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ISSUE 120 VOL 2 PUBLISHED 9/29/2006

Thriftstores peddle unique clothing

By April Wright
Variety Editor


Friday, September 29, 2006

The smell of piles of old, out-of-style clothes. The harsh fluorescent lighting. The mix of the poor, the old and the fashionably ironic.

Can you guess what I'm describing?

That's right: a thrift store.

Thrift stores, known as charity shops in England, have been able to shed much of the social stigma surrounding them and as a result are now standard shopping fare for teenagers and young adults.

When thrift stores hit the scene in the late 40s, the prevailing opinion of the public was that they were a type of charity enterprise selling unfashionable second-hand clothes. Fortunately, thrift stores underwent a revival in the 70s, when the advent of punk rock and other various subcultures created a demand for unique and quirky vintage clothing.

By the 80s thrift store shopping had become a subculture staple in America as well. Thrift stores became popular with art students, although their spread is often associated with musical groups. Bands like Sonic Youth and R.E.M. showed their punk and art rock ethos by dressing in clothes that made an artistic statement (though admittedly this statement was often simply "I'm weird, look at me"). As a result, their devotees flocked to thrift stores en masse. Stereotypically angry, young and poor, punk rockers would often buy clothing from charity shops and modify it with safety pins and patches.

"Thrifting," the art of thrift store shopping, enjoyed a revival in the early 1990s with the success of grunge and the glorification of an anti-corporate, anti-fashion dress code.

As bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam became more and more mainstream, the Seattle Look that they inadvertently–promoted-ripped jeans, oversized, beat-up flannel shirts and old Chuck Taylors–rose in popularity.

The look was utilitarian: Salvation Army stores used to sell clothes for 50 cents a bag in some areas, and people in the grunge scene (based out of the economically depressed Pacific Northwest) would buy clothes and out of sheer economic necessity wear them until they fell apart.

The popularity of grunge bands also sparked an influx of fashionable teens and young adults with plenty of money to burn on the thrifting scene, causing consternation and drawing criticism from veteran thrifters and social watchdogs.

Opponents of mainstream thrifting say that thrifters who are simply looking for cheap, fashionable clothing should not buy clothes at thrift shops because they're taking affordable clothes away from people who actually need them. Also, since many thrift stores are donation-based, critics say that these shoppers are getting handouts that they don't need.

Proponents of thrifting among the economically privileged are undeterred. They respond to criticism by saying that the clothes in thrift stores are given away because they are out-of-fashion in the first place, and that there are more than enough of last season's sweaters to go around. Other supporters want to avoid putting their money into the supposedly corrupt fashion industries. Still others extol the diversity of unique items available second hand.

Throughout the 90s, thrifting fell out of the consciousness of most Americans. However, the emphasis that both the college and independent music scenes put on vintage and eccentric fashions have been more than enough to keep thrifting alive.

Which naturally raises the question: Where can I do some thrifting?

Editor's Pick for best local thrift store: Unique, located in Burnsville

Unique is an enormous thrift store. While most of their clothes are suburban cast-offs, the store offers a wide selection of men and women's clothes. Be advised that the men's section is better than the women's. The really cool part about Unique is the houseware section. Their selection of kitschy, 70s dishes and knickknacks is second to none. The shop also hasn't bought into the phenomena of thrift store price gouging, so their prices are genuinely thrifty, unlike some of their suburban peers.

Honorable Mention: Savers, located in Richfield





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