(WHTM) — For thousands and thousands and thousands of years, clothes were an expensive proposition.
In the beginning, you had to grow and harvest the raw material for cloth by hand, then you had to spin it into thread by hand, then you had to weave it or knit it by hand, and then you had to cut and sew it into a finished garment by hand. A simple dress, tunic or pair of pants represented a huge investment in time.
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On the other hand, if you bought clothes instead of making them yourself. It represented a huge investment in money. So clothing tended to be worn until worn out, before being used to stuff a mattress and thus it was for centuries.
Then, the industrial revolution rolled around. Machinery made sewing, harvesting and preparing plant-based fibers quicker and easier. While nobody’s invented a Sheep-o-Matic, electric shears took a lot of work out of collecting wool. The sewing machine made it possible to turn out a finished garment in hours, or even minutes.
And somewhere along the way, “clothing” became “fashion”, and “fashion” became “never wear it again after it goes out of fashion.” If anyone tries to tell you this is a women-only issue, just say “leisure suit.” Clothes will languish in closets or storage chests for years until the day someone pulls them out and asks why are we keeping these.
All too often, perfectly good and usable clothing goes into a trash can. An EPA graph shows that in 2018, Americans landfilled 11.3 million tons of textiles, more than a sixfold increase from 1.7 million tons in 1960. A lot of that could be recycled.
Enter the thrift shop, which started in the 1800s with the Salvation Army “salvage brigade”, followed by Goodwill in 1902. The idea caught on, and now, you can find everything from small church basement boutiques to larger operations filling recycled department stores.
The advantages are many. For example, the clothes in a thrift shop are clothes not going into a landfill, and by giving an article of clothing a second life, it spreads out the environmental and social costs (which are many) of creating the garment in the first place. Sales from thrift shops fund a lot of social services and charities. When you donate clothes you not only help keep the shops going, you can open valuable space in your home, which can be priceless.
Of course, you can also save a bundle by buying used. This is the point where we talk about “the stigma”, the most peculiar notion that if you shop at a thrift store, you automatically must be poor. While there are people for whom a thrift store is the only way to keep a family clothed, there are also people who are financially well off, but who simply are not spendthrifts, which may be how they became financially well off.
Then there are the people who just love looking through the racks and finding wonderful bargains, and people who feel they’re helping the environment by buying secondhand. Some people are into “vintage clothing”, enjoying the look and feel of older garments, making what’s old new again. Though I don’t hold out much hope for the leisure suit.
So, if you’re looking in dismay at the pile of old clothes you just pulled from the closet, or are in need of some new clothes but don’t feel like blowing big bucks, consider a trip to the thrift shop. Out with the old, and in with the new-to-you!
(Full disclosure-I buy a lot of my clothes at a thrift shop on Baltimore Street in Dillsburg.)
Here’s where you can find some of our local thrift stores: