Thrift shopping: TikTok-trends and gentrification

 Siri Malmborg – Thrifting out of necessity or because of a TikTok-trend? When taking a closer look at the secondhand sector, the privilege-radar activates. 

A room full of old leather and cigarette smoke captured in textile – in the air, there’s this indefinable scent unique to thrift stores. In the Kiloshop at Waterlooplein in Amsterdam, you pay a prize per kilo of garment, which varies depending on the color of the prize tag. A young woman dressed in a black corset, low-waist cargo pants, and a leather coat is browsing through shirts with crazy patterns – a vintage Chanel bag dangling from her shoulder. Standing back to back with her, there’s a woman in her fifties, in a blue worn-out duffle coat, black sweatpants and winter boots looking through the bargain bin filled with plain t-shirts. 

 Thrifting used to be either a necessity in order to afford clothing, or an anti-fashion statement. Over the past decade, it has become a huge trend supported by crafty TikTokers, the sustainability-movement and fashionistas with a budget. Thrift shopping seems like the solution to all problems around fashion: no new items are brought into circulation, not much money needs to be spent, no wardrobe needs to be boring. But it is only the perfect solution for those who have the resources and privilege to browse around for trendy it-pieces for hours. Critique arises, saying the increased demand for second-hand clothes leads to higher prices, that the trendy youngsters take away recourses from those who actually need and that thrift stores are being gentrified. 

This new, sustainable utopia is reality for more than 40 percent of Generation Z and Millennials. The secondhand market, not only including traditional thrifting but also online resale by individuals, is expected to double in the next five years, according to the Resale Report 2021 by thredUP. This is because the idea of buying pre-used clothes is paving its way into people’s minds. Normally, unused garments would sit inside the closets for years or just be thrown away. Now, as selling them online via platforms like Vinted or Depop becomes easier and trendier, more people enter the resale game. During the pandemic, even more people joined. According to thredUP, people bought less clothing overall throughout the pandemic, but thrifted more than before.

Paola Moore Palmer is searching for a leather jacket in another Kiloshop, in de Pijp. The tall Spanish woman is in a bomber jacket, the dark curls are up in a messy bun and the nose is pierced several times. “I shop vintage, sometimes in stores, sometimes on the platform Vinted.” Her main reason for thrifting is because the clothes you find there have more personality and can’t be found in the big chains. “Also, it’s more ecofriendly and better for my wallet.” She’s taking a closer look at a black leather coat while her friends are standing further down the aisle laughing at a silly bikini they bought for fun. Paola doesn’t worry whether she’s taking things away from people who need it more. In her opinion, the different customer groups separate automatically. “These thrift shops are expensive because they have special brands and because they charge for small reparations on the things they get in. People who need cheaper things find them in the more charitable shops.”

In a different vintage shop, Julia L. is putting Vaseline on her dry lips. The heating is on full and it has been a long day for the young woman who has worked in the vintage sector for nine years. Like Paola, she trusts that there are enough prize segments for everyone within the secondhand sector. “In this shop, people pay too much for what they actually get”, she says. There are shops that are even more expensive, with the collector items from high fashion brands, and then there are the cheaper outlets and charity shops, which are foremost for people who thrift out of necessity. Julia says the buyers need to know their place. Still, “young people thrifting is not a problem. The fast-fashion chains who rather burn the items from their past collections than giving it to secondhand are the problem”, she says. According to her, the big retailers are afraid of devaluing their brand if people see it in thrift stores. 

In the Kiloshop at Waterlooplein, close to the woman at the bargain bin and the Chanel girl at the pattern shirts, student Juliette Bies is browsing through the trousers. She is aware of her privilege and tries to aim for the more expensive shops: “There’s the more expensive vintage shops and the more affordable secondhand shops. I go for vintage shops to avoid taking the good but more affordable things away from people who need it more than I do.”