Thrift Shop or Vintage Clothes Shopping: How Privilege Makes a Difference

As a kid, I remember going to Value Village and the Salvation Army clothes shopping with my mom. In better times she would take me to Kmart school shopping. I used to hate all of those places, but none more than the thrift shops. I would hide my face as we walked in and prayed that I wouldn’t run into someone from school. One of the dynamics at my school was the well to do white kids and black kids stuck together and likewise with the poorer kids, more so than by racial lines. The funny thing is that all kids, white, black, middle class, and poor would pretty much give you hell if they saw you shopping for clothes at a thrift shop, even if their own mom had just taken them to one the day before. Poverty makes no sense, the most powerless folks often fight more to exert and oppress others in poverty than they do to get out of the poverty that consumes them.

This weekend I strolled into a “Vintage Clothing” store in OKC, that pretty much looked like a thrift shop to me. It was filled with younger well dressed white women and some men, most of whom drove up in pretty nice vehicles. They were looking for the current trends at bargain prices, yet as they jumped for joy over their 6.00 bellbottoms, it was impossible to not notice their designed jeans and tops as well as their salon hair and nails. The men were no better with salon haircuts and shaves meant to make them look rugged and shaggy. When I was a kid, I got two haircuts a year, and my mom or aunt usually were the one’s cutting it. I would look shaggy without wanting to look shaggy, but also not wanting a mom bowl haircut to give the kids another reason to poke fun.

When I was in Ann Arbor as well as Richmond, I took notice of the vintage is in counter culture as well as the nonconsumerism counter culture. While some wealthier folks simply shop at thrift stores for those vintage finds to wear with their expensive mall goods, others are honestly shopping at thrift stores as a means to rebel against the consumerism that has been a feature of U.S. culture of 30 plus years now. The problem is that whether you are thrift store shopping to be cool or as a social statement, your privilege is showing, and it doesn’t mean that you should feel defensive or bad about it, but think about it. Anyone who has grown up poor or struggling knows that clothes are a status symbol for young people and adults. While it was embarrassing to go thrift store shopping with my mom when I was a kid, I remember getting so excited when we could find something Levi, or CK, or Nike; a true treasure among the items that no one would even know came from the thrift store. While it may feel cool to find that vintage item, remember that their are many folks who go vintage clothes shopping out of true need, and would love not to have to trip over preppy white hipsters as they humbly attempt to go through racks of clothes to find something that fits and maybe won’t make them standout. I am privileged that I have come a long ways since my thrift shop sprees, and I can now comfortably buy clothes when I need them. I try to not buy in excess, find stuff on sale, etc. If you enjoy vintage clothes shopping, cool, but just remember that their are folks out there who shop vintage to stay warm. 


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