Why I Shop Secondhand & Vintage in 2020

February 14th, 2020 / fashion, personal essay

Thrifting and secondhand shopping is by no means a new wave of consumerism. For years, bargain hunters, vintage lovers, nostalgic connoisseurs and many others have frequented their local thrift / secondhand / vintage store in search of unique and one of a kind gems.

My first memories of “shopping” secondhand began at neighborhood garage sales or yard sales as we often call them in Florida. Saturday mornings, my parents would pack us in the car, coffee mug in hand and drive around our sunny city scouring for makeshift signs planted upon green grass. Yard Sale, Garage Sale, Estate Sale listed at some address with big arrows pointing you to the promise land. Finding one of the coveted signs led to elevated excitement and the anticipation that a score was among us.

My parents have been going to garage sales even before I was born. My dad, an avid collector of many eclectic items, tells of the times he would scrounge for valuables while growing up in Cleveland and Iowa. Always remarking that the “garage sales are far better up North.” And, he’s right. During a family trip up to Ohio, we couldn’t believe the treasures packed and stuffed into brown boxes. Vinyl albums that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. Cool, vintage jackets that the folks in Florida have no need for. A young and nostalgic kid collector’s dream.

This garage sale tradition became part of our familial routine when Saturdays were free. On days where one of us didn’t have a sporting event, family obligation or the need to work - we’d drive around town in search of good & worn belongings. Still to this day, it’s our sort of ritual. And, subconsciously I learned to love the thrill of the hunt.

Secondhand gathering wasn’t always about finding collectibles and treasures. For us, it often meant practicality. Before there was Facebook Marketplace or the Let Go App, before teens sold their clothes on Depop or Poshmark - we were going to garage sales to find the items we needed. Out of necessity when money was tight and out of smart, fiscal sense when there was no need to splurge on items that were perfectly adequate and passed on by a local neighbor.

Items from garage sales, thrift shops and second hand stores have found a home in my closet, my kitchen and have furnished my various apartments for years. Leather coats I adore, vinyl records and books, my beautiful wood dresser with impeccable craftsmanship. Each of these items belonging to someone else, twice or thrice removed - taken in and given new purpose.

This ingrained sense of frugality, of saving money attributed from second hand finds is a virtue that my adult self is thankful for. Growing up with the mentality that used doesn’t mean old or dirty or broken, but instead means repurposed, rebuilt and renewed - has allowed me to experience an adventure every time I choose to shop. While not every purchase can be thrifted, there are many choices I deliberately make to shop secondhand, first - including clothes, furniture, books and kitchen essentials.

It seems that now, more than ever, shopping secondhand, thrifting and vintage sourcing is the new sense of cool. Many fashion entrepreneurs share their thrift hauls and apparel finds on Instagram or Youtube. Big retailers such as the Real Real or Thred Up that offer consignment options and sell contemporary and vintage items are quickly growing in popularity.

While some would say that this secondhand wave is just a trend, a mere fad - I’d ask them to think twice about why someone chooses to thrift over traditional shopping.

For some it’s cool and interesting to say you’ve thrifted your favorite pair of jeans at the local Goodwill or snagged a great pair of vintage boots while visiting NYC. Maybe they went with a friend or were inspired by the Internet. Either way, they are newbies, eager and excited.

For others, like myself, the act of shopping secondhand is something we grew up with. Whether we rejected the concept or clung onto it as we grew - we never quite knew a lifestyle that didn’t involve scouring the racks of our local thrift shops. You could call us the veterans.

And, then there are the converted believers. The fashion forward, yet conscious minded shoppers that want to make the world a better place or at-least, lessen their environmental footprint caused by the impact of fast fashion. There’s a good chance a younger version of themselves would have never been caught wearing anything less than the newest styles. Yet, as their career grows and their voice magnifies  - they understand that shopping secondhand needs more advocation and support than ever.

The data behind the fashion industry and the impact is has on the environment is staggering. While in no means am I criticizing the industry as a whole, fashion helps me to exemplify and express my identity - but, there are key players in the market that need to invoke drastic change.

According to Sustain Your Style, “The fashion industry is one of the major polluting industries in the world. The production and distribution of the crops, fibers, and garments used in fashion all contribute to differing forms of environmental pollution, including water, air, and soil pollution.”

Business Insider says: “85% of all textiles go to the dump each year. And washing some types of clothes sends thousands of bits of plastic into the ocean.”

And, according to the World Resources Institute, “Discarded clothing made of non-biodegradable fabrics can sit in landfills for up to 200 years.”

These are just a few facts and figures on the substantial impact the fashion industry makes on our environment and world population. In response, many brands have adopted an eco-conscious approach - trading their fast, ineffective practices for sustainability. While this is a great start, there is still a ways to go to reshape and rethink the workings of the fashion industry and how it will ultimately impact the longevity of our planet.

Knowing what we know, is secondhand shopping and thrifting the ultimate cure for environmental destruction? Not quite, but it’s a good first step. Thrifting and secondhand shopping has its own setbacks - fabric waste, poor recycling and improper garment disposal - that can have negative ramifications despite being good natured.

I wouldn’t say that shopping secondhand is the solution - a minimalist lifestyle and very limited consumerism would be a better goal to strive for - but, if you’re going to shop at all, purchasing goods that are already in existence, rather than using new materials can save immense resources.

In 2020, we are bombarded by world ending news every day and the lifespan of our planet is at the top of the list. I’ve never thought to advocate for thrifting / shopping secondhand as an environmental solution. Often, I’ve expressed my interest due to the sheer fact that I enjoy the process and discovering pieces that are truly unique to me.

But, now that I feel more educated and aware in regard to how our fashion consumption is altering the world we live in - I’m going to strive even more to practice sustainable shopping habits. I’ve never been one to yell my beliefs from the rooftops and I probably won’t start now, but I’d like to start  crafting a message that I can stand behind.

In my best attempt to hold myself accountable, I will think twice before I shop, before I purchase an item I really don’t need or give my money to a retailer that doesn’t put the needs of the planet and people at the forefront of their production. I invite you to try and shop secondhand this year and see what you can find to match your personal style.

Trust me, there’s plenty of garage sales to go around.