Working At A Thrift Store Helped Me Figure Out Why Pre-Loved Is So Addictive

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It started with a red cheetah sweater that had subtle gold detailing. Not cheetah print, but an actual image of the feline crawling through the jungle. I bought the top directly off the storeowner's body. She was sitting at the desk repairing intricate vintage jewelry that she then placed on an antique birdcage hanging at the store's center. I was hooked. With this purchase, I was unofficially inducted into the downtown Manhattan thrifting community, which meant not only buying pre-loved clothes and accessories, but also attending events like clothing swaps and style DIY tutorials. 

The storeowner and previous wearer of my cheetah sweater would later turn out to be my boss. I spent so much time in her quaint thriftique — the hybrid of a vintage store and a thrift shop — that she trusted me enough to start covering on the days she was out stocking. I learned that her business was rooted in a feminist, eco-friendly approach to fashion that even the most seasoned thrifter may not realize is what makes this way of shopping so cool. 

Image: @kategoldwater on Instagram

Conscious Consumers

Fashion fact:  Because of fast turnaround and disposable clothing, Americans get rid of, on average, 80 pounds of textile waste per person per year. But when you're thrifting, you're also recycling. This means your are shopping smart by keeping the environment in mind. By reusing clothes and accessories that are already out there, you're lowering the amount of resources that go into producing what you wear including water, carbon, and even fertilizer for processes like the growth of cotton. In addition, stores like the Salvation Army and Goodwill donate a portion or even all of their profits to charity. You can feel good about what you buy not only because of how it looks, but because it improves what is traditionally a very wasteful industry. 


The prices for vintage and thrift pieces vary. While perusing the Salvation Army racks usually leads to a great five-dollar find, there are also high-end vintage boutiques that sell designer items in excellent condition that won't be cheap. No matter the route you choose to strut down in search of formerly loved additions to your wardrobe, you're making a solid financial choice. A vintage piece might be pricier than what you find at your regular thrift shop, but you are investing in good quality, well-made clothes that will continue to last for a long time. And for those who thrift, you have the liberty of experimenting with styles and challenging yourself to enter new realms of fashion. While normally the cost of these kinds of items can inhibit creativity, the low price points you find at thrift shops allow you to try new things without breaking the bank. And if you decide the purchase you made was ultimately the wrong style choice, there is no suffering from buyer's remorse like if had you taken the leap and flopped with a daring but expensive piece from a boutique or a department store. 


There is an unfair stigma associated with thrifting. Shoppers question if this style of shopping is sanitary or cheap. But just like trying a new restaurant or exploring a foreign town, tackling unfamiliar territory requires research. Yelp, blogs and, of course, Instagram, are great resources to both research thrifting spots in your area and to find vintage inspiration. Online reviews will help you find locations to orient your shopping adventure while providing real opinions of whether or not clothes were well cleaned and presented, and if the selection is worth sorting through. When you're ready to dive in, beanie first, prepare for serious fashion action. Certain thrift shops are curated to make the hunt easier, but this is an anomaly. Whoever said shopping is easy has clearly never been to a vintage flea market. The magical, redeeming moment of this operation comes after going through endless bins and racks when you find the perfect piece hanging effortlessly in front of you. You never know what you will find on a thrifting outing, and each attempt promises a surprise. It is a good idea to come prepared with a list of items that you want to help target your search, making the process less overwhelming and more of a discovery. 

Owning Your Look

The world of thrift is where fashion truly becomes art. There are no mass-produced items that correspond to trends dictated by runways and magazines. It is your moment to be unique and rebellious in your wardrobe choices. You can dig through piles and search racks for looks or pieces that awake an inner stylist that you didn't even know existed. The victory of finding a vintage, patterned belt may inspire an innovative outfit idea. This could even require venturing into the depths of your own closet to locate a forgotten blouse and recycling its old style to bring a new fashion concept to life. Each vintage or thrift article has a story, which doesn't take away from its quality but adds to its specialness. Sometimes, when I put on my favorite pair of vintage Cole Haan cut-out oxfords, I wonder where they've walked before all the places they've now taken me. Thrifting is creating your own rules without being confined by industry standards. Just because you're a woman doesn't mean you need to look or dress a certain way, and that's where this type of fashion becomes empowering.

Check out these five pre-loved items below to jumpstart your thrifting debut. 
Metallic Skirt
Leather Cross Body Bag
1950s Sunglasses
Snake Bracelet
Tea Dress

Cover image: @atlantabean on Instagram