Thrift store chic

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An example of a thrift store outfit.

Thrift store chic refers to a style of dressing where clothes are cheap and/or used. Clothes are often bought from thrift stores such as the Salvation Army, Goodwill, or Value Village. Originally popular among the hippies of the late 1960s, this fashion movement resurfaced during the mid-1980s among teenagers, and expanded into the 1990s with the growing popularity of such music and style influences including the grunge band Nirvana. Thrift store chic can be considered as an anti-fashion statement because it does not follow fashion trends and does not attempt to look expensive or new.

Thrift store chic is often composed with vintage T-shirts (striped tees and anything with vintage graphics, in particular), sweaters, flannel 'lumberjack' shirts, and worn and torn jeans. This laid back, nonchalant, and aloof look became fashionable and trendy without attempting to. Originally worn for a variety of reasons, which include an homage, or attempt to resurrect earlier styles, or even in protest to the exploitation of third world child workers in sweat shops. By the late 2000s many of the younger indie kids wore thrift store clothes primarily for its ironic anti-fashion connotations.[1]


Clothing in a charity shop.

In the 1990s, singers such as Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, and Eddie Vedder promoted the look. Kurt Cobain’s style included uncoordinated and non-brand-name items of clothing[2] that created the look of a carelessly cool grunge rock star. Clothes often had holes or tears in them and were worn in many layers, which hid the body.[3] Cobain’s modest style contrasted from the aggressive and glamorous style of bands such as Guns N’ Roses. Fans of Nirvana found it easy to emulate his style, thus identifying themselves and the grunge movement. His thrift store style also reflected an ironic stance against corporate culture.

Entering the 2000s, this look because associated with musical scenes including indie rock and emo gradually spreading to the hipster movement. The hipster movement is popular among people in their 20s and 30s whose style attempts to reject mainstream trends. The hipster movement embraced thrift store chic because of its love for vintage items, especially clothing. Items that became popular for indie girls included flowery cotton dresses, cardigans, keffiyehs, and eyeglasses chosen deliberately for their unfashionable connotations.[4] Hipster-thrift-store-chic embraces nostalgia and irony by combining old trucker-caps and vintage bowling t-shirts with worn luxury goods like leather jackets, old military dress uniforms as a protest against the war in Iraq, or used business wear, such as tweed cloth sportcoats.[5]

With the stock market crash of 2008, shopping at thrift stores became more widely accepted. Bragging about how much an item of clothing cost was no longer about how expensive it was, but rather how cheap it cost.[6] Showing off expensive clothing when people were losing their jobs was no longer tactful. In the United States, resale stores experienced an average of 35% increase in sales. Purchasing used clothing has lost much of its stigma also due to the growing environmental movement towards consumption.[7]

In 2013, the Macklemore and Lewis's single "Thrift Shop" reached number 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song glorifies shopping at thrift shops and denounces expensive brands, such as Gucci, as "getting tricked by a business."[8]

Social media[edit]

Multiple social media platforms have content covering thrift culture. YouTube thrift store hauls have helped increase the popularity of thrift shopping.[9] A notable YouTuber who has contributed significantly to thrifting's rise in popularity is Emma Chamberlain.[9] Emma Chamberlain has multiple videos on her channel where she not only visits multiple thrift store locations, but she interacts with her viewers by breaking the fourth wall and sharing her style.

The rise in thrift store's popularity and presence in social media was most notably seen after 2015[9] on websites such as Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube. On the social media platform TikTok, users not only share thrifting tips, style, and "lucky scores," but they often use the term "scavenger hunt" to describe the ordeal. Thrifting has been popularized to the point where individuals sometimes use the term "thrifting" as a verb, to describe their thrift store shopping trip.

The use of social media has allowed resellers to buy clothing from thrift stores and resell them on online platforms and social media sites, which is known as reselling.[10] Some established thrift stores have also moved to selling their products on online platforms, such as eBay. Some of these thrift stores include select locations of larger branches or companies.


Thrift store chic is also popular among people who enjoy creating their own outfits from pieces of used clothing. This DIY (do-it-yourself) approach creates original articles of clothing that can be very personalized. For example, in the 1986 movie Pretty in Pink, Molly Ringwald’s character, Andie Walsh,[11] is fond of taking clothing from thrift stores and creating a unique and eclectic wardrobe. One very memorable article is the prom dress she creates, made from merging two separate dresses.

A study conducted at the University of Akron, set out to find whether altering and upcycling clothes from a thrift store would make them more appealing to consumers.[12] Their survey results showed 38% of participants reported they would buy an item that was upcycled. Upcycling has not only become increasingly popular for thrifted clothing, but also for luxury brands which have started reusing fabrics from previous collections to upcycle them.[13]


While the previous motive for shopping at thrift stores among consumers were budget and necessity, sustainability is the new reason most consumers shop at thrift stores.[12] The National Association of Retail and Thrift Shops has attributed the favorability of thrift shops has increased due to awareness of the need for waste reduction and environmental impact.[12] They have also credited generation-z for popularizing thrift shopping as a sustainability effort.[12] Other sustainability methods surrounding thrifted clothing, and clothing in general, include clothes swapping, renting clothing pieces, using old clothes as cleaning rags, and recycling clothes.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cuddy, Alison (15 May 2013). "Searching for sweat-free fashion in Chicago". WBEZ 91.5 Chicago. Archived from the original on 12 August 2013.
  2. ^ Havlin, Laura (28 September 2011). "Kurt Cobain". AnOther.
  3. ^ "90s Grunge Fashion Tips and Music Guide". 3 September 2014.
  4. ^ Gutman, Amy (21 September 2013). "The meaning of a five dollar dress".
  5. ^ Rayner, Alex (14 October 2010). "Why do people hate hipsters?". The Guardian.
  6. ^ Zekas, Rita (22 January 2009). "Thrift store chic". Toronto Star.
  7. ^ Schlumpf, Heidi (January 21, 2011). "Thrift store spirituality". National Catholic Reporter. 27: 20–23.
  8. ^ "Macklemore - Thrift Shop Lyrics |". Retrieved 2023-08-31.
  9. ^ a b c "Social Media Shifts Trends in Thrift and Resale Culture – Buzzsaw Magazine". Retrieved 2023-04-21.
  10. ^ Leblanc, Madeleine (April 19, 2021). "Madthrifters: An Integrated Social Media Marketing Campaign With An Emphasis on Secondhand Fashion". University of Nebraska Lincoln. Retrieved April 21, 2023.
  11. ^ "Pretty in Pink". IMDb.
  12. ^ a b c d Scott, Mason; High, Brett; Marcum, Sophia; Schiffli, Rachel; Flowers, Andrew (2022-01-01). "Upscaling Textile Upcycling". Williams Honors College, Honors Research Projects.
  13. ^ Phau, Ian; Akintimehin, Olamide Oluwabusola; Lee, Sean (September 2022). "Investigating consumers' brand desirability for upcycled luxury brands". Strategic Change. 31 (5): 523–531. doi:10.1002/jsc.2523. ISSN 1086-1718. S2CID 251602125.
  14. ^ Kudus, Nazima Versay (October 2022). "Waste not want not: Putting unwanted clothing into good use" (PDF). Image & Lifestyle. Retrieved April 21, 2023.