Fashion is cyclic at its core. We live through pink being the new black only to be replaced by orange, and 1,865 pantone colors later, we arrive back at black being the new black. Designers grow inspired by the cuts and styles of old, and we are once again reminded of the joy of cut-off shorts and jean jackets. As a well-known scholar, and perhaps fashionista, once said, history repeats itself. And what better place to witness history in the making than at your local second-hand shop? Those high waisted jeans your mom once wore have caught their second wind, and can be found amongst the lost, but not forgotten, castaways. The old is suddenly commodified into being new again, at your local thrift shop.
Many might believe that the thrift shop is only for the niche, nuance-dedicated grunge-enthusiast among us with an imagination to rival even our overalled toddler selves. Yet thrift shops actually serve the lazily creative. In what other location will you find the oldest trends, fads, and deadliest duds recycled for your browsing pleasure all at once? How else would you think to pair that genuine suede leopard print bustier with those sheer gauchos? You simply would not. The random assortment of clothes once loved and championed as fashionable are at once eclectic and genius. The side by side comparison of textures, styles, cuts, fabrics, labels, is inspiring in that there is absolutely no prescribed pattern to it.
Ever so often you might find an aesthetically pleasing piece only to realize that it was mis-classified by the salespeople in your favorite thrift shop. That button down or fuzzy sweater was actually meant for men or little girls or someone twice your size. It might’ve been misplaced or shrunk in the wash or enhanced by a do-it-yourself teen with a bedazzling gun. No matter, it is suddenly in your hand and the possibilities are both vast and welcoming. You have no idea what it will encounter or what its past has been; you can just hopefully visualize its future in your closet.
Thrift shops free us from the easily packaged, runway-friendly version of fashion. While not immune to trendy influences, thrift shops do, in large art, steer clear of the cookie cutter lack of inspiration that bedecks many a store window in our neighborhood mall. Thrift shops help us reclaim and relocate the styles that are reincarnated every few years—the mom jean, peasant blouse, tube top, skorts of our closets. They inspire us to take a second look at those taken-for-granted items. They encourage us to throw off the habit of buying and trashing new things, and instead invest much smaller sums in items that are typically made better anyways.
They allow us to explore and experiment with self-expression outside of the guise of a pre-packaged outfit and with very little upfront investment. With low risk, we can entertain our fashion whims and reinvent glory days we never lived. We are free from the trappings of social scripts of what our physical forms demand we should and can wear, and instead are free to try things on, try things out, and try to be young in old clothes.
words and photos by mia monae
Mia can now be found on Instagram @thriftblackback