Thrift shopping: when the line blurs between thrift and vintage

Hajar Umira Md Zaki
13 Sep 2022 05:35pm
Some of vintage clothes sold by Josh

photo by Josh
Some of vintage clothes sold by Josh photo by Josh
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In the recent weeks, a TikTok user, Putrika Rafie had documented her experience of going to an event where vendors set up pop up thrift stores.

Thrifting, as we know, is purchasing secondhand items at a discounted price. It could be clothes, furniture or other household items as well.

In a video documented by Putrika, she showed how the price tags that came with a few pre-loved t-shirts were not as thrifty as one would expect.

For example, a white t-shirt with Peter Pan illustrations was sold at RM450, a Hannah Montana t-shirt was priced at RM250.

This arguably triggered a conversation over the price of thrift items - why are these items not easy on the wallet, as it should be?

In a separate video, Putrika explained that she came to understand how the expensive thrift items she found were actually sold as a collector’s item.

However, she questioned why thrift items and vintage or collector’s item which is often viewed as a luxury, is grouped together.

She elaborated further in an interview with Sinar Daily.

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“You may understand my shock when I had seen prices reaching RM100 to RM400 for ‘thrift items’ especially considering the items did not seem like incredibly special/rare pieces, well at least to me.

“I’ve learned from the vendors who found my video that these pieces are actually collector's pieces and they actually sourced them from different countries.

“What I’ve gathered from this ordeal is that these vendors find and curate rare, vintage or collector’s pieces and often these pieces are priced very high according to the market value generally set by people ‘in the scene’,” she claimed.

“But I would like to highlight that there were in fact vendors selling normal and reasonably priced thrift items, however I found it very weird that the more ‘special’ pieces were being grouped together under thrift items,” she said.

The video was recorded for fun, but Putrika said she never thought that it would receive various reactions. In fact some of the vendors actually responded through the comments.

Some of thrift items by Putrika Rafie

photo by Putrika Rafie
Some of thrift items by Putrika Rafie photo by Putrika Rafie

BREAKING DOWN THRIFTING AND VINTAGE SHOPPING

In one of her videos, Putrika explained to her followers that thrifting and vintage are two separate things.

This is something that the community should take note of.

“Thrifty implies being thrifty, which means being economical. Vintage is something that’s already special, it is aged and likely sold at a considerably lower price,” she said.

Think of it this way - you finding pre-loved H&M jeans at a secondhand store, that’s thrifting.

On the other hand, a vintage clothing or items reflects the styles and trends of a previous era or social period. They are rare, specially curated items usually by well-known high-end brands like Gucci or Chanel for example.

Thrift items are significantly cheaper than vintage finds.

WHEN GENTRIFICATION INTERFERES

Thrifting is a practice that has existed for long, but it didn’t quite receive the same love and celebration that it gets today.

Essentially, thrifting was a way for the financially unstable or the lower income families to afford good quality clothes, at a reasonably lower price.

But as the years fly by, the acceptance towards thrifting has changed - it has become more appealing to the richer population.

This is where gentrification interferes.

What does it mean by gentrification?

the process of gentrification implies when people with higher incomes or wealthier invade the trend that previously filled by the lower income or poor people only.

Hence, in regards to thrifting, it hits on when the richer join the thrifting trends and the demand is getting higher, which eventually leads the price to hike up as well.

“For me, gentrification is not just about thrifting, it's about our environment, the social classes and so much more. It is much deeper than just thrifting.

“It causes class divide and also allows people of higher income groups to be ignorant of issues that do not affect them directly but may affect people of their community from lower income groups," she said.

With the price hike in thrift items, it blurs the lines between what’s thrifty and what’s vintage.

SUSTAINABILITY IN THRIFTING

With thrifting, it was supposed to slow the consumer’s down as fast fashion has its detrimental impact to the environment.

A plus point of thrift shopping would be sustainability. With people shopping pre-loved, the demand for fast fashion would decline.

But going thrift shopping is like a hit or miss as consumers would have no idea what they’ll be getting at the store, unlike fast fashion where they would be in the know of the latest collections and trends.

For Putrika herself, she would step into the thrift store without anything specific.

But in the midst of thrift shopping, should luck be on your side, you would still be able to find vintage items that are sold at a super low price.

“As for vintage, I think it is important for sellers to be transparent on how they acquired these items, many people question the legitimacy of certain vintage pieces.

“Just be informative with what you do, if you curate and repair pieces then educate people about each piece. It will show the hard work, quality and legitimacy of their items and business,” she said.

FROM A VINTAGE COLLECTOR’S POINT OF VIEW

A vintage collector and seller who wants to only be known as Josh said vintage collection is a curation where effort and time is put into presenting something that’s rare and special.

Just like a piece of art, some know how to appreciate while others don’t.

Sharing his experience as a seller, Josh once sold a 1991 Peter Pan t-shirt for RM450 but was called out for the unreasonable price.

Comparing the international market and domestic market of vintage clothes, the prices for international markets would be higher than in Malaysia if he received a good price offered.

“I got called out for selling RM450 but it’s valued higher in the United States as someone bought it for USD$200 easily.

“If a real collector or people who knows to appreciate it, RM450 is a jackpot to them.

“In the vintage collection world, if it’s a rare piece and you’re trying to buy it off a collector, you need to offer a fair enough price that they are willing to let go at,” he said.

Sharing his experience, there was a vintage shirt he formerly owned and caught the eyes of a Malaysian collector until the collector was willing to set a deal of RM2,200 with him.

A Malaysian buyer Aladdin's vintage shirt for RM2,200

photo by Josh
A Malaysian buyer Aladdin's vintage shirt for RM2,200 photo by Josh

“I price and value my vintage collection based on how rare it is and the market value that people are selling it for. Sometimes I value them higher if it’s a personal piece, only if someone comes correct with an offer, or not I won’t be selling it.

“I value my vintage collection based on the sentimental value and emotional attachment. The prints, designs and rarity plays a big part in it too,” Josh further added.

When thrift could cost less than hundred and can even get as low as RM1 per item, if the person is lucky enough to take their sweet time in ‘swimming’ in a sea of bundle clothes, they would find something that has the same value as vintage.

It might sound absurd and unreal, but it might make you want to go for a bundle trip right away, when you can even find high end products like Chanel in thrift stores! But, it needs to come along with knowledge and good eyes in checking whether the items are authentic or not.

“There are so many thrift stores that you can get thrift clothes and hidden gems at a really cheap price. You just have to do more research and know where to look.

“If you’re going to an event, or nicely curated stores of course you won’t get ridiculously cheap thrift clothing.

“Take into account we have to pay for the rental of space to sell at the event, spend time sourcing for theshirts by travelling to different states, go through thorough selection, wash and clean them, repair if there’s any defects, just to sell them at RM10 or RM20 per piece,” he said.

Josh's personal collection 

Photo by Josh
Josh's personal collection Photo by Josh

EDUCATING PEOPLE BETWEEN THRIFT AND VINTAGE

Josh clarified in educating people about thrift or vintage that they need to have their own experience and to ask why certain items were priced that way and what are the important details until it cost so much.

“There are so many details that people need to understand and learn about before making comments about the price of a particular piece.

“Some will think it’s ridiculously priced while some will think it’s a good deal,” he said.

However, regardless of the price, what should be prioritised is to respect the artist, the time and also the effort to make the certain piece available in the market.

In the end, the bigger picture is for us to do our part in reducing our fashion environmental impact, by going for the sustainable route instead of fast fashion.