What Does Thrifting Mean? Plus, Pro Tips!

What does thrifting mean? This seems like a simple enough question since I talk a lot about thrifting here at The Eco Hub. From sharing my favorite ethical thrifting tips to breaking down the sustainable fashion industry, we cover pretty much all of the bases here. But hey, thrifting can still be confusing! There are so many different kinds of thrift stores out there, that it can be difficult to know how to navigate each one.

What is the difference between a thrift store and a regular store? What can I buy at all the different kinds of thrift stores? And while we are at it, what does thrifted mean anyways? Don’t worry, my friends! We are going to break it down.

What’s thrifting?

So, what’s thrifting really mean? And what does it mean to “go thrifting”? The verb thrifting refers to shopping for clothes, furniture, shoes, accessories, or other items secondhand. The thrifting scene is growing and FAST! According to ThreadUp, the secondhand market in the U.S. is expected to double by 2026, reaching a value of $82 billion.

Thrifted items could be very, VERY old. But you can also occasionally find brand new items at thrift stores (even with the tags still on!). In my opinion, what makes thrifting so special is that you aren’t really going thrifting with the intent of buying one specific item because you never know what you are going to find! You are partially going for the experience, it’s like treasure hunting.

Second hand clothing shop.Pin

What is a thrift store?

Thrift stores are locations that sell these secondhand goods, other in person or online. In-person thrift stores can range from a garage sale around the corner from you to a community flea market, to a larger nationwide chain.

Online thrift stores also vary in size, what styles they offer, and prices. While online thrift stores can offer a much-needed break from the crowd (who doesn’t want to shop from the comfort of your eco-friendly couch?), you usually can't try on your items or see them in person before buying them.

Online and in-person thrift stores can be broken down even further depending on how they source and resell items.

What is the difference between a thrift shop and a regular store?

A thrift store isn't like a regular store!

One of the biggest differences between the two is that you can often donate your old gently used items for a store credit or discount at a thrift store. Employees or volunteers will sort through these donations and decide what goes out to the front of the store or “to the floor”.  Because so many thrift stores like Goodwill or the Salvation Army usually have a social mission behind them, proceeds from your donation might go to a local charity or other good cause.

With a regular retail store, they will source their items directly from manufacturers or wholesalers. While some retail stores have charity missions and good causes behind them, it's less common as they are operating specifically focused on making a profit.

The experience when shopping at a thrift store is also different from a regular retail store. For example, you usually don’t go to a thrift store with a focus on buying one specific item, since you never know what you might find. And because thrift stores contain donated items, you can find a variety of sizes and colors, as well as styles that might be currently out of season or not currently “on trend”.

A final difference in the experience of shopping at a thrift store vs. a retail store is returns and exchanges. Some thrift stores have different policies around returning items, but generally, most do not accept returns or provide refunds.

What is a thrifter?

A thrifter is someone who buys (or sells) secondhand items! Some thrifters might be buying or selling gently used items because it makes financial sense, while many people (like myself) try and thrift when possible instead of buying new ones to support a more sustainable fashion industry. 

What are the pros of thrifting?

Thrifting can be super rewarding, but like all things, it comes with its own set of pros and cons to consider.

1. It's better for the environment

Unsustainable fast fashion brands seem to be more prevalent than ever on social media with their shady marketing strategies. These brands use exploitative labor practices and cheap, fossil fuel-based materials to produce low-quality clothes that sit in a landfill for years once discarded. Choosing to buy clothes and other gently used items secondhand gives a second life to waste that would have otherwise gone to a landfill. And with 92 million tons of textiles discarded annually, thrifting paired with choosing to buy from slow fashion brands can make a big difference here.

3. You can save (and make) money

When you buy something from a thrift store, you almost never pay full price. I cannot tell you how many times I have found (like new) branded items in thrift stores for a fraction of the original price. If you are reselling your clothes online or in person at consignment stores, you can also make a few extra bucks to save for a rainy day! Why have old items just sitting there in your closet not being worn?

4. Thrifting can be done from literally anywhere

Whether you are buying and selling used clothes online or in person, you can participate in the thrifting game from ANYWHERE. If you want to visit an in-person thrift store, you can use Google Maps or Yelp to find the best thrift store near you.

I have TONS of thrift store suggestions whether you live in Nashville, San Francisco, Chicago, San Diego, or anywhere else for that matter.

5. Thrifting can be FUN

I don't know about you, but there is something so fun and exciting about combing through the racks of your favorite thrift store revamping your fall capsule wardrobe, coffee in hand)? If combing the racks doesn’t sound like a fun time to you, you can still participate in the sustainable fashion lifestyle. Why not try and host your own clothing swap party or maybe try renting your next party dress?

6. You can find almost anything

These days you can thrift almost anything, and I mean anything. I recently wrote about where you can go to thrift a wedding dress. While this might not be on your current to-thrift list, you can find elegant and timeless options at thrift stores (that have likely only been worn once)!

