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Thrifting as a lifestyle

Insights and tips on how and why we should ethically curate our closets from the thrift store

Every morning I wake up and ponder what to wear. Not because I don’t have anything, but because I have everything to wear. I hold a personal connection with each clothing item which has been hand-selected from the thrift store and added to my closet.

That’s right, the vast majority of my wardrobe comes from my local Goodwill and other secondhand shops. Thrifting has become a huge trend recently as younger generations are picking up this hobby and posting about it on social media. I would like to suggest trying it out not for the sake of it being trendy, but because it’s one of the most ethical ways to source clothes affordably — with the bonus of finding totally unique pieces to add to your closet.

One of the biggest problems in fashion is the overconsumption of clothes from fast fashion companies and the resulting damage this does to our environment. Most don’t realize this, but fast fashion stands as the second largest pollutant in the world, right behind oil, making this an issue we need to address promptly to effectively make a change. 

Companies like Shein are at the forefront of this issue, as trendy clothes and fashion designs are being recreated and sold for outrageously cheap prices. The completely inhumane and unethical sweatshops in which they’re produced make these prices possible, since the employees don’t make a living wage for their work. In an effort to halt the overarching success of these companies and boycott the unethical practices of fast fashion, we must integrate more eco-friendly alternatives like thrifting into our lives as consumers. 

Along with being able to leave the thrift store knowing I made ethically conscious purchases, I’ve gotten the chance to further develop my personal style through thrifting. Sifting through the racks, my mind roams free as incredible garments catch my eye and propel my imagination forward with inspiration for fresh ensembles. There’s no one modeling the clothes for me, unlike the internet where outfits are already suggested to shoppers, making any fit of mine all the more original.

I think it’s this one-of-a-kind nature of thrifting which really draws me in and motivates me to keep sourcing clothes in this manner, as statement pieces I thrift are truly exclusive. I experience a sort of “meet cute,” or initial moment of attraction, with an array of items whenever I’m thrifting. My embroidered frog sweater unveiled itself in this “meet cute” fashion, and I knew it was mine at first glance. Similarly, my vintage Polo Ralph Lauren carpenter jeans sat alone on the rack prodding me, almost as if I was meant to have them. It's items like these which have now become staples in my closet for their perfect fit and alignment with my personal style as a whole. 

People always ask me how I find such cool things at the thrift shop. I suppose a good thrift trip is associated with a lot of luck, but in all honesty, the outcome of your excursion has largely to do with the effort you put into looking through as much as possible and with as much attention to detail as possible. Without fail, I spend over an hour in each shop looking at each piece so as to not miss or pass anything over in the rush of it all. If I happen to be pressed for time, then it becomes a matter of choosing which assortment of racks I should tackle rather than trying to skim through the whole store. 

It’s also important to note the contradictory nature of thrifting. On one hand, many rely on thrift shops to acquire necessary items like winter coats or other closet essentials. On the other hand, once clothes are up for sale at the thrift shop, it really is the last chance for it to be worn before being brought to the landfill. By keeping both of these facts in mind, a good mental guide may be created with basic rules of thumb to follow while thrifting. I personally shop within my designated size leaving plus size clothes for those who need it. I then remain aware of the changing seasons, saving desirable items like warm coats for individuals who have no other mode of obtaining them for the colder months. Through remaining conscious of such instances, a successful thrift trip is still underway with the extensive amount of clothes available within these shops. 

Although uncovering desirable clothes may be the end goal of a trip to the thrift store, it’s also important to note the solace found in the actual act of thrifting. Earbuds are essential in creating the perfect ambience in which I can listen to music, let my thoughts flow and carry on in a chill manner without placing pressure on myself to find the right piece. Instead, I just let the clothes speak to me. This activity becomes quite therapeutic, and I genuinely get excited walking into the thrift store not knowing exactly what awaits.

For this reason, thrifting should not be viewed as something stressful or overly time-consuming with all of the searching and sifting involved, but rather as a treasure hunt that is worth it in the end for all of the hidden gems uncovered. It’s become a custom for clothes to be shipped right to our doorstep requiring minimal effort for shoppers, but we must alter our perceptions in this context and realize that this convenience may just be what we have been trained to view as the norm. Although fast fashion offers a more convenient experience, the additional amount of time taken up by slow fashion generates considerable benefits in the end.

Numerous modes of sustainable shopping exist such as consignment shops and completely online resale sites like Depop, thredUp and even eBay. Additionally, many small businesses offer a wide variety of unique items made especially for the customer. So even if the thrift scene is sparse in your area, ethical fashion is always at your disposal through its wider accessibility beyond thrifting. 

I utilize all of these resources in some form as they all offer different services and bring a new uniqueness to shopping. I look to inspire others to find their niche method of practicing good ethics in fashion and discover a greater sense of self-expression through this approach as well. Thrifting has become my go-to way of sourcing new clothes and there’s always a freshness to my closet with the abundance of eye-catching pieces available. There’s no better feeling than stepping out into the world in a completely thrifted outfit and taking pride in something that can truly be called my own. 

Ella Powell is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at


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