Thrifting has quickly grown to be one of Gen Z’s favorite pastimes, but how did this decades old practice suddenly become so popular?
Currently, 83% of Gen Z Americans already shop or are willing to thrift secondhand items, and by 2027, Gen Z will account for approximately 28% of the secondhand market, according to ThredUp. Gen Z is at the forefront of a major growth period in the global secondhand shopping market, which saw a 28% increase in revenue in 2022.
One need look no further than Washington DC to find evidence of Gen Z’s infatuation with thrifting. Buying second hand apparel has become a way of life for many university students in the district.
Jalen Gunter, a senior at Howard University, spoke to the popularity of thrifting at his school.
“When I got to Howard I realized ‘oh, this is a real thing’,” Gunter said in an interview. “People would be like ‘let’s go on thrifting adventures,’ and I think that’s kind of where I got bit by the thrifting bug.”
Gunter has seen the thrifting bug spread rapidly throughout Howard during his time at the university. He believes thrifting’s appeal lies in its distinct style.
“One thing about Howard, there’s such a multitude of styles,” Gunter said in an interview. “It kind of goes hand and hand with the people at Howard. We love being creative and making old things new again.”
Gunter cites thrifting as an integral part of his college experience thus far. Gunter is one of the leaders of Models of the Mecca, a student organization at Howard University that provides a platform for fashion designers to model their unique looks.
Gunter recognizes thrifting for playing a pivotal role in the organization’s success.
A Howard student modeling at a Models of the Mecca fashion showcase (Photo/@meccamodel)
“Thrifting plays a heavy role in who we are as creatives,” Gunter said in an interview. “As creatives, we love being unique, we love being ourselves, and thrifting goes right along with that.”
Since coming to Howard, Gunter has developed a more intimate relationship with his clothing and fashion through thrifting. He feels as though thrifting is deeper than just buying clothes.
“It’s this really personal thing for me,” Gunter said in an interview. “I have a real connection with my clothes, and I think thrifting really speaks to that
The Prime Thrift Store on Georgia Avenue is one that Gunter and many other college students in the district love to frequent. However, this was not always the case. Ismeal West, a shopper at Prime Thrift for over 30 years, says he’s seen the store’s clientele change drastically over the years.
“A lot of the young people that are coming in here, they're just getting started,” West said in an interview. “They ain’t got no money to begin with.”
West cites economic struggles, particularly inflation and a rise in retail prices, as a main point of appeal for younger shoppers.
“With the economy being the way it is, a lot of people are coming into the thrift stores now to save money,” West said in an interview. “People are not being ashamed to come here. At one time, people were ashamed.”
Other thrift stores in the district have experienced increased demand from the recent rise in retail prices. Sidney Hui, the owner of The Disco Loft, says she’s seen a dramatic increase in the demand for thrifted clothing, particularly among Gen Z.
“There’s more and more people thrifting all of the time,” Hui said in an interview. “When I was younger, it wasn’t as common or popular… I feel like the stigma around used clothing was worse back then. I feel like people are understanding it’s not necessarily gross.”
Sidney started The Disco Loft, an online thrift store she runs via Instagram, to share her passion for thrifting as well as sustainably get rid of items she no longer needed. She credits sustainability as being a major selling point for younger generations
“Younger people care about sustainability more,” Hui said in an interview.
Most of Hui’s clientele falls within the teenager to late 20’s age range. As a young millennial herself, Hui offered insights into why thrifting is so popular with younger shoppers.
“It kind of has to do with fashion in general,” Hui said in an interview. “There’s so many more resources and ways to look at inspiration, whether it's Tik Tok or Youtube, and I kind of feel like young people are experimenting more with their fashion.”
Social media has played a huge role in the resurgence of thrift culture in the United States. A quick search of the word “thrift” on Tik Tok or Reddit will yield thousands of results of the best places to thrift, peoples’ most unique finds and how to style thrifted clothing.
This aspect of thrifting appeals to younger shoppers, many of whom are just beginning to experiment with their style.
“It’s a great way to express your own personal style for less money,” Hui said in an interview. “If you’re trying to find your personal style, it’s easier to experiment without spending too much.”
Thrifting is not only a great way for younger shoppers to experiment; it offers them an outlet through which they can stand out. Thrift stores provide looks that can essentially never be replicated.
“You can find so many more unique items,” Hui said. “Someone can’t just go into a store and recreate your look. It’s a great way to have a more unique fashion sense.”