Today's Teens: The ThriftersS

Today's Times tells us that teens are penny-pinching, to the chagrin of the youth apparel industry. But...w hat about thrifting? Isn't that what teens do?

Disclosure, of course: I come from a thrifting family. Every Saturday morning was devoted to yard sales, church sales and a round of thrift stores. We shopped for what we needed, of course - the beginning of a new school year meant a visit to the really big SalVa in New Rochelle - but, as any thrift-shopper knows, it was also a treasure-hunt. Part of it was financial; my parents had been raised to thrift and saw no point in spending more when one could find the same clothes with a few hours' rummaging. But more than this was the spirit of adventure.

This was not all fun and games; I had my periods of yearning after Abercrombie and J. Crew, lord knows - and I do think my grandmother might have secretly wished her "shopping" could have been more than just looking though the sack of variegated sized her husband carted back triumphantly from the Naval Postgraduate thrift store. But these were skills that served me well.

There are, of course, two kinds of thrifters: those who shop for need, and those who shop for fun. And then the rest of us, who are somewhere in the middle, who may delight in the outrageous but will also wear it. It takes a while to get thrifting down. At first, many young people go through phases of such exhilaration at the proliferation of cheap, unique garments, that they exercise no restraint at all, putting together wild outfits for the sake of outrageousness, paying no attention to size, so excited at the existence of grotesque polyester dresses that it doesn't really occur to them that they don't really want to be wearing one. We have all been there; I'm thinking of my "40s housedresses" phase.

Over time, you learn where to go first (shoes and bags), how to run your hand down a rack of sweaters to feel for cashmere, how to change modestly under an enormous skirt, how to gauge what will fit, which smells will wash out (ie, not from velvet jackets) and that perspiration stains are forever. You learn what's worth reshaping or just safety-pinning and what will always just look cartoonishly big. You learn how rare a well-fitting pair of pants is, and that you'll never actually wear all those vintage aprons, except for maybe when you run a tag sale. You learn which friends not to shop with - those who are exactly your size - and who has the best eye. Obviously, you learn drop-off days and are there when the doors open.

This is a rite of passage for teenagers, a step towards independence and individuality and thrift. Sure, it's about creativity, but also involves very real lessons of economics and quality and the realities of others' lives, both those who have worn before and those who will wear again. There will always be those, of course, who are put off by used things - or at least require the laundering and sorting of a Crossroads or a vintage store. It's true that places like a warehouse in the Bronx, covered in piles of unwashed clothes, in which one rifled and paid by the pound (sadly, no more) are not for everyone. And I do draw the line at underwear (except in the case of a 50's bullet-bra in my size) But people who have not walked a mile in another's shoes, or sweater, or gas station overall (another common rookie temptation) have missed out on a lot. I'm glad that the kids quoted in the story are becoming bargain hunters. At the risk of upping the competitive ante, I hope it also means an upswing in what, in my day, we just called "shopping."


Losing Its Cool At The Mall
[NY Times]

Related: National Thrift Store Directory [Official Site]