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The Ripple of Thrift Shopping: Will It Last a Little Longer?

As good as new — a thrift store declared.

It was an unsullied, foreowned floral boxy shirt the owner probably outgrew or exchanged for something else. Whenever we open our closet, pieces of clothing can be worn again. Indeed, a few more times. Why do we then discard them for something new? That's what led to the surge of thrift stores on Instagram. Type 'thrift', and you'll stumble upon hundreds of Instagram stores sharing a similar aesthetic, selling vintage lingerie, 80s fashion, and even half-used fragrances. 

In less than a year, people around me have started thrift shopping. But then, thrifting isn't an oddball concept. Even before currency was invented, we bartered our goods for things we need. Our elder sibling's hand-me-downs were once as good as new — fixing a broken button or a soiled collar was all it took for us to prance in them. Bodements, an Indian online store, handpicks its pieces from across Europe, making vintage luxury fashion more accessible to its shoppers. So does Viange — another online vintage store known for its vintage Chanel, Balenciaga, and Valentinos. But these are indulgences, and you certainly don't shop here on a whim. "I started falling in love with brands and rare designers I couldn't afford. However, if I was willing to look and find them pre-loved, I could enjoy them, and that was incentive enough," says Paulami Sen, a freelance content creator and editor.

Photo source: @WithChavyu

An Instagram thrift store, A I M É E picks vintage pieces from worldwide, sources beautiful silk sarees, and upcycles them into various garments. You pocket something legacy and of value at affordable prices. Like A I M É E, most thrift stores are run by youngsters, who are conscious shoppers themselves. For Namrata, who runs @WithChavyubuilding a community of sustainable shoppers matters. "Since my brand is interested in bringing more people into thrifting rather than only the already existing community, I'm looking at ways to make sustainability and second-hand more approachable to people who would never even consider it," she says. Pre-COVID, this Bombay-based thrift store was known for its quarterly garage sales. She says the margins are pretty low, but the team manages to keep the business afloat with the correct pricing, which is affordable for the users, too. It's a win-win situation.

Angelina Jolie in thrifted clothing
Photo source: Look Magazine

In 2003, when Angelina Jolie wore a $26 thrift dress to the red carpet, she received a lot of flak for wearing extravagant Louboutins, though. However, thrifting is more than adopting a lifestyle overnight — it's about bringing in a conscious effort to make better choices and, of course, understanding the idea of want vs. need.

For Harini Prasad, a journalist, thrift shopping became a meaningful avenue. As someone who often bought more than needed, she realised the itch to shop had ended. "Over the last few months, I've realised that thrift shopping is thoughtful, intentional, and sustainable. Although I continue to browse through many styles and outfits, I only pick what I need, which I believe is one of the major ideas of this movement," she says. Her three thrift store picks are Poppy Shop, The Salvage Story, and Bodements. 

Photo: Paulami Sen

In Desperately Seeking Susan, an 80s movie, Susan is portrayed as a serial thrifter. When she moves to New York, she first heads to a thrift store and exchanges her darling jacket for studded boots. When another character from the movie, Roberta, purchases the jacket, she goes home to find her husband questioning her choice of buying a second-hand jacket. "What are we — poor?" he asks, depicting the capitalistic way of life. Back then, society even rendered thrifters as the rebellious sort, the outliers. Sharing this space was Kurt Cobain, who often made style statements. Grunge(y) and perhaps even worn out — Kobain and Courtney Love were known for putting together thrifted outfits. Rock and Roll fans worldwide still imitate their style, and why not? There's a story there. For most thrifters, it's also about the history and the story.

"I love clothes with a sense of past and history. I always ask the vintage stockists where they got it from, and it astounds me to think that all the while sitting in Hyderabad, I can wear something that was once in a flea market in Paris or Vietnam. I also look for clothes from faraway places by well-known designers or labels. For example, I recently scored a skirt by Spanish designer Adolfo Dominguez and a Hanae Mori silk scarf. That's the kind of thing I look for," says Paulami. 

Of course, there's another side of this coin — overbuying. "Even though thrifting is all about sustainable shopping, recycling, and upcycling, sometimes there's only one piece out there, which encourages impulsive shopping", says Rene Varma, who runs Siesta o'Clock, a Goan brand. "The idea of buying only what you need falls flat on your face because there's a mad rush, and everyone wants it," she adds. A few Instagram stores also promote a bidding format, like the good old eBay, which means you're setting yourself up for problematic shopping behaviour.

"There's so much heartbreak involved in this bidding process, and I'm ethically opposed to it. I cannot bid for a corset and then wait for it to be mine when I know there are 80,000 others in the line, pining for it," says Rene, who prefers shopping from thrift stores where there's no pressure to make a purchase pronto! 

According to ThredUp, the market size of the resale industry is projected to be $33 billion by 2021. Is this making you wonder if we're still buying too much in the name of sustainable fashion? It's a conversation and a matter of choice. But from waking up at a godforsaken hour for a midnight sale to practising restrain — a few of us have made firm strides. Perhaps that jacket lying in the corner of our closet, whose touch our skin and mind have blotted out, deserves another chance and more. What do you say?

In photos: Paulami Sen is wearing a preloved outfit from Monica Dogra's closet. Shopped from Bombay Closet Cleanse; Rene Varma in a floral shirt from @2econdhandheaven. 

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