I always feel like I have nothing to wear. I buy something at Zara and then see someone else wearing it the next day, and bemoan the conformity that buying items at fast fashion retailers brings into my closet. So, when I get up in the morning I tend to reach for the items I’ve scored from the many thrift stores downtown. My favorites include a wonderful sherbert-colored skirt and my extra-large cardigans with elbow patches. These are the clothes that get the biggest reactions from friends and coworkers.
Whenever I realize I’m missing some specific pieces from my wardrobe, I head down to my favorite stores in the East Village with the hopes that I can score again. The anticipation always kills me. I imagine over and over again the clothes I might find and let my imagination run wild. Each item has a history, which I imagine while trying them on. Those penny loafers I bought the other day probably belonged to a teenager who never wore them, that skirt to a confident editor who had to let it go when she moved to Paris. These stories are almost as good as being absorbed in an engrossing novel. It’s more of an escape than regular shopping when I imagine who I could become if I bought those clothes.
While I sift through the junk, searching for the treasures, my mind begins to wander and my senses heighten. My fingers are hyper-aware of the texture of everything, searching for that fabric that will feel wonderful against my skin. My eyes scan for the right color and cut in reflex mode. I become unaware of time and become enthralled in the hunt. I feel like an art collector searching for the perfect painting that fits with the rest of the collection.
When finals week hits, I find myself reaching for my favorite pair of boyfriend jeans all too often. On the other hand, putting together outfits is the only way I can be creative in the midst of papers and exams. I don’t have time for my photography or sketching, but I have to put clothes on—I might as well channel my creative energy by sporting the most unique pieces from my wardrobe.
While prices for designer vintage can get steep, I always find a few incredible deals during my thrift store jaunts. Still, it’s easy to forget the positive environmental impact that purchasing pre-worn clothes has. When I put on my favorite thrifted loafers I feel a little less guilty than when I pick up something from fast fashion stores like Zara or H&M—some of the biggest industrial polluters. Alternatively, thrifted clothes don’t require any new resources to be used in their making. According to a recent article in Refinery29, China, which produces 50 percent of the clothes in the world, produced 2.5 million tons of sewage in 2010. And the dyes and chemicals used on clothes are some of the worst pollutants around. Some of these companies are cleaning up their act (pun intended). Zara has pledged to stop using all hazardous chemicals in their production by 2020. But that’s a long ways away. And we don’t need any more clothes rotting away in landfills. We need all of the land we can get.
I’ve been wearing my thrifted pieces for a long time now, and they don’t seem to be falling apart yet, unlike that trendy dress I splurged on a few months ago. These clothes have lasted, and will continue to last. In them, I will express my unique sense of style and live my own story.
Krista Lewis is a sopohomore at Barnard College who loves soy cappuccinos and French Vogue. Uptown/Downtown runs alternate Fridays.