As good as new — a thrift store declared.
It was an unsullied, foreowned floral boxy shirt that the owner probably outgrew or exchanged for something else. Whenever we open our closet, there are pieces of clothing that can be worn again. Surely, 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 the currency was invented, we bartered our goods for things we actually need. Our elder sibling's hand-me-downs were once our 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 luxury vintage fashion more accessible to its shoppers. So does Viange — another online vintage store known for its vintage Chanels, Balenciagas, 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 that 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.
An Instagram thrift store, A I M É E picks vintage pieces from across the world, sources beautiful silk sarees,and upcycles them into a range of 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 @WithChavyu, building 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. The margins are quite low, she says, but the team manages to keep the business afloat with the right pricing, which is affordable for the users too. It’s a win-win situation.
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, understand the idea of want vs. need. For Harini Prasad, a journalist, thrift shopping became a meaningful avenue. As someone who often bought more than what she needed, she realised the itch to shop has ended. “Over the last few months, I've realised that thrift shopping is thoughtful, intentional, and also sustainable. Although I continue to browse through a lot of 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.
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 a pair of studded boots. When another character from the movie, Roberta, purchases the jacket, she goes home to find her husband questioning her choice of purchasing a second-hand jacket. “What are we — poor?” he asks, thereby depicting the capitalistic way of life. Back in those days, the 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 — both Kobain and Courtney Love were known for putting together thrifted outfits. Rock and Roll fans across the world 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. Like, 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.
Now, 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 are also promoting a bidding format now, like the good old eBay, which means you're setting yourself up for a 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 a little 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 practicing 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 then some 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.