doubled their sales from the previous years, donating around $75,000 to the shelter. There are even some unconventional shops, like the thrift store in an old dorm building at SUNY Plattsburgh. The store is set up in several rooms, each room containing a different grouping of items, such as bedding, clothes and electronics. All of the items that go into this shop are either donated from students or what students left behind in their rooms.
Jennie Booth is a volunteer at Rescued Treasures thrift store. She is a senior citizen who did not know much about the world of thrifting until a few years ago when she initially found out about this volunteer position.
“I love working here. I love the people that you interact with,” Booth said. “It’s actually three wins. It’s a win for me to downsize and to do something besides put in the landfill. It’s a win for this shop because 100% of these are donations and 100% of the work is volunteer so it all goes to the shelter. But the third win is that some of the people who come in here, they can well afford to go and buy somewhere else but it’s sort of like a sport that they enjoy, but some people really need it.”
Thrift stores first came around in the late 1800s. According to the University of Berkley, there was a spike in textile production during the Industrial Revolution, which led to an overabundance of clothes in the market. With a lack of consumers and too much product, manufacturers had to put clothes somewhere, thus leading to the invention of thrift stores.
Second-hand clothes, however, quickly fell out of style, as designer clothes and fast fashion took over. Buying the latest styles to stay up to date with the newest trends became the fashionable thing to do. Wearing certain name brands signified a higher class standing in society.
The urge to throw aside this way of classifying people based on wealth came about in the mid- ‘90s with the beginning of the new generation, Gen-Z, and there are a few reasons for that.
Somewhere along the line, fashion designers stopped trying to make the newest fashion trends and instead looked back to what was popular 50-60 years ago for inspiration. Older generations, such as Baby Boomers and Generation X, can now find clothes in stores that were popular when they were in their 20s.
Along with throwback trends came a trend of feeling unique. Teenagers don’t want to wear the same clothes as their classmates. They want to find styles that reflect who they are and that can’t be found in cookie-cutter designs that are shipped to stores across the country.
With the ideas of vintage styles and unique clothes really taking a hold on the fashion industry, people began looking for outlets to find these styles. People began turning to thrift stores during the pandemic. Many consumers were left with an excess of time and a want that was satisfied in second-hand stores.
Another factor that had people turning to thrifting is the expense of clothing. High-end clothing brands, such as Dior and Gucci, sell t-shirts that can cost more than $1,000. Even if a consumer is not buying the most expensive clothing brands, the price for new clothes can be too much. Thrifting is a significantly cheaper option to buying clothes from big-box stores or even local boutiques. According to Jessica Dickler, a reporter at CNBC, people who buy thrifted clothes can save approximately $1,760 per year.
“I get most of my clothes thrifting,” college student Sydney Hakes said. “I really realized you can find so much for so cheap. You really don’t need to buy new stuff for high prices as long as you know what thrift stores to look for.”
Going to thrift shops can even pay. All thrift stores run off of clothes that are brought in from the public. Some of these stores use only donations, but many large thrift store chains will pay for the clothes they receive.
Gabriella Boschetti is a college student who works at an on-campus thrift store. “A large part of our job is that we try to take away from the amount of waste that is going to the landfills, so whatever people donate we try to see if there’s a way we can either put it in the thrift store for students to utilize or donate it to other thrift stores,” Boschetti said.
This method of reselling clothes positively impacts the environment. According to Earth Day, the fashion industry produces 150 billion items of clothing per year, of which, close to 87% end up in landfills. The fashion industry is also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. According to Victoria Whalen, a fellow at Action for the Climate Emergency, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of released greenhouse gasses.
“I’m incredibly environmentally conscious myself,” Boschetti said. “I try to use, for the most part, items that have already been worn before like clothing or shoes. The majority of my wardrobe is from thrift stores.”
Unfortunately, the process of recycling clothes is only in the early stages of its production. It is a slow process where every item of clothing is sorted by hand. Only about 1% of clothes that are being discarded are recycled. It is too expensive and time consuming to be a real solution for this problem at this point in time.
An easy way to lower the damage caused by producing and discarding clothes is by donating them to second-hand stores.
Another volunteer worker at Rescued Treasures, Sharon Roraback, has been working in thrift shops and antiques stores for the majority of her life.
“I’ve always been passionate about taking care of our planet, even before it was a thing and before it was fashionable. I’ve watched what’s happened to our planet with fast fashion and I think thrifting is one way we can combat that,” Roraback said.
And then, there are people who just enjoy the sport of thrifting. They like hunting through the racks and piles of clothes to find the perfect item or the best deal.
Thrifting has gained quite a large foothold in today’s fashion industry. The trend even has a National Thrift Store Day: Aug. 17. Its popularity comes from not only the fashion standpoint, but from the move toward environmentally friendly shopping as well.