Thrifting: Witnessing the Passage of Time through Clothing

The fashion industry has been lowering its bar for sustainability for too long. Along with high CO2 emissions and chemical pollution, the manufacturing process for clothing produces over 92 million tons of waste per year. A lot of this textile waste accumulates from fast fashion, the phenomenon where consumers buy cheap products with quickly passing trends, and throw away the non-biodegradable materials into landfills when the next new trend comes along.1 With this cycle continuing constantly, people and the environment are in need of ways to combat fast fashion. Instead of buying cheap clothing lacking character, thrifting is a promising way to alleviate the impacts of fast fashion while discovering unique pieces booming with stories about their past.

The Garment Gallery, a cozy store tucked away in the town of Salem, Virginia, meets all expectations for a memorable thrifting experience. This past weekend I went to The Garment Gallery for the first time as a “girl’s day” with my mom, and I already want to go back tomorrow. As soon as we pulled into the parking lot and saw racks and racks of clothing outside the store with a wide range of colors, fabrics and styles, I knew we could have spent the entire day there. From sweater vests to faux fur coats to vintage Levi’s jeans, I had both arms full of hangers before even entering the store. The owner of the store was vibrant and welcoming and showed us to a fitting room full of clothes that we could have spent hours picking over alone. Everywhere we looked there was another distinctive piece with a life of its own. There is something for everyone at The Garment Gallery. Whether you’re into designer or one-of-a-kind pieces, you’ll find what you’re looking for.

After making at least three rounds through the store and piling (many) clothing items into the dressing room, I ended up purchasing a baby pink half-zip pullover and a knitted houndstooth jacket. My mom decided on a black turtle neck and a plaid, wool cape. The store owner knew all of the stories about the pieces we purchased, and even told us about how she tries to write notes and memorize the stories of where and who they came from. She told me that my houndstooth jacket was put in a storage unit after being transferred from a retail store that closed in the 80s. Eventually, she obtained the items from the storage unit and is now selling them in The Garment Gallery. How cool is it that something directly out of the 80s is now in my closet? There is no way that a piece of clothing from the fast fashion industry would have as much character as this.

My favorite find of all, though, was a patent leather bag that has an actual working, ticking clock in it. My mom and I saw it and loved it the (first) day we went, but did not end up buying it. After thinking some more, we called back and asked if we could buy it before the store closed, but the store owner apologetically said that it was not for sale. However, the next day she took the time to call us as soon as she could, and said that she was mistaken and the bag was actually for sale. We drove straight to Salem, Virginia to buy it, and of course, we had to take another look around while we were there because it is just so hard to resist.

The Garment Gallery is a great place to poke around if you’re an experienced thrifter, if you’ve never been thrifting before and want to get the feel of it, or if you’re anywhere in between. Supporting store owners like this and keeping businesses like The Garment Gallery alive will in turn slow the impact that the fast fashion industry has on the environment. If people realize how much character they can find in thrifted, vintage clothing pieces, fast fashion can be halted. Instead of hopping on SHEIN, when the next shopping day rolls around make sure to go toThe Garment Gallery if you live near Salem, Virginia, or any thrift store near you!

Works Cited

(1) Niinimäki, K.; Peters, G.; Dahlbo, H.; Perry, P.; Rissanen, T.; Gwilt, A., The environmental price of fast fashion. Nature Reviews Earth & Environment 2020, 1 (4), 189-200.

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