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Students Embrace Thrift Shop Culture

Illustration by Kate Greenblatt

“Thrift Shop” by Macklemore is undoubtedly the song that shook 2012 to its core. It was promoting a lifestyle whose appeal wasn’t founded in its inaccessibility. It has only been very recently that fashion isn’t purely used as a way to flex your status.

Kimiro Kikon-Sautman, a Berkeley High School (BHS) senior spoke about how classism affected society’s view of thrift stores for a long time. “Higher income people didn’t go in the early 2000s and before because of the stigma surrounding being poor,” said Kikon-Sautman.

The tides have started to shift as thrift stores have become destigmatized. According to Sofie Kniveton Insogna, a BHS senior, this acceptance has opened doors for lower income people. “The popularity and romanticization of thrift culture has made people who felt ostracized for wearing thrift clothing more comfortable,” she said.

However, just because people are embracing thrift stores, doesn’t mean they’re any less prejudiced about the lower income people they were established for. Ricky Carter, a Berkeley Technological Academy graduate, said, “I think there is stigma and shame around thrift stores for superficial reasons. If there wasn’t, I would see a lot more lower class and poor people in them.” Since the stigma around thrift stores has been removed, it no longer feels like the working class’s domain.

Kikon-Sautman also noticed this phenomenon, and likened it to gentrification: “There really is a striking similarity between people going into poor neighborhoods, buying a property, and then selling it for millions a couple years later, and white girls flipping clothes on Depop. I don’t know if I would say that people are taking advantage of thrift stores because they are public spaces that are open to everybody, but then again houses that are put on sale in poor neighborhoods are available for everybody to buy.”

So is acceptance of thrifting positive or negative overall?

“I think no matter who you are, thrifting is beneficial because it’s important to reuse and recycle clothing rather than continuing to buy new factory-made stuff,” said Isa Hoffman, a BHS senior. While thrifting is both good for your wallet and the environment, it still isn’t socially acceptable everywhere. Hoffman said the thrift store stigma definitely exists outside of the Berkeley Bubble: “I got so many weird comments at camp when someone asked me where I got my pants and I said a thrift store. In Berkeley, not so much, because it’s kind of seen as an economic rebellion in a way.”

Why is it that economic rebellion is encouraged in Berkeley but not elsewhere? Kikon-Sautman said: “I feel like there has been a trend in the last couple years to pretend like you’re oppressed in some way. It feels like people are trying to grasp at whatever ‘oppression’ straws they can. It’s trendy to look poor now! And it’s not trendy to look rich! I feel like this is especially true of Berkeley kids.”

In the end, we all have the freedom to shop where we please and wear what we like. Lucy Urbano, a senior at Oakland School of the Arts, thinks that there’s something humanizing about the diversity of thrift stores: “Whenever I’m at a thrift store I am shopping with such a diverse and interesting group of people that is unlike any other group of people that I interact with in my life anywhere else. There’s something so beautiful about that.”