‘Broke Is the New Black’

Thrift stores are chic in this recession

By Rachel Park

Amid the plethora of flannel and faux fur coats, Emily McDowall found a black military jacket for $25.50. “It seems like a lot of money for this jacket,” she said, but upon further examination, she decided to buy it.
It was Saturday night, and McDowall, 20, was one of many young customers perusing through the second-hand clothing at Buffalo Exchange in Center City. Although many businesses are experiencing difficulty in the economic recession, thrift stores seem to be doing just fine.
In fact, Buffalo Exchange has witnessed a “bigger boom in sales,” said manager Matthew Williams, 25. Through this nation-wide company – 34 stores in 14 states, according to its Website – customers can exchange their clothing for credit. “A larger amount of people are shopping here in general, and a lot more people are trying to sell their clothing,” Williams said.
Valerie Lowry, sales associate at the store, said that she has noticed more college students in particular shopping at thrift stores. It could be because of the recession or the simple thrill of finding a bargain.
“This place is mostly for kids who can’t afford expensive clothes but want to look amazing,” said Lowry, 20.

The ‘cheap chic’ aesthetic

The store’s Website says, “We offer great fashion finds at low prices at Buffalo Exchange…where recycling is always in style.” Recycling and reusing clothes is essential to the “cheap chic” aesthetic, which has attracted a growing youth subculture.
Bought at Buffalo Exchange

Bought at Buffalo Exchange

Mainstream fashion corporations have picked up on this aesthetic and have even spelled it out for consumers. For example, “Broke is the new black” was printed on an Urban Outfitters tank top. Black clothing has always been fashionable, as exhibited by the “little black dress” a.k.a. “LBD,” but one of the latest trends is distressed jeans.
“Broke is the new black” is a provocative phrase because it implies the irony of the recession: financial turmoil has provided creative fodder for fashion designers. In other words, looking “cheap chic” seems to be desirable.
“Designers are doing lines for Target and Kmart, and becoming more versatile,” said Williams. “They’re making more affordable clothing.”
Williams said that Buffalo Exchange is unique because it makes popular styles accessible to the everyday person. Styles range from “really conservative to funky casual.”
The store itself projects a young, hip vibe. One of the associates wore skinny jeans, a beanie hat, and t-shirt with an image of John Lennon corresponding with the words, “give peace a chance.”

 South Street time warp

Another thrift store that has mass market appeal is Retrospect, which is located on South Street. Whereas Buffalo Exchange carries some popular brands, such as J. Crew and Urban Outfitters, Retrospect carries primarily vintage clothing and goods.

Owned and operated by Goodwill, the store is like a time warp, selling everything from fanny packs, ’80s prom dresses, and Bill Cosby sweaters to old records of The Supremes, framed tapestries, and gaudy lamps.

Sales associate, Emily Rose Patz, was dressed head-to-toe in Retrospect vintage. “I’ve been shopping at vintage stores since I was 13,” said Patz, 23.

When asked whether more young people were shopping at thrift stores due to the recession, she said, “College students aren’t thinking, ‘I’m broke, so I’m going to wear ’70s polyester.’ Younger customers have always shopped here.”
Styling is crucial in the process of translating vintage to the mass market. It is up to the consumer to add their individual flair and twist to the piece. “You have to sass things up,” said Patz. “Don’t just wear grandma’s dress. It’s all about tailoring and translating into today.”
Vintage hipster

She also noted that the store’s prime location on South Street already attracts a strong clientele of college students. Vintage seems to be a trend in the hipster scene wherein youth engage in alternative modes of production, whether it be music, art, or fashion.
“We offer something more unique. A lot of things are hand-made and are very special here,” said Patz. Hand-made pieces hold more sentimental value because there is a story behind them.
Vintage seems to be a lifestyle as well. Patz recounted ways that she has subverted authority through fashion. At her college graduation, she did not opt for a simple, formal dress. Conversely she wore a 1960s black cocktail mini with huge accordion ruffles.
The popularity of thrift stores, like Retrospect and Buffalo Exchange, indicate their greater appeal to a youth demographic. As the phrase goes, “Someone else’s trash is someone else’s treasure.”