Affluent Shoppers Should Follow an Ethical Code for Thrifting

Greg Schaefer, Opinion Editor

Chicagoans without financial resources have always had to rely on thrift stores for clothing and other household needs. In recent years, more affluent customers have started thrifting as secondhand shopping has become more popular and less stigmatized among the middle and upper classes.

For one person, a nice, name-brand item is a lucky find. For another, it is a necessity.

The Environmental Impact of Fast Fashion: Buying secondhand clothing was once taboo, but this is no longer true.  Now, people of a higher socioeconomic status sift through thrift store isles to find deals. Recent awareness of the environmental cost of the fashion industry may a primary explanation for this shift. Statistics showing the immense environmental impact of fast fashion have caused some to consider the used clothes market. CNN reports that the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions each year.  Approximately 85% of textiles end up in landfills each year. Fast fashion companies that churn out cheaply-made clothes to keep up with trends have fueled damaging environmental impacts.  

Thrift Gentrification and Secondhand Clothing:  A process known as “thrift gentrification” happens when affluent shoppers flood thrift stores, stocks are depleted and prices rise, pushing out those who depend on them. An example of this is the popular fashion marketplace app Depop.  Many sellers on Depop find deals at thrift stores and resell these items with alterations for higher prices.

Claims about depleted store stocks and “thrift gentrification” are often misleading, as they are grounded in little evidence.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 84 percent of clothing donated to resale stores and donation centers is destroyed. At most thrift stores, there is an abundance, not shortage of items. In addition, there has not been conclusive research to confirm that thrift store prices have increased.

Greg Schaefer

There remains some truth in the claims of stock shortage and “thrift gentrification.” While most sizes of clothing can be found in abundance, it can be much more difficult to find plus-sized clothing or winter clothes at thrift stores.

For affluent shoppers, then, there is a right way and a wrong way to thrift.  


Moderation is key.  Excessive purchasing of unneeded items at a thrift store just sustains the mindset of quantity over quality. This mindset is what drives the fast fashion industry. If fast fashion cycles into thrift stores, then buying an excess of items only perpetuates this harmful consumerism.

When affluent consumers buy items for the sake of buying, they take unjust advantage of a resource. For one person, a nice, name-brand item is a lucky find.  For another person, it is a necessity.

For this reason, it is important to be mindful about the items one plans to purchase.  Strategies to achieve this include coming to stores with a list of items to buy or placing limits on the number of items one buys. This planning can help to ensure that enough of the resource is available for those that rely on them the most.

Greg Schaefer

It is also important to remember that certain items are in higher demand than others. Plus-sized items are some of the most demanded items at thrift stores. The problem is when consumers buy sizes much larger than their own to wear as “oversized.”  Winter gear is another category in high demand, so buying multiple coats one does not actually need limits options for those who are truly in need.


It is worth researching the stores one plans to shop at. Secondhand stores come in different forms, from charity shops to high-end vintage, profit and non-profit. If one has more money to spend, higher-end secondhand stores like Crossroads Trading serve as a good alternative.  They are just as environmentally friendly and tailored for wealthier shoppers.

Another important distinction is between nonprofit and for-profit thrift stores. While some, like The Salvation Army, donate 84 percent of their expenses on programs, money spent at for-profit stores only benefits the owners and staff. Making these distinctions can be important when considering where one wants money going.


It is unethical for those who do not come from a place of necessity to vastly upsell thrifted items for high-profit margins. It has become commonplace for teenagers to literally “haul” thrifted items and resell them for lofty prices on platforms like Depop. Buying thrifted items simply to wear is healthy.  Upselling items with minor alterations, though, is profiting off of a resource made for those who are in need, even when there is an abundance on the racks.  It is especially harmful for resellers to hoard often sparse supplies of larger-sized clothing, only to rebrand them as “oversized.”

Useful Financial Benefits: Adjusting and upgrading thrifted items and selling them online can be a healthy way to pursue an interest in fashion or design. When sold at close margins, reselling could benefit charities (depending on the store) and the reseller without hurting the communities that thrift stores serve.

While many thrift stores are not in immediate danger, they are worth being conscious about so as to not hurt the communities they serve. For affluent shoppers: remember that although second hand shopping can be a great opportunity, this hobby can affect those who need thrifted clothes the most.