OPINION: Thrift shopping has shifted to luxury; consumers have power to change this

Low-income people rely on secondhand shopping, trendiness makes it inaccessible to them



Customers look for items to buy at Michelle’s Closet, Aug. 27, in Pullman, Wash.

ANNABELLE PEPIN, Evergreen columnist

Fashion is arguably the leading aspect of popular culture. Trends come and go, but the clothes themselves are here to stay. Second-hand shopping gives a second chance to clothes, without contributing to new mass productions of trends. 

Thrift shopping is one of the most sustainable ways to consume, but this form of shopping has become a trend itself. When things become trendy, there is a high demand for popular items. 

There is nothing more satisfying than finding a vintage piece to elevate the fashion game. But since there has been a higher demand for vintage items and reselling, the prices are going to rise as well. 

Even though higher prices may not affect people who shop both thrift and retail stores, people with lower incomes depend solely on these secondhand items.  

Prices are easy to manipulate, depending on the place. Fairness is an important aspect when it comes to catering to every type of shopper. 

Michelle’s Closet is a thrift shop in downtown Pullman, and it is the perfect place to shop for the local student population. Michelle’s Closet is owned by a WSU Pullman alumni who specifically works to appeal to the college student demographic, unlike other local consignment shops which tend to appeal more toward the older members of the Pullman community. 

For students living off of loans and part-time jobs who depend on secondhand items to build a trendy wardrobe, stores like this are the best approach because they are consignment-based. 

At consignment stores, customers can bring in their used clothes and resell them to the store at fair prices.

Essentially, this is a way for people to make money and buy without adding to the wasteful mindset of the fashion industry. This also prevents the risk of reselling for far too high of a price, which is seen on platforms like Depop and Poshmark, and makes secondhand clothes inaccessible to many lower-income populations. 

Marian, an employee at Michelle’s Closet, said that when pricing resold items at the shop, they take the retail price, cut it in half, then add a dollar for store profit. 

The real benefit for the customer though, is their loyalty program; it allows a person that sells items to see the status of the pieces. They are able to see if their item has been sold, or if it is still in the store. If someone purchases an item that another person sold to the store, the seller receives 40% of the profit – or, even better, 50% of the cost in store credit. 

This system is extremely efficient because it brings items and customers to the store, is environmentally friendly and brings customers back to sell their items. 

For people that want to budget their money while being environmentally mindful, on top of reselling fairly, Michelle’s Closet has cracked the code. 

Some of the best thrift stores in the Palouse area, aside from Michelle’s Closet, are right across the WA-ID border in Moscow. Stores like The Storm Cellar and Revolver hold the vintage pieces that every college student could dream of. 

WSU students can make the drive over the border to South Main Street in Moscow for bookstores, bagel shops and thrifting: the perfect afternoon for a weekend. 

For the most part, the stores fit the demographic of minimum wage earning college students, but some of the vintage items they carry are sold for a hundred dollars more than they were purchased for. 

Revolver is one of the higher-priced shops. In the store, they have more rare vintage finds, such as a racing jacket priced at $210. 

For college students with minimum wage jobs who pay rent, that can be a shocking number. 

According to an employee, the reason for this high price is to match the prices with competing stores in Seattle; the rarity of the items is also taken into consideration. 

However, income in Seattle is much different than income in Moscow. The minimum wage in Seattle is $17.25, whereas Moscow’s minimum wage is $7.25. 

If someone from Seattle wanted to buy the racing jacket, they would have to work almost 12 hours to afford it. On the other hand, the shoppers in Moscow that are interested in the jacket would have to work about 30 hours. 

Considering Revolver is such a good place for those rare finds, that might not be where the everyday person would be looking for their closet essentials. Revolver takes an in-person approach of reselling, as opposed to the usual digital sales. According to the ThreadUp 2022 Fashion Reselling Report, online reselling is the fastest-growing sector of secondhand retail, and is expected to grow four times by 2026. 

Reselling is a product of the high demand of items, but the arbitrary nature of the system can make trendy items nearly impossible to afford. 

Just a few blocks down from Revolver is The Storm Cellar: another consignment-style store, selling everything from Fashion Nova to Gucci. 

“Brands are important, but trends are more important,” said Hannah, an employee at The Storm Cellar. 

Hannah said their main age demographic is ages 16-22, which is the age range that typically is the most influenced by trends, rather than brands. 

As trends ebb and flow through society, the way they are consumed changes slightly with every cycle. In popular culture today, the rate of consumption among young people is so much faster than even ten years ago. 

Fashion trends used to only be seen on the street, in a monthly magazine or on weekly television episodes. Now, if a TikTok user sees an item of clothing that they like, they can get it with a click of a button at any time. 

Thanks to platforms like TikTok and the get-it-now nature of the digital age, thrifting has become a competitive trend where creators show amazing thrift finds and flips on the app. 

Social media and the fashion industry work very closely together to influence young people. When Emma Chamberlain started making YouTube videos about her incredible thrift finds a few years ago, everyone started going. 

Maybe it is the influencers themselves, with their cute looks and individuality that everyone wants so badly to embody; maybe it is the uniqueness of the clothes themselves. Either way, influencers like Chamberlain leveraged social media to make secondhand shopping a huge trend among the younger generation.

However, this influence has left the individuals that depend on thrifting at an unfair disadvantage. Many people who have been influenced by social media to get into thrifting do not necessarily need the items they purchase, whereas other people might. 

Secondhand shopping is essential for lower-income people to keep themselves and their families clothed. For so many people, it is so much more than the latest influencer trend.

The power that reselling and social media has over the newest thrifting community, Generation Z, could make or break the fashion industry and the affordability of sustainable clothes. 

For local students and shoppers, these stores are definitely worth the drive for a weekend with friends, but it is important to be mindful of those in need of these items and the chokehold that reselling has on blind consumers. 

Consumers can often be the greatest influencers of all. Why else would places like Michelle’s Closet have loyalty programs to keep us coming back? Why would The Storm Cellar prioritize the latest trends ahead of luxury brand names when pricing their items?

We hold power over the market as consumers. By simply shopping mindfully, we can shape the fashion industry as a whole and ensure that secondhand shopping stays accessible to those who truly need it.

Follow the trends and live your best life, but do not consume for the simple sake of consuming.