Lamenting the decline of a once-glorious time in poverty shopping.
Can we all agree that the reply of “This? Oh I thrifted it” in response to an outfit compliment cannot be physically spoken without coming across as obnoxiously pretentious. This is also coming from someone that at one point in time lowkey also made it into a personality trait… I know it’s not just me that has realised thrift culture has become progressively more unlikeable and problematic despite the fact that at its core it’s pretty great! It’s affordable—back in high school my friends and I could buy a couple of pretty cute pieces with our measly $10 budget. It’s ethical and great for the environment—buying second-hand clothing means less demand for big greedy fast-fashion retailers who exploit our earth’s resources and their workers. Additionally, it gives you easy access to cool and one-of-a-kind pieces so you can live out your dreams of being that artsy indie main character who only dresses in vintage sundresses and big jackets that someone’s dead grandpa wore in the ‘70s.
However, thrift culture has unfortunately evolved into a rather ostentatious activity that’s honestly just become a subtle flex of the rich. It transformed from something poor people engaged in because they genuinely can’t afford new clothing to the frivolous Saturday afternoon activity of Ponsonby girls. Thrifting has become gentrified and I’m mad about it.
K Road, a popular hub for op-shops amongst other things has become the new Commercial Bay shopping centre within the last couple of years. Its second-hand stores are either over-saturated with ratty and crusty Champion hoodies priced abominably at $60 dollars and up (with those prices it makes more sense to just get the item new—at least then you’re guaranteed your cute new piece won’t have any weird holes or mysterious stains!) or desolate and empty because everything that’s of acceptable quality has been bought out by rich teenagers with hundreds of dollars to burn.
So where exactly has all the good clothing gone? Surely they can’t need all that clothing for themselves. Even though most of us only have two legs, some people apparently do need to own 39476 pairs of “vintage” wide-leg jeans in their collection. The other scary answer to this question is the emergence of a new trend—the re-selling of clothing online. Whether this is through Depop, Carousel, Facebook or Instagram, social media has become increasingly utilised by young adults to put their clothing up for sale to earn a bit of extra income on the side. It’s also become an accessible platform for young shoppers to purchase clothing, shoes and accessories from local sellers.
Let me be clear—I think this new trend is amazing. It’s such a great idea to be able to give the clothing that’s just gathering dust in the back of their closet a new loving home and earn some extra coin on the side! Supporting these Instagram boutiques is a great way to reduce your fast-fashion consumption and support a friend/local business during the process. However, we can’t ignore the increasing gentrification of pre-loved clothing—an issue that poses a huge problem for those that legitimately rely on second-hand stores to clothe themselves and their family. Not only have thrift store prices increased dramatically (on top of inflation) which have made clothing more and more inaccessible for low-income earners, but all the good quality items are being bought out by certain clothing resellers to later be sold online at a higher price for profit. Thanks for leaving the rest of us to fend off your unwanted scraps.
The majority of thrifters do not contribute to this problem as long as we keep our shopping habits reasonable and sustainable. It’s just the select few that capitalise off the op-shop industry that has ultimately ruined it for the rest of us. Shopping second-hand has only become gentrified and pretentious because of our rising obsession with thrift culture and the increasing entanglement of fashion trends with vintage clothing. As much as I adore the undeniable charm of vintage finds, like a lot of other things in this world—moderation is key.
The purpose of this mildly-angsty-in-places opinion piece is not to shame clothing resellers or regular thrifters—that would be extremely hypocritical as someone that’s partaken in both activities. What I hope will resonate is the message of being more considerate and mindful with your consumer habits—for our planet and for our people. Let’s keep thrifting sustainable and accessible for everyone.
Illustration by Maddison Trousselot