Photo by Christian Goode
Fast fashion is all the hype.
But there’s a way around it.
When I was young, my mom shopped at thrift stores for my clothes and would sometimes make things for special occasions. To refresh my memory on all of that, I called her to ask a few questions about an outfit I remember wearing to my fourth-grade school play. I had one solo part and a trio with my friends Josie and Kelly.
I remember Josie and Kelly bought matching dresses at some retail store. They were black and white with sparkles. I didn’t have that kind of money to fork over for a one-night outfit, so instead, my mom took me to Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Store and we picked out a shiny, gold fabric. She sewed it together to make a beautiful floor-length dress and a matching scarf. I’m not sure what I thought of it then or if I argued with my mom about not being able to buy the same dress as my friends, but looking back, that picture is a perfect representation of who I am today.
My mom says she shopped secondhand for my brother and me simply because it was cheaper. That included shopping at yard sales, thrift stores, etc. Sometimes she would take me with her, and I would play in the toy section while she picked out clothes for me. She says I was too young to know where we were shopping, but there was a time when I refused to step foot into a thrift store with her.
I assume I was in my too-good-for-everything junior high phase, embarrassed at the idea of shopping at a secondhand store. Now, I think that’s ridiculous, but I understand why I felt that way at the time. In middle school, there was a huge emphasis on wearing name-brand clothing and having an abundance of money to spend on material things. It felt necessary to have those things to fit in.
I think my mindset began to change when I attended YMCA Camp Ernst, a summer resident camp in Burlington, Kentucky. At camp, it seemed as though everyone wore clothes that were considered unusual. I remember my counselors wearing bright purple, metallic shorts and oversized shirts with random patterns, and they would absolutely own it. They were confident in those clothes, which made me feel like I could be, too.
When I became a counselor, that attire became common for me. During our free time, the other counselors and I would drive to the nearby Goodwill to find outfits for the weekly camp parties. It’s a tradition for counselors of each age unit to dress according to the week’s theme, some of which were ’80s workout, denim, Christmas and monochromatic.
Dressing up for the parties allowed me to see the roles in reverse. I became the counselor I used to look up to. I wore khaki overalls, Hawaiian shirts and denim dresses, and I didn’t giving a second thought to how I looked. I was the one telling my campers that I bought those items at a thrift store, and I was able to see their reactions of both shock and enjoyment. Typical responses were, “That’s so cool!” or they would ask if I could find something for them to wear. It was a great feeling to see the same kids return the following summer with thrift store items they picked out for the week. Secondhand clothes and thrift store outfits became the trend at Camp Ernst.
Over time, buying secondhand clothes became part of my regular routine. I started going thrifting by myself, looking up and down every aisle for any item that caught my attention, and I began wearing those clothes outside of camp, too. After getting into the habit, I took it a step further and began to buy things from the thrift store as projects for myself. I would buy something simply because I liked the pattern or because I thought it would look better on me if it were altered. So I began to cut, tie and shape my own items.
College was a great atmosphere for me to explore that hobby even more. Although I have a part-time job, I rarely have enough money to splurge on expensive clothing. One of my favorite pieces is a light wash denim skirt that I bought from Uptown Costumes on Court Street. It was originally ankle-length, but it fit my waist perfectly, so I spent an afternoon cutting it down to a length and design that I liked. It cost me $6, but the same skirt online probably would have been at least $60.
I still shop at thrift stores when I’m in need of a new article of clothing or searching for another creative project. Goodwill and New-to-You are two of my favorite thrift stores in Athens. They have racks and racks of clothes, and you can find some really eccentric pieces mixed in. It’s also fun to look at the shelves of houseware. I’ve found printed vases, cups, sculptures, framed artwork and many other things. It just makes sense to me. Why blow a large amount of money on something that I could find for a fraction of the price?
And it’s not just about the money. Shopping at thrift stores and crafting my own clothing allows me to develop an independent sense of style, cultivate my creativity and, ultimately, strengthen my overall self-confidence.