Harrisonburg’s growing thrift culture provides students with cheap, recycled gems
A hot dog suit, a Bud Light bandana and a sweatshirt that reads, “A Woman’s Place is on a Horse.” Find it all at your local thrift shop.
Thrift culture usually begins to invade with any recession, but with Harrisonburg’s intense density of unique thrift shops and its continuous fluctuation of university students coming and going, it’s become what some would call a thrifter’s paradise.
The above-listed items are all included in the impressive and extensive collection of ironic clothing that Lauren Jones, a senior media arts and design major, has amassed over years of thrifting.
“In Harrisonburg, I shop at Goodwill, mainly,” Jones says. “The other ones are fine, but Goodwill just has better quality in my opinion. The one on South Main is bigger and has better sweatshirts, and the one on East Market is better for T-shirts.”
Lauren is known on campus for her wacky collection of more than 20 hats and sweatshirts, most of which have come from Goodwill. She loves to confuse people.
“People always comment when I wear the Merry Christmas one and it’s not Christmas, or [when I wear the Michigan sweatshirt] they say, ‘Oh, you’re from Michigan?’ and I just say, ‘No.’”
Thrift shops are great if you’re looking for irony, but can also be great if you want to find some quality vintage style for less. Some lucky people can even find vintage school spirit.
Jones has found several vintage JMU sweatshirts at the area’s Goodwills, including one that is strangely navy blue and gold instead of today’s recognized purple and gold.
“You can find some really cool stuff there…I always like the JMU ones. I’m a tour guide, so we love JMU, and there’s so much school spirit, so I always think it’s cool when I find more JMU stuff.”
Thrifting isn’t always the easiest thing in the world. It can be hard when you find a stain that won’t come out or a hole in something you really wanted to buy, and there are endless amounts of merchandise to look through.
Kelley Grenn, a senior anthropology major, estimates that her wardrobe is made up of about 97 percent thrifted clothing.
“It’s kind of a big-time commitment, and sometimes I’ll get very frustrated when my friends go with me and say, OK, we wanna leave, and I’m like, No,” she says with a laugh.
Serious thrifters need to have some real patience in order to get to the hidden jewels they search for.
“Sometimes I’ll find pants and cut them or something, so it’s more work that goes into it,” Grenn says.
You can’t look through every single shirt on the rack, so it’s best to only go for the things that jump out at you. If you know what you like, it will come to you.
James Chung, a junior Writing Rhetoric and Technical Communications major, says it’s all about luck.
“You can’t go into a thrift store looking for something specific. You can try, but you’ll just get disappointed,” Chung says. “As long as you go a lot you’ll be able to find something, but you can’t really discriminate, or you’ll miss something.”
Even pros at thrifting can still struggle with the random selection presented by thrift stores.
“It’s a time commitment to find the right fit. I have big thighs so sometimes I have problems finding stuff, but it keeps me stable,” Chung says.
Always thrift with an open mind so that you’ll be ready when an awesome piece crosses your path that you didn’t even know you needed. You might be amazed by what you find.
“I think it’s hilarious when you’re like, someone owned this seriously at one point in their life,” Jones says. “And you’re just like, why? What was the purpose of this? You try to imagine them wearing it in a serious atmosphere.”
Once you go thrifting enough, start giving back to the stores. That spring-cleaning pile of clothes has to go somewhere, so why not take a big box and give it a new life?
Chris Howard, a junior sociology major and E.A.R.T.H. Club member, says he never goes to brand name stores, except “maybe to get socks.”
“Everybody in E.A.R.T.H. Club thrifts. It’s cheap, it keeps s*** from ending up in a landfill, and you’re reusing things for a good cause,” Howard says. “I’m super vocal about it because I kind of want to try and get more people to thrift. It’s the creating waste aspect and avoiding that. But, yeah, people are always kind of surprised [that all my clothes are thrifted].”
Most thrift stores in town do their part to suppcharities in the area. Mercy House and Granny Longlegs both support the Mercy House shelter, among others. Other stores support church-based charities like the Mennonite-sponsored Gift and Thrift.
“For some reason, I just like clothes that have been in somebody’s life before,” Howard says. “They’re more interesting in some way… It’s some of the weirdest s***… stuff that’s been sitting around in people’s houses for, like, a decade or so.”
Gift and Thrift is known for having some funny merchandise, including an odd book section featuring titles such as Bombproof Your Horse and 101 More Uses for a Dead Cat, along with some themed mugs that may never be understood.
Thrift stores everywhere are known best for strange treasures like these.
“I found a blow-up unicorn that was hidden in the very back of Mercy House,” Grenn says. “I was like, what is this? … So we got it.”
James Chung started thrifting to find vintage gadgets and records.
“I’d just go with my friends to find weird things,” says Chung. “I bought a banjo before, ashtrays, glassware, keyboards, a Nikon semipro SLR camera, a unicorn cat picture and a key tar.”
The thrift culture in Harrisonburg is growing. Although most students only tackle the thrift shops for theme parties and Greek functions, there are many that are starting to see thrifting as a viable, environmentally responsible and downright fun way to buy everything they need from furniture, to sweatshirts, to snowglobes, to a book called How to Poo on a Date.