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Thrifting is trendy, but it hasn’t always been

By Emma Moore

Alvea Hurlington was nervous at first to participate in a clothing swap. She had a connection to second-hand clothing growing up, having been the oldest of five kids. Brand new clothing was never an option for her. 

At the first-ever Ryerson Students’ Union clothes swap in the Student Campus Centre on Feb. 28, students were free to pick up whatever items they wanted. Donations weren’t mandatory and the event was open to the community.  

She picked up two things: a sequined skirt and a sweater dress. 

“I’ll probably wear it to church tomorrow,” Hurlington said while at the swap.

For some students, thrifting is about originality, fashion and creating an image for themselves. But for others, like Hurlington, it’s something they grew up with, due to coming from a low-income family. 

Anika Kozlowski, assistant professor of fashion design, ethics and sustainability, said second-hand clothing is being celebrated more today as fashion media narratives de-stigmatize it. She said in more recent generations, second-hand clothing is more popular. 

“Thrift stores allowed me to explore the possibilities of looking good [while saving money]”

According to a 2019 GlobalData survey, 37 per cent of Generation Z will have bought thrifted clothing in 2019, and 64 per cent are considering purchasing second-hand products. “It’s being celebrated more, it’s being worn, being talked about,” said Kozlowski. “So, I think the fact that it is…it’s helping to de-stigmatize it.” 

While the practice of thrifting is being viewed in a more positive light, income is still the primary reason why many people shop at thrift stores. The results of a 2017 study in the Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management concluded that the less money a household has, the more likely they are to purchase second-hand clothing. They also concluded that used clothing was viewed as being inferior to new clothing. 

The results showed income is negatively related to purchasing used clothing, which suggests that used clothing is viewed as inferior. Clothing bought second-hand may need further efforts to overcome the stigma of inferiority. 

Due to this stigma, people don’t want it to be known that they are wearing second-hand clothes. 

Fourth-year business management student John Joseph remembers his mother telling him his clothes were second-hand, and to not tell anyone. 

He was three years old when his family immigrated to Canada. They didn’t have a lot of money while he was growing up, and the clothes he wore were primarily second-hand. 

“[My] mom worked at Zellers, actually, and my dad worked as a salesman at a car show. So whatever clothes I got seemed brand new,” said Joseph. 

“When you’re a kid and you’re in a classroom…[other] kids usually come through with new clothes, new items, new gadgets,” said Joseph. “And then you’re just that one kid who [dresses a little bit differently] because…that’s the best of what is available.”

Joseph could tell the kids at school had looked at him differently because of his clothing and pushed him out of social circles. Wearing second-hand clothing is something noticeably visible, and influences the way people are treated. When children were surveyed for 2008 study in the Journal of Educational Studies, 39 per cent of the responses of why people were bullied related to not looking like everyone else, including wearing clothing that wasn’t in fashion. 

Other factors, like the child’s background, whether they’ve come from a different country, what their parents’ occupations are or if they come from a low-income household  also came into play. 

Eventually, people became less judgemental and more accepting of second-hand clothing, but the idea that it took trends and gentrification to not judge people who use second-hand clothing hurt Joseph. 

But he still sees the progress of de-stigmatization as worth it. 

“It just tells me we’re going in the right direction…even if it had to happen much later than it should have.”

However, finding a safe haven in thrifting and second-hand clothing isn’t just something of the past, and has many social implications today. 

Many students use thrifting as a way to avoid spending large amounts of money, which could go to costly student necessities, like rent, food or transportation. 

As an immigrant, Kelly Imafidon feels he’s at a disadvantage with his financial situation. When he came from Nigeria to Canada he hated shopping for himself, as he thought the price tags on clothing in retail stores were asking for too much. 

“When you’re a kid…[other] kids usually come through with new clothes, new items, new gadgets”

The international economics and finance student began thrifting to search for pieces that would look good, but were in his price range. He wanted to have clothes that made him look good, but he didn’t want to have to give up so much money for it. 

“Thrift stores allowed me to explore the possibilities of looking good [while saving money],” said Imafidon. 

He knew he wanted clothing that was good quality and would last him for a long time, but that he couldn’t afford the prices retail stores were asking for. “I couldn’t pay for the quality that I wanted.” 

However, Joseph said there may be difficulty in convincing people to give away clothes and donate, due to personal reasons.

“I think they’re not willing to give up on those clothes just because they have…sentimental value,” said Joseph. He said instead of donating, people give to their family, friends or their own kids.

Koslowski believes events like clothing swaps are one of the best initiatives to keep clothing in circulation without purchasing new items. 

“I think [clothing swaps are] one of the best things that we can do right now,” said Koslowski. As people don’t have to buy anything, it is especially beneficial for people wanting to add to their wardrobe without spending money. 

While the RSU has only held their first clothing swap this year, Ryerson has had other clothing swaps in 2017 and 2018 at the Fashion Zone and the Social Venture Zone.

“Along with swapping goes with just taking better care of our clothes so that we can swap the clothes in the future…Make sure that we’re actually just caring for our clothes so that they can be passed on to someone else,” said Koslowski.


  1. Charmaine

    This was an amazing balance of analyzing the current trends, environmentalism without dismissing the classism in fashion. Great read!

  2. Sick of it

    It’s a trend, I believe, because not only can you find really nice used pre-owned clothing- some barley worn or with tags still attached- but because wages are not anywhere near in line with the increasing cost of living. This ‘trend’ started well over 15 years ago for many of us, by the way. This goes for many other items as well. It’s ridiculous the prices for just simple things at retail prices anymore.

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