Privilege, Gentrification and Thrifting

Do those of us who don't need to thrift shop contribute to gentrification?

By Logan Cross Contributor

 

One of the amazing, but an overpriced vintage thrift store on Haight-Ashbury St. on San Francisco, Calif. called the Haight and the Upper Haight, the neighborhood is known for being the birthplace of the "hippie" counterculture that is more contemporary "hipster" counterculture evolves from. (Photo courtesy of ashton on Flickr)

For some people, thrift shopping is a game; it’s an investigative mission to find a hidden gem among the tacky, lackluster rhinestones placed before you. Thrifting can be a fun and economical way to add life and variety to your wardrobe without paying big bucks. You’re more likely to find unique, timeless and higher-quality clothing.  You get to brag a little bit when someone compliments you. I can’t lie, it feels pretty good to say “they were only seven dollars” to someone who compliments my acid-wash Calvin Klein mom jeans.

But for others, thrifting is their only choice. It’s how many people -- especially low-income individuals -- buy clothing for themselves or their families. Many thrift stores, including the Goodwill on Redondo Ave. in Long Beach, have sections for men, women and children as well as shoes, household items and furniture. If someone cannot afford to buy a new blazer for their job or wants to find a dress for prom but doesn’t have hundreds of dollars to spend, thrift stores are ripe with options. They also might be someone’s only option.

Can we—“we” as in, those who don’t need to shop second-hand—still thrift in 2018 without thinking of the larger social implications of thrifting solely in the name of low-budget fashion? Many self-proclaimed hipsters and fashion-lovers are privileged enough to be able to choose to shop at places like Salvation Army and Goodwill; does that make those of us who choose to thrift contributors to gentrification?

It’s a loaded question, but one that must be asked and considered.

Shopping at a thrift store used to be looked down on, with the general idea being that used goods were “sullied or unwholesome,” according to a report in the Wilson Quarterly. Even today, people like my 62-year-old mother thinks it’s improper to buy used clothing, based on the notion that one person’s trash should not end up in another person’s closet. It’s an elitist ideal, one that perpetuates this idea that used and inexpensive things equate to an impure and cheap lifestyle.

Now, it’s a trend to frequent thrift stores. Heck, it’s downright cool to do so. What was once an activity that mostly low-income, marginalized communities took part in and benefitted from has now become a high-class trend. Sound familiar?

So does this mean that we shouldn’t shop at thrift stores if we have the ability to buy retail?

Personally, I don’t think so. I think that, yes, being conscious of why and how much you’re purchasing from a thrift store is appropriate and the right thing to do. Do you really need another pair of distressed name-brand denim cut-offs if you already have several pairs? Probably not.

When perusing the racks at your local Salvation Army, your purchasing-to-donation ratio should be kept in mind. If you frequent thrift stores and make a lot of purchases, which in itself does do some good, as many thrift stores are attached to charities or are nonprofits, but aren’t giving back, that becomes problematic. On a larger scale, you’re taking advantage of something that wasn’t really created to benefit you. Not recognizing that, at the least, is an issue.

In the end, I think something to be aware of is the impact of your choices when it comes to thrifting. This doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person if you thrift in the name of fashion, or that you should stop, but that you should be aware of and recognize your privilege. That’s something that everyone can and should do. It will help make the world and our local Goodwill a more understanding and just place to be.