Service of Second Hand Clothes: Thrift in Unexpected Places

September 5th, 2019

Categories: Retail, Second Hand, Uncategorized

One of my office mates years ago owned an extensive collection of fur coats and jackets from ermine and fox to mink and beaver. She’d bought every one of them at a thrift shop.

In my early 20s I knew a woman whose very wealthy husband paid for anything she wanted. He kept a tight grip on her by giving her cash only if she’d tell him where she was going and what she wanted the money for. He’d know what she bought at stores by checking his credit card bills. Desperate for cash which represented a modicum of independence, she’d sell, for a few dollars, amazing barely worn clothes I couldn’t otherwise afford–a win and for me super win.

Hand-me-downs are nothing new to kids with older siblings.

Even so, I was surprised to read Suzanne Kapner’s article–written with Micah Maidenberg–in The Wall Street Journal: “J.C. Penney Tries On Used Apparel.” That’s right: The store, which is suffering from plummeting sales and stunning losses is partnering with threadUP for the clothes.

So is Macy’s which, Kapner and Maidenberg wrote “reported a disappointing second quarter that sent its stock plunging.”

ThredUp bills itself as the “largest online consignment and thrift store” and boasts, on its website, that you can “shop your favorite outfits from over 35,000 brands, all up to 90% off.” It touts that it’s causing a resale revolution.

As I write this I’m humming “Second Hand Rose,” a song that Barbra Streisand and before her Fanny Brice made famous. Written in 1921 by Grant Clarke and James F. Hanley the second verse about the “girl from Second Avenue” goes:

I’m wearing second hand hats Second hand clothes That’s why they call me Second hand Rose Even our piano in the parlor Daddy bought for ten cents on the dollar Second hand pearls I’m wearing second hand curls….

Auto dealerships sell second hand cars and customers don’t blink so why can’t department stores sell used apparel? Isn’t it ironic that the stores think they can sell used clothing when they are having trouble enticing customers with the new? I wonder what the Penny’s and Macy’s vendors think? Will shoppers leave the thredUp department and spend money in the cosmetics and accessories counters? Will they pay full freight for the new clothing in the stores? Can you predict the outcome of this trend?

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9 Responses to “Service of Second Hand Clothes: Thrift in Unexpected Places”

  1. Hank Goldman Said:

    Maybe the terminology will allow it to happen. Used sounds so cheap. Pre-owned sounds far more upscale! That’s what the car dealerships call it! Vintage may be another good term. And, by the way, thrift shops have been thriving for a while now… It’s all cleaned and pressed and ready to go, again!

  2. BC Said:

    Many folks survive on used clothing. Salvation Army and Goodwill do well selling seconds. When my Mother went to a nursing home, I was able to buy a 100% cashmere tan jacket size 2 , for $5, etc. she had lost weight, and needed a new wardrobe. Time will tell if the dept stores can sell used clothing. They will if the price is right!

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Hank,

    I’m smiling at your comment–branding to the rescue! Vintage might be a stretch as something a year or two old isn’t really but then that doesn’t stop junk shops from calling their stuff “antique.”

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    BC,

    I know women who almost exclusively buy “pre-owned” clothing. When I moved I brought heavy bags of wonderful men and women’s clothing to Goodwill Industries. The problem for New Yorkers is, as I’ve previously written in a post, thrift operations like Goodwill no longer pick up as once they did. A friend reported in that post that he tossed bags of new and hardly used shirts as between his job and his commute on the weekends he didn’t have the time to deliver them. His car was parked at his weekend house.

    And in upstate New York where our house was, there were NO thrift shops. Plenty of garage sales but that’s a big deal to organize and promote…..so I see the place for thredUp. They send you the bags and pay for shipment to their warehouse so you can make good use of your giveaways with less fuss.

  5. Helen Rabinovitz Said:

    Second hand items in a retail store….hmmm. Why not? They sell “previously owned cars” at the new car dealership. There are clothing and more consignment shops everywhere. Every item no matter what it is that we reuse or recycle is good for the planet. I have a much older friend who exclusively shops at Savers and other similar stores and she looks like a million bucks. If you stop and think about it every pet that comes from a shelter or rescue is previously owned. That’s an especially good thing!

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Helen,

    Every pet that has become a family member at my house has been “pre-owned.” I never thought of that! Few could have been more pampered and adored.

    And since the dark ages people share baby clothes–some extremely expensive and worn once, if at all, before a toddler outgrows a treasure Grandma bought on a whim.

  7. Martha Takayama Said:

    I have to get over the shock and I think only “chutzpah” is an adequate adjective for retail stores selling second hand clothes. However, before I think about this any more I have to say that Helen’s observations are just wonderful. I think it is an excellent idea for clothes to be given to the needy and also be resold, but mega companies doing it for their profit in tandem with foisting ridiculous and often overpriced clothes made at slave wages in 3rd world countries does trouble me a little. As for those 2nd hand dogs, I would love to have one. Cats also.

  8. Martha Takayama Said:

    Jeanne, this is a brilliant posting calling attention to the confusion of our times. Do you think Ivanka sells her clothes. Do you think she EVER gives anyone anything? Lets not forget that Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis did although she wasn’t needy.

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    You add yet another crucial point–that the store may profit from the second hand clothes when usually the beneficiary of Goodwill or of thrift shops are charities that give proceeds to support the poor. The Wall Street Journal article did not say whether sales from these clothes benefited Macy’s and Penney’s or what.

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