Style in the bargain aisle: Thrift shopping gives teens options

Zhenya Hutson, a local fashion blogger, spreads her love of thrift shopping to readers of BeingZhenya.com on specially designated “Thrift Style Thursdays.”
Photo By: BeingZhenya.com
"It's like a treasure hunt. You don’t know what you’re going to be able to find. And that’s the best part for me.” -- Zhenya Hutson

The average student spends all week looking forward to Friday. You know the old phrase, “TGIF?” For local fashion blogger Zhenya Hutson, it’s “TGIT.”

Hutson’s calendar doesn’t remind her of impending lunch dates or professional development meetings with fellow Minnetonka school teachers. Rather, it details the themes and outfits she posts on her blog for “Thrift Style Thursdays.”

It’s an original idea the Russian native started for her three-year-old blog BeingZhenya.com. Since her first post, she has built a fashion-conscious team of eight to nine other bloggers, located in the states and Canada, that collaborate with her on the weekly project.

“I wanted to find bloggers who were keen on the idea of (thrift shopping) and who want to spread the thrift love,” she said. “This is not … a clique or a closed group. It’s open, and if anybody else wants to do ‘Thrift Style Thursday,’ you are more than welcome.”

Hutson represents allegiance to a growing trend in shopping culture—the shift of shopping solely at big brand retailers to finding deals at stores like Marshall’s, Plato’s Closet and Goodwill, which sell brand names at lower prices.

BEING BRAND CONSCIOUS

The main appeal of the thrift shops among teens? Price and variety.

American Public Media’s Marketplace reports that Stephanie Wissick, senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray, said Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle and Aeropostale represented a combined 35 percent of teen spending on fashion in 2006. Now, it’s a mere 12 percent.

According to the investment bank’s 26th semi-annual “Taking Stock with Teens” market research project, teens are still brand conscious, but not necessarily brand loyal.

Katie Thomas, 19, of Bloomington, loves designer Calvin Klein—but that doesn’t mean she’s willing to shell out $54.99 for a pair of basic, stretchy black leggings.

“His stuff is expensive, but when you go (to Marshall’s), it’s $12. It’s like, ‘Whew, OK.’”

Looking stylish, but on a budget, is important to young people.

Grammy-winning rapper Macklemore, whose 2012 single “Thrift Shop” peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, said the premise of his song is “standing for … let’s save some money, let’s keep some money away, let’s spend as little as possible and look as fresh as possible at the same time.”

Enter a name brand store at the mall with $20 and you probably won’t get very far. But Evan Martinson, 20, of St. Paul, can leave a Goodwill or Marshall’s with an outfit fit for his professional job.

“You can get the whole combo for $20, a pair of pants, shoes … and it looks like you’re wearing like, $400 or $500 worth of clothes.”

THRILL OF THE HUNT

Hutson, who has vowed to shop solely at thrift stores in 2014, is seasoned in the activity, as she’s been shopping this way since 9th grade. Her wardrobe is 60 to 70 percent thrifted. She admits getting a thrill from the mysterious variety occupying the Goodwill racks.

“It’s the opportunity of … having clothes that (are) different,” she said. “Because the items you can buy, they’re not going to be the latest collection. They’re not going to be what’s on sale at Target, Kohl’s, (JC) Penney’s or any mass retailer. I can go and … dig through, and it’s like a treasure hunt. You don’t know what you’re going to be able to find. And that’s the best part for me.”

For Nathan Taylor, 19, of Maple Grove—a self-proclaimed “broke college student”—the potential to find a diamond in the rough is also thrilling.

“I found a white T-shirt with (Spot, the dog from “Little Rascals”) on it at a thrift store. It was the coolest thing ever,” he said.

Hutson does appreciate that the big brands focus on quality, rather than quantity. And they do host occasional sales, especially on Black Friday, if you want to buy direct from say, Abercrombie.

“The one thing is, they do make quality clothing,” she said. “It’s not the Forever 21, where you … put a shirt in the wash and it comes out of the dryer and you can’t even donate it—you just have to toss it.”

If you’re serious about quality, notice the variety an original brand offers. Take, for instance, the denim section of Forever 21’s website, which features 80 styles. Abercrombie offers seven.

“Name brand-wise, read the reviews and carefully plan your closet to decide what pieces are worth investing into,” Hutson said. “If an item looks as good on a hanger in a thrift store as it would in a regular store, definitely buy that brand.”

A full-time preschool teacher, Hutson admits that her blog has also become “a full-time, everyday routine.” She regularly scours fashion websites, like Refinery29, StyleCaster and WhoWhatWear, for inspiration. However, she says it’s important not to get too caught up in outward appearances.

“At the end of the day, it’s not about the clothes,” she said. “It’s about who you are.”

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