The threads behind thrifting
We uncover the history and growing hustle of thrifting — and where you can find the most coveted gems
Second-hand or thrift shopping requires a good eye and a lot of patience. It all began in 1897 when the United States Salvation Army began a “salvage brigade” to give those living below the poverty food and shelter in exchange for second-hand goods.
While the term “thrift shop” was only coined in 1919, it was only after world wars, great depressions, and recessions that thrifting caught on and became a way to make fast money.
The 1950s notably introduced a love of “vintage” because the rich and famous started donating clothes, giving others the chance to find high-end couture for a fraction of the price.
Today, thrift shops are found in the pockets of cities across the globe. In South Africa, the business of thrifting has become multi-layered. From goodwill to charity shops are now also accessible onscreen; these are places where you can find everything from clothes to vinyl, furniture, and trinkets from another time. While brick-and-mortar thrift shops have become as organised as department stores, there are also many online alternatives.
You’ll find those that have “perfected the haul” — a phrase most of us know from our faves trying on their latest purchases from Shein (za.shein.com), Fashion Nova (fashionnova.com), and other international stores. However, the best haulers choose ready-made bags of pieces they found to thrift stores who, in turn, sell to us.
While brick-and-mortar thrift shops have become as organised as department stores, there are also many online alternatives.
That, or these haulers use their keen eye to sell online or even on the Gram. As they formalise thrifting to the thrifters, the optics can come into play. Gone are the days of being hidden in plain sight.
Since they’ve moved online, thrift stores have had to adapt to the aesthetic. How well photographed are the clothes? Are sizes, cuts, and colours correctly labelled? The more followers a page has, the more traction pieces will get, and the quicker they will sell.
Platforms like Yaga (yaga.co.za) and Wisi-Oi (wisioi.com) make that known from the start. While the former describes itself as “an online marketplace for preloved clothes”, influencers get top picks working alongside the algorithm.
Not only can you choose how you receive what you’ve bought, you can also talk to the seller. With a variety of social classes using the site, you can find everything from high-end couture to ready-to-wear basics.
It seems as though thrifting is becoming less grungy. There is less shame about wearing second-hand clothing, and people have become more open about thrifting regularly. In fact, many have called it a solution to the way we consume clothing. Positioned as the opposite of retailers who sell fast fashion season after season, thrifting has been called sustainable.
Buying an item that someone else has treasured means conserving water used in factories, reducing waste in landfills since clothing is being reused, less air pollution since (fast) fashion is a significant contributor the world’s carbon emission, and so forth. On the other hand, the more people know about thrifting, the higher prices go, but even then, the cost is significantly lower, and the goods last a lot longer.
There are more reasons to thrift than reasons not to. You’ll get your hands on timeless pieces that will build your wardrobe past the season and you dodge the cyclical nature of trends.
You have more autonomy over your style with items not everyone will own. Before you begin to actualise your Pinterest board, though, remember that if you’re thrifting in real life, it requires all your senses. Mentally prepare and be patient while you sift through to find those gems.
Check very closely for size, rips, stains, and more, since those can help you negotiate price. If you’re in a less than ideal part of town, be aware of your surroundings, carry cash, and keep it and your personal belongings close. Smell for anything that’s more than a little musty, and know your body since you won’t always be able to try on. If you’re online, don’t be shy to slide in the DMs to ask questions. And move fast, the best items always do.
Pick of the crop
If you’re looking to dip your toes into the ocean of thrifting, here are some of the best places to do it for as cheap as R10 going up.
Joburg: start at Dunusa, known for mimicking the isiZulu word to bend down, since that’s what you’ll do in your search. It’s well-known for an array of dumps from China, Europe, and other fashion hubs. Find it spread out opposite the MTN Taxi Rank on Small Street, just behind Park Station on Diagonal Street and De Villiers Street. A stone’s throw away in Braamfontein, head to TV Clothes on Bertha Street and Q8 on Juta Street. If you’re in Melville, try Junkie on Seventh Street, Reminiscence on Ninth Street, and Bounty Hunters on Fourth Street.
Pretoria: Indigo Thrift in Hatfield and a Vintage Square Thrift Fair hosted once a month have an array of options.
Cape Town: Bang Ban, Unseen, and Coats For Africa will treat you well.
Durban: Castaway Love, Bargain Bin, and Victoria Street in Durban Central are your best bets.
If you don’t want to leave the house at all, visit Instagram for well-curated gems from @boujeedunusa hand-picked by Munashe Jiri and Charmaine Jiri; @dreamlandvintage, which is as dreamy as it sounds; unique finds from @babette; or relive the 90s from @frayznix_rack.
There are also websites like Wolf the Vintage Store (wolfvintage.co.za), Glitterati (thantiquearcade.co.za/glitterati) and Thrift Happens (thrifthappens.co.za).
Trust me, the wardrobe of your dreams is waiting at a thrift shop near you.