Thrifting: College Students Shop for Trends & Deals

By Mel DeCandia on June 20, 2013
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For some people, ‘popping tags’ might be nothing more than a lyric in the popular Macklemore song Thrift Shop. For some college students, however, such secondhand shopping is something of a way of life.

One obvious reason so many students choose to thrift is because the low prices of hand-me-down clothes make it easier for them to shop on a college budget.

“I think college kids like to thrift because the clothes are unique and cheap,” said Alicia McElhaney, a rising sophomore at the University of Maryland. “If you want to wear something absolutely ridiculous, but have no money, it’s easier to get it at a thrift shop.”

And ridiculous clothes at low prices are something that college students need more frequently than one might think. Northwestern University freshman Alana Basil said she thrift shopped for costumes for Dance Marathon, a school-sponsored, themed charity event.

Many, though, find thrift shopping not only a bargain, but also a great source for fashion finds.

“I feel like thrifted pieces often fit my style better than new clothing, because I’m really into vintage styles. I think that high-waisted skirts and little blouses fit women so much better than some of the newer, tighter styles,” said McElhaney, who often shops in thrift stores in search of such vintage pieces.

For Basil, thrift store shopping allows her to find clothes that are more personal and unique than those found at department stores.

“It’s easy to go to the mall and buy something everyone else has, but it’s a lot harder to go through a thrift shop and make outfits that are all your own, and I think that makes it way more rewarding,” she said.

The act of thrift store shopping itself can also often be a joy to some shoppers.

“I thrift shop because it’s fun to rework old clothes and make them new,” said University of Maryland rising sophomore Melissa Seitz.

“Thrifting is cheap, but it takes a surprising amount of skill. I find it a challenge to look at a piece of clothing and see its potential,” said Basil. “There is such an art to assembling other people’s clothes, in a way, a piece of them lives on, like weird fleeting human contact,” she added.

And thrift store shopping not only yields amazing deals and experiences, but also amazing finds.

“It was actually my first ever thrift,” Basil said of her best thrift store find: a Threadless brand tee shirt she found for $1 in the children’s section of a Goodwill store.

“I bought a pair of Keds from 1992 that I love from Dr. K’s vintage in D.C.,” said McElhaney, who says she wears the vintage shoes just about every day.

“Also, a couple of years ago I got a Christian Louboutin high-waisted skirt at this thrift store called Avalon Exchange in Pittsburgh,” she said.

Brand names at discounted prices aren’t so uncommon at many thrift stores: Seitz said she found a pair of Lucky Brand jeans for a mere $7 on one thrift store outing.

Popular stores like Urban Outfitters might try and sell the ‘boho chic’ look, but no doubt at your wallet’s expense. If, like Macklemore, you only have ‘$20 in your pocket,’ stay in style without sacrificing your bank account by checking out your local thrift store instead.

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University of Maryland, Merrill College of Journalism '16. Terp, show-tune enthusiast and part-time Belieber. Sometimes I write things.

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