c/o Peels NYC for the New York Times*
On beginning to broach the ethics of thrifting
and the rising popularity of workwear staples. 

Secondhand shopping among those who need not do it out of necessity is a layered phenomenon, inherently intersecting with factors of class, ethics and the environment.  While the original intent of thrift stores was to offer lower and working classes access to affordable clothing, shoes and home goods, lately the demographic has been filled with anything but—a fact that can surely be observed at Goodwill Outlets and Salvation Army’s on Brooklyn or Chicago’s increasingly gentrifying streets. The modern-day "hipster" who may occupy these stores can more often than not be drawn to pieces previously associated with the blue collar class, inverting prior notions of what it means to wear embroidered workwear shirts or painter pants.

This poses a multitude of questions: Is thrifting among those who do not do it out of necessity inherently classist? Is it wrong to wear workwear staples such as then when other populations have previously been looked down upon for doing just that? 

In broaching these points, it is important to first clarify that there is nothing inherently problematic with the thrift store as an institution; it serves a very distinct purpose of raising money for charities and doing its part for the environment, and does so in a fairly straightforward way. However, problems and ambiguities do arise when certain conversations are not being had about the demographic of the customer, and what it means to suddenly regard a practice as “cool” and consequence-free when those of lower classes have been doing it for decades (often in a  society in which brands and logos are seen as innate markers of wealth, feeling the very inverse of “cool” while doing so). 

Further, this adoption of clothing pieces traditionally associated with lower classes—trucker caps, work boots, kitschy sweatshirts and flannels—among a very certain millennial subset (I hate the word “hipster” as much as the next person) can be viewed itself as problematic, as these items are worn under an almost faux ironic mentality, accessorized by phrases like “Isn’t this so funny!” and “I’m just joking!”. In the conquest for individuality and uniqueness, we have in a sense lost any concept of self-reflection or consciousness, instead resorting to an almost feigning of identity and self-expression. As New York Times writer Christy Wampole states in “How to Live Without Irony,” a scathing critique of the hipster ethos, “For the relatively well educated and financially secure, irony functions as a kind of credit card you never have to pay back. In other words, the hipster can frivolously invest in sham social capital without ever paying back one sincere dime. He doesnt own anything he possesses.”


I am as guilty as anyone in inhabiting this realm of so-called ironic fashion. My bottom dresser drawer holds three pairs of white painter's pants and counting; despite being neither named "Vinny" or having a job as a disco instructor, one of my latest Etsy pick-ups is a vintage Dickies shirt that proclaims just that. Carhartt and Dickies are some of my favorite brands, particularly when they're vintage and oil-stained. I have more than once considered in investing in a true vintage trucker jacket. 

Of course, irony as it relates to fashion and class is a very niche and complicated notion, one that was far more prominent during this normcore movement of the early- to mid-2010s in which Wampole’s piece positions itself. It is not irony itself that can be problematic, but irony in relation to the mentality behind thrifting among those of privilege that orients it as so. So, go ahead and appease your visceral urge to thrift even if you can afford the mall: it’s cheap, it can give to local communities, it draws money away from exploitative fast fashion companies and, of course, it’s fun. But if certain implications and internalized classism as it relates to already exploited groups and communities are never discussed, if we fail to be conscious of the act and how it can have an effect on those who do it out of necessity, all of these benefits render themselves almost useless. Or, at least, that is my humble opinion.

Please note that I am simply using Peels NYC as an example of the sudden push towards workwear staples in our currently sartorial landscape. This piece is not meant in any way as a slam to the company.