Thrifting While Black: One Woman’s Journey into the World of Thrift Shopping

Bianca Bailey

As I flip through the pages of some of my favorite black vintage magazines, I am always inspired by the unique contributions African Americans have made to the fashion industry—the grace of Lena Horne, the style of Diana Ross, the charm of Langston Hughes.

But when I share my story of how my husband and I fell in love over thrifting, I instantly notice the look of surprise on faces that look like mine. Despite our vibrant history in fashion, black people don’t seem to make the link between fashion and thrifting. I can see the question on their faces—how could two black people fall in love while shopping at thrift stores?

Truth is, African-Americans designers represent less than 1% of apparel products sold in department stores, yet in 2011 Nielsen reported that the black community is on track to spend 1.1 trillion dollars by 2015. 1.1 trillion dollars. Equate that with the growing economic gap of net worth between African-American households and other ethnicities, and there is an evident discrepancy there. If we as a community have the buying power to spend in the trillions, how are we so far behind in homeownership and overall net-worth?

Set aside the socio-economic barriers that have been systematically put in place for decades against our community, and consider how modern culture has influenced how we feel and perceive ourselves. From outrageously priced athletic shoes branded by some of our most prominent sports figures, to groups of young women spending upwards of two car payments to follow in the petite footsteps of Sarah Jessica Parker’s Louboutins, somebody is getting rich—but it is not us. As hardworking families, we undoubtedly earned a splurge to add to the closet, but it’s where we splurge that will positively affect our wallets.

By now you may be thinking, “But what about everything I’ve heard about thrift shopping?” Let’s take a look at 4 common misconceptions I often hear about thrifting:

Thrift stores sell used or worn clothes.

Not true. Thrift stores often sell clothes with retail price tags still on them simply because buyers have changed their mind and are past the retail return date. Take advantage of the buyer who’s cleaned out their closet to discover they have merchandise they have never even worn.

Thrift stores are cluttered and dirty.

Not necessarily true. A lot of thrift stores organize their products like some of your favorite retailers, and arrange merchandise by size, color and sometimes style. Call ahead to ask about the store’s layout and you are already on the path to score big.

The good stuff is only in small and irregular sizes.

Not true. Focus less on the number and more on the fit. Shop in multiple size sections throughout the store because thrift stores carry designers from around the world and sometimes pieces may either run small or big.

Only high-end communities have quality merchandise.

Not true. Thrift stores take in new inventory all the time so you never know when something special is coming through the door. Explore all types of thrift stores in various neighborhoods and you’ll be amazed at the high-end finds you’ll uncover.

Although retail therapy strains the bank accounts of many marriages, thrift shopping with my husband has been great for our marriage. Not only have we been able to save more to funnel resources into other areas of our life, we have been able to teach our daughter some fundamental principles about money and budgeting. I long for the days when we as a community were unique, with our fat laces in shell-toes or brimmed hats tilted to the side, versus blending with the retail model of popular culture.

Thrift shopping freed me to develop my sense of style. By mixing modern lines with classic silhouettes, I have created a personal brand that’s breezy and unique to me. I hope that the next time you are planning an afternoon of shopping, you will add your local thrift store to your list of stops, and you may not only discover retail gold at an unreal cost-savings, but you will also be contributing to the progressive thinking of our community.

—By Bianca Bailey

Bianca Bailey is the owner of Consignment’s cousin Vintage, a free online directory of consignment, vintage and thrift stores in the Atlanta area. Follow Bianca @consigncvintage and visit to connect.

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