What are the cons of thrifting?

1. Stay away from certain items

For sanitary and safety reasons, underwear, stuffed animals, bathing suits, pillows, mattresses, electric appliances, and children's safety equipment should all be avoided when you are thrifting.

2. Thrifting isn't free of ethical dilemmas

Thrifting has been in the spotlight recently for being “taken over by the upper middle class”. As thrifting has become a more popular, fun pastime, many thrifting chains have taken advantage of this and raised their prices. In the end, this often hurts lower-income communities in need, all while the CEO of Goodwill makes $730,000 in one year — just saying. To add to the complexity of the issue, only 20% of clothes that are donated to thrift stores are actually sold, the rest are thrown away or sold to developing countries.

What are the different types of thrift stores?

1. Online thrift shops

Facebook Marketplace, Depop, and thread are all examples of e-commerce thrift stores. While thrifting online is fairly new it’s become even more popular with the COVID-19 pandemic and is growing fast! Today, there are tons of online thrift stores to choose from.

2. Brick and mortar thrift shops

In-person thrift stores could be chains like Goodwill or Savers (Value Village if you are Canadian). With chain stores, you will find different items in each location you visit. You can also find smaller, independent in-person thrift stores. Independent thrift stores tend to be less well known, but also smaller in size and oftentimes only have one single location, so you might have to visit a few times because you find a gem.

3. Consignment shops (in person or online)

A consignment store operates more like a middleman between a buyer and a seller. At a regular thrift store, you might receive a store credit or discount (at the most) for your donation. While with consignment shops, they will buy back your used items for cash! Consignment stores are more similar to conventional retail stores in the sense they operate for financial gain. Because of this, they are pickier about what donations they accept and only resell higher quality, more expensive items their target audience would want to buy.

4. Vintage shops (in person or online)

Vintage thrift stores sell items that are collectible or antique (usually anywhere between 20 to 100 years old). Because vintage shops tend to sell older, higher-quality items, these can be the most expensive kind of thrift stores out there. With vintage stores, oftentimes a “purchaser” will comb through larger chains and buy unique “vintage” items to resell in their own store.

5. Specialty stores (in person or online)

Specialty thrift stores are exactly what they sound like; a thrift store that specializes in one specific kind of item (like sporting goods or cowboy boots). While the prices in specialty stores might be a little higher, you can go to specialty stores with the intention of buying a specific kind of item.

Interior Of Charity Shop Or Thrift Store Selling Used And Sustainable Clothing And Household Goods.Pin

What kinds of things can you shop for in a thrift shop?

You can find almost anything in a thrift store these days, but if you are looking for items while thrifting that will hold their value, I would be on the lookout for silver, books, and china! Personally, I LOVE thrifting jeans and tees because they are so durable and hold their shape well over time.

Tips to thrift like a pro

When buying or selling used items in person...

  1. Buy local (and from smaller thrift stores) when you can. One big part of clothing emissions is transportation, so when you can, try and buy clothing or other items that were manufactured in your community, state, or even country.
  2. Choose high-quality items! You want whatever you buy to last as long as possible, so choose materials and fabrics that are durable (like denim and faux leather)! If the item is torn, missing buttons, or looking a little worn, ask yourself first if you can fix it.
  3. Look for discounts and sales! Why pay more when you can pay less, right? Some thrift stores will have veteran, senior, or student discounts.
  4. Don’t buy just to buy. As I have said before, the first “R” in the five R’s of zero waste is refusal. So ask yourself if you really need a new scarf or pair of shoes before you buy.
  5. Be strategic about when you go. Going to the store on Mondays or Tuesdays when it’s less crowded is usually your best bet (and avoid Fridays and the weekend).
  6. If you are selling used items back to the store, try and resell branded items (they tend to do much better)!
  7. Don't rush. Thrifting takes time, you have to arrive at the thrift store ready to spend a good chunk of time there to find the best stuff. Be patient and go in with a good mindset and comfy outfit!

When buying or selling used items online…

  1. Be realistic and transparent with what you are selling. As a buyer, there is nothing more disappointing than buying a thrifted item only to realize the listing description was WAY off.
  2. Price your item realistically. The goal isn’t to make a hefty profit off someone here.
  3. Look into the e-commerce site's return/shipping policy. Each site or platform has different rules and “etiquette” around online thrifting so familiarize yourself with these first.
  4. Finally, be safe and smart. If you are selling used items on online marketplaces, chances are you might have to meet potential buyers in person. Choose to meet at spots in high visibility settings like shopping malls or a restaurant.

Check out this full comprehensive breakdown of my BEST thrift shopping tips!

A final word on thrifting

Thrifting can be confusing, but it doesn't have to be! Living a more sustainable lifestyle is about progress, not perfection. So don’t stress if thrifting doesn't come easy to you right away, follow my tips and you will be off to a good start!

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