The Future of Thrifting: Is It Just a Phase?

Pros and cons of thrifting

Nina Hahn
5 min readJul 16, 2021


Photo by Becca McHaffie on Unsplash

A skit by yours truly:

Gen Z-er: (Plays the beginning of “Thrift Shop”)

Josephine March (Little Women): Christopher Columbus! What’s that sound coming out of your little box?

Z: Wanna go thrift shopping, Jo?

Jo: What is a “thrift”?

Z: Thrifting. You know, when people go to a store and buy second-hand clothes.

Jo: Oh, I wore all Meg’s dresses second-hand when she grew out of them, and now Beth wears mine, and Amy… Wait a minute, you said people buy second-hand clothes? What a wild idea. I haven’t got the money to buy first-hand clothes!

Z: Don’t worry about that, you can find something less expensive than, like, a loaf of bread.

Jo: Less expensive than bread! Well, I suppose a yard of cloth might cost —

Z: No, you can buy a dress like the one you have on — well, maybe a little shorter and thinner — for cheaper than a loaf of bread!

Jo: Cheaper! I like that word. A dress that’s cheaper than a loaf of bread…Well, what about trousers, eh? Are those cheaper than…?

Z: Cheaper than a loaf of bread, for sure.

Jo: Christopher Columbus! Well what are we still doing here? Let’s go thrifting before all the cheap loaves — I mean cheap clothes are purchased!

Z: (Chuckles and says to herself) She’s gonna freak when she sees all the clothes.

This skit is between two Americans who lived nearly two hundred years apart, but let’s not forget that there are many people in the same world as the Gen Z-er who would be just as awestruck as Jo March when hearing about the masses of second-hand and surplus clothes that go unworn.

My lists of the pros and cons of thrifting are based on why I thrift — not as a necessity, but as a fun way to purchase clothes.


  1. It’s cheap. Thrifting presents the opportunity of purchasing name-brand clothes or 100% cashmere sweaters for fractions of the retail prices. As a full-time college student, spending at a thrift store is a lot less stressful than at a shopping mall.
  2. It’s sustainable. Over 13 million tons of clothing are burned or sent to landfills per year, according to Green America. As thrifting increases, demand for retail clothing and mass-production of clothing decreases.
  3. It’s fun. I never know what gem I’m going to find between a grandma sweater and a neon pink crew neck — but who am I kidding, the grandma sweater is the gem!
  4. It offers variety. There are many options and styles in one place. If I’m looking for something specific, I’m more likely to find it at a thrift store than a retail store.


  1. It hurts the financially dependent. As thrifting becomes more popular, thrift stores raise prices, hurting those who thrift because they have to financially.
  2. Clothes have most likely been worn before. This one I don’t mind unless I find suspicious stains on something.
  3. If you see something in an ad, it hasn’t made it to the thrift store. Ads are tempting and designed to make us feel like we need a product or are getting a “good deal.” It can be hard to turn down something advertised, even if you find its identical twin in a thrift store.

Trends die, right?

If thrifting is a trend, will it fizzle out or will the sustainability aspect keep it going?

The hopeful prediction is that younger generations are environmentally conscious enough that they won’t blow through thrifting like they do other trends.

Do you think the thrifting trend will die?

Here’s where grade school math comes in handy:

Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

What would cut-throat sustainability look like in the clothing realm?

According to,

“The world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year.”

Rounding the world’s population up to eight billion, let’s say everyone gets ten billion pieces of clothing per year for five years. That’s 50 billion pieces of clothing per person.

Now, let’s say the hypothetical average person wears socks, a shirt, pants, undergarments, and a coat. That gives them ten billion of each from those five years. Next, let’s say one pair of socks and one undergarment lasts two years, shirts and pants last five years, and coats last ten years. The average human life expectancy is about 72 years. From age 18–72, one person would use 82 articles of clothing until worn out and leave 49,999,999,918 articles of clothing unused, just from the five years of current consumer rates. That means 609,756,096 more people could live from age 18 to 72 with clothes that just one person left unused!


The exact numbers will never be attainable, because there’s such a high margin of error (e.g. some people wear multiple undergarments). My example is also very generalized and excludes secondary articles of clothing.

Extra credit!

If you’re feeling adventurous, take my hypothetical situation one step further and figure out how many years the human population could be clothed with the unused clothes from the five years of 80 billion new pieces of clothing per year.

So answer this: Five years of current rates of consuming clothing could last the human population (saying it plateaus at 8 billion) ________ years.

In conclusion:

  • Thrifting is cheap, sustainable, fun, and offers variety.
  • However, thrifting also hurts the financially dependent, offers previously worn clothes, and does not offer clothes that are currently advertised.
  • Thrifting could just be a fashion phase, or it could break away from “trendy” with growing environmental consciousness.
  • The current consumption rate of new clothes is excessive, to say the least. Thrifting is one way to slow this down.

Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on thrifting/sustainability?



Nina Hahn

Recent college grad who loves fiction-writing, hiking and running, and eating peanut butter on everything.