Thrifting Through Generations; Redefining the Meaning of Old Clothing


Katie Chou, 11, and her grandma shares a photo while Katie is in a Qi Pao passed down to her.

“‘Catch girls like you catch fish,’ that’s a slogan from my great grandpa’s trucker hat, and now it’s my favorite item,” said Aby Corbin, senior.

Aby, like many young people, has found a new way to remember her loved ones by reusing or repurposing items that belonged to them, effectively “thrifting through generations.”

Many fashion enthusiasts focus on the issue of sustainability in the fashion industry. Thus begins their thrifting journey; some have even redefined the concept by re-wearing clothes made decades ago.

Thrifting, or purchasing pre-owned items, is a familiar concept, whether one is a fashionista or not. With the increasing sense of responsibility to preserve the environment, millions have taken a stance against the fashion industry and its detrimental issue of overproduction.

“At first I thought thrift stores had the sole purpose of providing less fortunate people opportunities to get clothing, but I’ve been increasingly conscious of my carbon footprint and it turns out thrifting is a really good way to do that,” said Bella Nolan, junior. 

Parallel to such awareness, the idea of wearing vintage clothing became a fashion trend. Many have turned their thrifting location away from a stranger’s closet in traditional thrift stores to a relative’s wardrobe instead. What they find along with ‘70s t-shirts is an indescribable sense of pride stemming from the passing of belongings through generations.

“I’ve encountered a lot of surprises from my mom’s closet like a ton of jeans, sweaters, skirts, and jewelry. I love to borrow accessories that were from when she was a teen in the ‘90s,” said Alex Berrios, junior. “I do definitely share the pride of [my parents’] college clothes; I’m wearing my dad’s Florida Gators shirt right now actually!”

Furthermore, students find it more cost-effective to wear their parent’s clothing instead of having to buy replicas of vintage items from modern department stores and fast fashion retailers. 

“I just don’t have a lot of money to spend on clothes, and my parents have full closets I can get almost any cool outfit from. My mom is really against fast fashion so she encourages me to wear her clothes for the environment,” said Berrios, “It really is the best of both worlds.”

But perhaps beyond the materialistic motivation, thrifting in a family member’s closet allows the strengthening, or in many cases even the creation of, precious bonds across generations that go deeper than polyester. 

“I think my favorite thing is having something to share between us because we are all very busy. Sharing clothes gives us a chance to talk, hang out, and really have the precious chance to connect,” said Berrios.

Individual pieces of clothing represent different chapters throughout a person’s journey; in turn, a wardrobe becomes not only a collection of fabric but a compilation of stories. Re-wearing clothes passed down through generations allows the fabric to continue bonds beyond physical goodbyes.

Ady Corbin, 12, stands beside her great-grandpa. Ady continues his legacy today by wearing his clothing and carrying his life stories.

My great-grandpa and I were best friends; he was my comfort person. So when he died, the first thing my family allowed me to do was to go over his closet and collect his dearest sweaters” said Aby Corbin, senior. “And yes, I get plenty of compliments when I wear [his sweaters], but to me, they’re not just pieces of clothing to me anymore. They mean that I can still carry a part of him in my life, wherever I go.”