I get it. Being an uni student is hard. Even harder on a budget. For many of us it’s the time to move out of our parents’ houses and into on-campus dorms which entails its fair share of expenses: accommodation, food, and dorm decorations. And let’s not forget the egregiously pricey textbooks which we purchase for the duration of one semester. This is straining enough on our wallets, but uni life isn’t just about studies or survival. It’s about living! Maybe for the first time, away from the surveillance of our parents. It’s about exploring our identities as individuals—unencumbered by expectations—and reinventing ourselves. So isn’t it only natural that we spend a little too much on wild nights on the town or getaways with friends? And to add to all this, there’s the pressure to always have something fashionable to wear to these events.
But here’s where I can help. What if I told you there’s an easy way to always be fashionable, but at a fraction of the price? And no, I’m not talking about shoplifting. I’m talking about thrift-shopping. Now I know it’s not exactly a new phenomenon; thrift-shopping has been around for decades. But unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be as appreciated as it could be. So let me break down why thrift-shopping is THE go-to method to protect your wallet and stay fashionable, to the tune of the sage Macklemore’s Thrift Shop.
“I’m gonna pop some tags
Only got twenty dollars in my pocket”
That’s right folks, thrift-shopping is hella cheap! Purchasing an item of clothing can come to as little as one Starbucks order (and trust me, I know my Starbucks). You could build an entire outfit with just $20, when most pieces at a traditional outlet would cost a minimum of $20. Even sales don’t come this cheap! And for a uni student struggling to stay within budget, these shops may just be a godsend. Imagine all that you could do with the extra money left over from clothes shopping. You may just be able to afford those concert tickets, or treat yourself to a fancy dinner with your friends.
Speaking of thrift-shopping, did you know that NUS has its own thrift-shop? Granted, it’s not a permanent fixture on campus, but once a year, NUS SAVE hosts NUS Green Bazaar; a pop-up thrift store where NUS students can donate their old clothes and in return take home donated second-hand clothes for free! I myself have ‘purchased’ a few pieces from there, and can say I am still quite happy with my haul.
“Fifty dollars for a T-shirt, that’s just some ignorant b***h (S**t)
I call that getting swindled and pimped (S**t)
I call that getting tricked by a business”
It’s nothing new that fashion is an incredibly profitable business—one which thrives on low labour costs and high mark-ups afforded by their brand-names. This is especially true for high fashion or haute couture which can sell for astronomical sums. Now, while most of us uni kids aren’t going around purchasing high fashion, it’s still true that fast-fashion brands like H&M, Forever 21 (RIP) and Zara don’t exactly come cheap either. Even a dear-old Cotton On piece is worth a week of meals. But these high mark-ups exist because we, the consumers, are ready and willing to pay for them and brands know it.
Brands use their illustrious names to their advantage to make us believe that a Prada handbag bearing the coveted “Made in Italy” label is manufactured by well-compensated Italian craftspeople, when in reality it is manufactured by underpaid Chinese immigrants hailing from the Wenzhou region in China, many of whom are undocumented (according to an exposé by The New Yorker). So if the quality of the clothes from a high-fashion label and those from your local boutique are more-or-less the same, where’s the sense in paying $50 for a plain, white Tee with a Gucci insignia? Is Deception really the label you want to support?
“I hit the party and they stop in that motherf**ker
They be like, Oh, that Gucci.
That’s hella tight”
Speaking of Gucci, did you know you could find them in a thrift-shop too? No, really, some thrift-shops carry high-fashion labels too. So you don’t have to sacrifice your ‘refined’ tastes to save up some cash. And even if you don’t come across something akin to Gucci, there’s a high likelihood you’ll find a few pieces from Bershka or TopShop for as low as $5 or $7. So you can flaunt your new brand-name clothes with the secret knowledge that you got them for a steal!
“That shirt’s hella dope
And having the same one as six other people in this club is a hella don’t”
Another plus with thrift-shopping is the ability to find truly unique pieces which can make you stand out and glam up your closet. In a world of fast-fashion ruled by trends, it doesn’t take too much time before new styles become ubiquitous and all shopfronts offer the same array of cuts and styles. And if you’re looking to stand out and wow with your outfit, well, that’s tough-luck isn’t it?
And this is where thrifting really lends an edge to your wardrobe. Oftentimes thrift-shops can be the holy grail for vintage pieces or styles that hark back to an earlier time. And far from being unfashionable or outdated, these pieces can be the show-stoppers of your closet that make your style memorable. After all, the 90’s are making a comeback this year. What’s not to say it won’t be the 70’s or the 20’s next? Like fashion legend Yves Saint Laurent said, “fashions fade, style is eternal.”
“I’m digging, I’m digging, I’m searching right through that luggage
One man’s trash, that’s another man’s come up”
A major stigma against thrift-shopping is the negative perception of the hygiene and quality of the clothes. Many people believe that second-hand clothes mean clothes that are ratty or full of holes and which haven’t been washed and smell bad. But most thrift-shops have strict standards of hygiene which they follow before displaying any of their clothes, perhaps precisely due to these perceptions which owners know they must battle. Thrift-shops will usually thoroughly check the donated clothes for any signs of wear and tear and ensure that only those items that are fully functional and in good condition are displayed to customers. They will also wash the clothes donated before stacking them on store shelves.
And if you’re thinking that people only donate their trash to thrift-shops, well, it’d depend on what you consider trash. According to a study in 2015 by British charity Barnado’s, on average every item of clothing is discarded after being worn only 7 times. And this for apparels that are engineered to last much longer. As such, can we really call these donated items trash? More likely they have simply fallen out of favour for newer trends which require closet space to organise. Therefore, it’s likely these second-hand clothes are actually in pretty good quality. Having said that however, there are some items you should never purchase from a thrift-shop, such as shoes, so be discerning when you pick things up!
I understand that thrift-shops may not be an option for everyone; it’s well-known that options for men are often limited, and plus-sized clothes are notoriously difficult to find. But even if you can’t thrift for clothes, maybe you could look into finding unique accessories or knick-knacks that could seriously impact your wallet. As they say, every bit counts. And while I’m only a burgeoning thrift-shopper myself, I’m hoping you’ll join me on this journey. So go forth and shop till you drop, my fellow broke uni kids!
Need any help navigating uni life or hearing a different point-of-view? Fret not, for I’m here to help! Send in your queries to firstname.lastname@example.org and hear back from the team!