“Fashion trends tend to repeat themselves”, said my mom on several occasions over my 24 years on this planet. Every 20-30 years, some trend highly distinguishable for its presence in the last few decades pops up again on the fashion runway and trickles down to the storefronts of Forever 21’s across the country.
From high-waists to bell-bottoms, fashion trends seem to fade out just as quickly as they came in. Most of our closets and drawers are filled to the brim with pieces that reflect trends that have come and gone, but are eventually sorted through and then donated or thrown away. But a growing interest in vintage finds might bring new life to second-hand clothes.
It seems that the term vintage carries a certain connotation that makes us feel that a piece of clothing or furniture is unique because of its age. We get the feeling that vintage goods are hard to find, like rare gems or hidden treasure. No one questions why someone would take a trip to the cute vintage store downtown to browse around. So why are second-hand store shoppers looked at entirely differently?
Calling an item vintage frees consumers from enduring the stigma that unfortunately surrounds second-hand or used clothing items – a stigma that enforces a lot of negative stereotypes. Shoppers might be seen as not having enough money to buy clothing at full price, when in reality, there are just as many reasons to shop second-hand as reasons people decide to shop at department stores or boutiques.
One little-known reason that someone might shop second-hand is to reduce their carbon footprint. Clothing that is simply thrown away is tossed into a landfill, even though nearly 100% of clothing is recyclable.
Often, second-hand stores and online services like Plato’s Closet and ThreadUP only accept clothing that is very gently used, typically holding inventories in virtually perfect condition. Still, most of their fashion is second-hand and not considered vintage. Imagine the impact on the environment if we disposed of our clothes after wearing them just once or twice…
On the other hand, second-hand clothing sales have continued to grow because of increased interest in vintage items. The search for a vintage designer purse, cookware set, or antique furniture has at least fostered new attitudes towards used items, which is good news for the future of shopping second-hand.
Vintage items are often associated with a type of quality or “authenticity” not typically seen in items produced today, which are usually a part of the fast fashion industry known for its cheap materials and exploited factory workers. Some shop second-hand specifically to avoid the consequences of modern fashion.
Some YouTubers and vloggers occasionally use their platforms to share “thrifting hauls”, like Emma Chamberlain, who has just over 8 million subscribers. Influencers that promote second-hand shopping help to decrease the stigma and dissolve stereotypes.
Owning a vintage item might free people from carrying the stigma associated with shopping second-hand, but it’s still a win for the used clothing industry in the end. The desire to find vintage or antique items brings customers to thrift stores who might not have ever considered shopping there otherwise.