Monday, February 27, 2012

Guest Post: Good Will Hunting

By: Danielle Vermeer

Danielle writes at from two to one about the intersection of marriage, faith, and feminism.  She also has a healthy obsession with vintage dresses, thrift store shopping, and extreme couponing. 

How thrift stores can save you money and save others’ dignity
The average American woman spends between $1,000 and $2,000 every year on clothing, but wears just 20% to 30% of what’s in her closet.  That means that every item in a crowded closet has less than a one in three chance of actually being worn, thereby becoming a waste of space and money.  But the real amount spent on clothing is actually much higher than a couple thousand dollars.  It ignores the price of the stolen childhood of the underage laborer in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan, the pain of the sexual assault survivor in the clothing sweatshop, and the deprivation of liberty of far too many factory workers making our beloved smart phones and e-readers.

In these tough economic times, I propose a solution I’ve abided by for over ten years: thrift store shopping.  Local thrift stores such as Salvation Army, Goodwill, and Village Discount not only offer new and even designer labels for rock-bottom prices, but your money often goes to a great cause in the community.  Buying second-hand clothing at thrift, consignment, and resale stores is also environmentally conscious and does not contribute to the steady supply of clothing made under slave or slave-like conditions.  If that isn’t enough to convince you, then maybe my and Yuka Yoneda’s stories will.

Buying Nothing New
At almost two months into 2012, I can proudly say that I have not bought anything new and that my modest expenses at thrift stores have been long-term investments: a wrap dress for work, a designer dress shirt for the hubby, and an organic cotton onesie for the little one sometime in the future.  Total spent: $5.00.  Compared to regular prices even at discount retailers like Target, I’m still saving 75-90%.  I am actually attempting to buy nothing new this entire year.

But it’s more than just saving big bucks.  It’s about understanding our consequences of our choices, however informed or ignorant those choices may be.  For those who identify and sympathize with a feminist outlook on life, buying secondhand clothes is a no-brainer.  But sometimes, that’s the problem: we don’t think about it, even if we know intuitively that it’s better for us and for our little world. 

Take Yuka Yoneda, for example.  While she is now known for Clossette, a DIY and personal style blog of solely repurposed and “re-loved” clothing, Yuka was not always so keen on wearing pre-owned clothing:

“I was a shopaholic.  Then I learned about where the clothes I was buying came from and how they were affecting and hurting other people, particularly women and children, around the globe.  The idea that these crimes against women, pollution and chemicals going into our water and bodies, and just shear waste were all happening because I wanted a new top or jeans really made me feel ashamed.

I know that for some people, buying clothes that someone else has already worn may sound gross or weird.  But did you know that the shirts, sweaters, skirts, and shoes you’ve been buying at major retailers might be made at factories where sexual assaults are normal occurrences?  I don’t know about you, but that disgusts me way more than the thought of another girl having owned the pair of jeans I’m wearing now.  And I sure as heck am not going to support it.”

Now she is spreading the message one closet at a time until we reach a “thought revolution” full of compassion, dignity, and ethical style.  My vintage dresses and I are all for it.


  1. I'm a huge proponent of thrift store shopping! I learned it from the true Goodwill Hunter, my mom. A great store we have in New England (I'm not sure if they are elsewhere) is Savers.

    But a few months ago I read a cheesey book on living simply, and the author took a hard line against thrift store shopping: she encouraged readers to avoid them at all costs because the low prices cajole us into accumulating more unwanted stuff, perpetuating the cycle of waste and clutter. When I thought hard about this, I realized she had a point--I was buying clothing at thrift stores that I didn't really need or like, simply because it was easy to buy something "nice" or "brand name" for a few dollars. The result is that I still have more clothes than I actually wear.

    So, I think the most fundamental issue is that we need to buy less in general--thrift store or not. For me, I have had to try very hard to avoid shopping/style-related blogs and magazines. Once I insert the idea of WANT into my head, it's consuming! When I instead try to use my down time to read the news, novels, The Feminist Mystique, etc., I find myself with a significantly lower desire to shop at all. The internet is such a poisonous advertising tool!!! Despite my best efforts I'm still drooling over the stuff on A Cup of Jo. Le sigh!

  2. Becky, I totally agree. It can be really difficult to pass a $2 designer blouse because it's only $2, but as I do with couponing, I don't buy anything that I don't need, even if it is an incredible price. I think thrifting can be a great resource as long as the thrifter has enough self-control to bypass some great finds that would end up never being worn (and probably re-donated to the thrift store).

  3. GREAT points on both sides -- simplicity is certainly possible in more ways than one. Thanks for the post, Danielle!

  4. I should show this entry to my wife. She spends about $1200 MONTHLY on new clothes! (No, we're not one-percenters by any stretch).

  5. I enjoyed your post, Danielle. I have always tried to buy clothes from thrift stores, both because you can find some great items and also because it's easy on the wallet. Almost all of my favorite pieces of clothing cost only a few dollars (including some awesome blazers).

    The ethical concerns you raise are clearly important as well and tie in with the idea of raising our consciousness as to where we decide our money is best served.

    Becky, I couldn't agree with you more about being fooled into buying things simply because they're cheaper. As you say, the goal should be to buy less. And not only because most clothing is ridiculously overpriced and uses unethical means to manufacture it, but because, in the grand scheme of things, how important should something like clothing really be to us? How might that money be used more wisely or thoughtfully? These are questions I can't escape facing whenever I attempt to buy anything. And to me, clothing must come way, way down on the list.

    Thanks again for the nice post!

  6. This is a really great post and a great idea as well! I find a lot of awesome clothes in thrift/op shops, but sadly in Brisbane the thrift shops can be more expensive than the cheaper end of fashion stores where I get most of my basic clothing things, or the same price. I wish they were cheaper so I wouldn't feel like I should buy plains shirts etc. at normal stores to save money. (I'm living on a student pension and don't have a part-time job atm, so money is always tight.) But I am going to keep this in mind and try to limit what I buy in normal shops.