How growing up in second-hand clothing helped shape my personal style
I thrifted my wardrobe way before thrifting was ever considered “cool” or “trendy.” I’ve been wearing second-hand clothing since before I could dress myself—my mom put me in the cast-off clothes of her friend’s daughters pretty much from the time I was born.
Growing up, I could always expect a seasonal drop-off of a garbage bag full of clothes from friends, neighbors, or far-away family members who cleaned out their closets and decided to bestow me with their misfit or out-of-season outfits. I always looked forward to diving into those bags, pulling out every item (each of which keenly smelled of a different fabric softener or detergent from its past life), and giving them a new life in my closet.
I know some people view second-hand clothing as “gross” or “used,” but I always saw it as a way to put my own spin on someone else’s old-school style. What arrived in these bags of hand-me-downs was a surprise, and it was thrilling to try once-loved items on a new body, for a new outfit, and in a new light. Buying brand-new clothing was a luxury and a privilege I often didn’t have, so these clothes were an outlet for self-expression and an ingenious way to recycle what may have otherwise been trashed.
With fast fashion on the rise, I am aware that it is often cheaper to buy new clothes rather than have an item repaired, but the average consumer throws away a whopping 70 pounds of clothing per year, according to The Council for Textile Recycling. Also, thanks to the convenience of online shopping, American shoppers snag about five times more clothing now than they did in 1980. Clothes are more available, trends are constantly changing, and, as it goes nowadays, people are always looking for the best thing. Right now, on a global scale, people acquire some 80 billion apparel items annually. But if we’re all constantly getting new clothes, what do we do with the old?
For me, what began out of financial necessity soon became a way to change up my style while reducing some of the waste that comes with buying new clothes.
Most of my middle and high school years took place in the age of early 2000s fashion when the thought of recycling or reusing clothing wasn’t even on the radar. Instead of Rent the Runway, we had Juicy Couture sweatsuits, shearling UGG boots rolled over, and tiny Coach bags. And while my peers dressed to the nines in $200 terrycloth tracksuits that would swiftly go out of style (only to come back 20 years later, of course), I did not. I had something different: a uniqueness that couldn’t be bought. I wore items that I had found in one of those gaping garbage bags full of goodies or looking lonely on the rack of a consignment shop. I made outfits on my terms, thrilled by what I could cobble together on a budget—or sometimes without even spending a dime.
Though I’ve sadly outgrown the stage in which seasonal bags arrived on my doorstep full of clothes (the friends and family members who used to bring them are adults like me now, and most of us have moved away), I still prioritize shopping for used items over brand-new ones. Just as we did when I was younger, my mom and I still scour the racks at flea markets and Goodwill for cool finds or one-of-a-kind bargain buys. Sometimes, I’ll even find the exact versions of coveted, name-brand designs—maybe they’re a little older or a bit more worn in, but I’ve scored name-brand pieces for a tenth of their retail price. So if you think you can’t find some serious high-end steals and dress well in consignment: Think again.
Not only are some of my favorite pieces someone else’s discards, but there is a certain thrill of finding something you didn’t even know you were looking for, bringing it home, and finding a way to style it with what you already own. Over the years I’ve saved myself hundreds of dollars on clothes just by finding the treasure in what was someone else’s trash, and I’ve learned that while our styles and tastes are constantly evolving, fashion can be timeless—especially if you choose to give old pieces a new life.