Thrifting — shopping for secondhand clothing and accessories — is a budget-friendly way to create a distinctive personal style.
“Young individuals are enamored with making old things new again,” said Nephtaliem McCrary, owner of Great Eastern Vintage in Malden and Great Eastern Trading Co. in Cambridge. ”They are rejecting the homogeneous look of mall stores and mixing vintage and unique pieces to define their own style.”
Hanna Ali, 23, of Malden loves combining pieces from different eras to create her one-of-a-kind look. “My mom tells me she doesn’t understand why I buy clothing she would have thrown out or donated in the early 2000s,” said Ali.
During a recent visit to Great Eastern Vintage, Ali explored everything from 1960s dresses to a full-length leather coat from the 1990s while the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” appropriately played in the background.
“I sew, so I look at an object for its potential,” said Ali. “I have taken a one-piece outfit and turned it into two and even reworked pajamas into daywear … it is called upcycling.”
Rick Doane is the executive director of Interfaith Social Services in Quincy, which operates a thrift shop called the Bureau Drawer. “Our customers are a mix of fashion-conscious young people and those that can’t afford to shop new,” said Doane. “The common denominator is that they are looking for a bargain.”
With a limited budget for clothing, Cathy Lewis of Amesbury, grandmother of 14, shops at Savers, a national chain thrift store. “My grandchildren love my thrift store clothes, not to mention the designer shoes,” she said.
Thrift stores provide a unique shopping experience and are as varied as the merchandise they sell. Savers is set up like a big-box store with clothing departments organized by size and gender. In contrast, clothing at Great Eastern Vintage is grouped by style, not gender or size.
“The original gender of a piece is irrelevant,” said Great Eastern’s fashion curator Alison Pike, wearing jeans and a 1970s era shirt originally designed for a man, tied at the waist, and accessorized with complementing jewelry. “It is all about style.”
“Size doesn’t really count,” added Ali. “It is all about how I am going to wear the piece.”
Where size does make a difference is with kids’ clothing. Kids grow so quickly that budget-conscious parents choose used clothing.
“Our customers tend to be frugal,” said Mark Bensonoff, owner of Fancy Pants in Newton, a resale boutique that specializes in gently worn clothing, shoes, equipment, and accessories for infants up to age 12.
“Parents are amazed when they first come in,” said Bensonoff. “They find brands they want at a fraction of the new price. Price is an important consideration — especially on an item they will use for only a few months as a baby grows.”
Bensonoff’s mission is to extend the life of kids’ clothing, which is good for the budget and the environment. “We have regulars that buy clothing, use it, and then sell it back to us. Then they turn around and buy the next size up,” he said.
Thrifting can be good for the community, too. The Bureau Drawer is an important income source for Interfaith Social Services, “netting over $100,000 a year,” according to Doane. “It allows us to purchase food for the pantry and pay the therapists that provide mental health services.”
All the clothing and housewares at the Bureau Drawer are donated. Volunteers sort, display, and staff the popular secondhand shop.
“Our inventory starts at $1,” said Doane. “Everything is color-coded, making it easy to shop.”
At Great Eastern, prices start in the $4 to $5 range and can go up to $75 for a vintage leather motorcycle jacket.
“Our inventory comes from estates, wholesalers, and individuals,” said McCrary. “We carefully buy for style and also quality. Vintage clothing is often better made than the new.”
The overall experience is important to thrifters. Some enjoy rapidly skimming through racks in hopes of discovering that special item. Others prefer a more laid-back adventure.
At Great Eastern, shoppers can set the mood by choosing a vintage vinyl album to play while they shop.
“There is never any pressure to buy. We encourage exploration and experimentation and we are always available to help with accessories and styling,” said McCrary.
Making the experience positive for all customers is critical at the Bureau Drawer.
“Dignity is important,” said Doane. ”When we identify a family in need, we provide them with gift cards so that they can shop on their own. There is no stigma attached.
“Within the Bureau Drawer is also a Career Closet program where unemployed individuals going on job interviews get professional clothing,” added Doane. “It is more than just clothing for the interview, we help them put together clothes and shoes for the first few weeks of work.”
Like any other retail business, thrifting is seasonal.
“It is back-to-school time,” said Bensonoff. “That will be followed by parents looking for Halloween costumes. Most kids wear them once, so the frugal parent buys a secondhand costume at maybe a quarter of the original price.”
Great Eastern’s team also is thinking ahead to fall and Halloween. Customers are encouraged to bring costume ideas to the shop for assistance. If they are looking for ideas, the staff will help them create something original, replicating vintage outfits from popular TV shows like “Stranger Things.” They can even coordinate a cosplay look, which allows people to mirror their favorite characters from television, film, anime, manga, and video games.
Before heading to a thrift store, Ali suggests having a “plan of attack. It is easy to get overwhelmed, but sometimes, you get surprised and just find something you love.”
Linda Greenstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.