Thrift Shop – An Anthem for New Frugality?

Homebrew Husband came home after his commute the other day and told me that local Seattle rapper and my fake internet boyfriend, Macklemore, is overwhelming the Seattle radio scene with his hilarious ode to frugality, Thrift Shop.

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Image: Wikipedia / Creative Commons

Thrift Shop has been making rounds through the money-saver forums for months and months, so I’ve been loving Macklemore’s take on consumerism for quite awhile now. I also recommend his incredibly poignant song, Wings about the influence of marketing on young children.

Macklemore is a great artist and, with Ryan Lewis, tells unique stories through his songs, so I’m not surprised that Thrift Shop is blowing up the airwaves.

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If you have somehow remained unfamiliar with Thrift Shop, you can watch the official video here, but you should know that this song is as profane as it is fabulous. All the words you don’t say in front of your Grandma are here. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

The basic message behind Thrift Shop is that spending a bunch of money on status labels doesn’t make you cool, it makes you an idiot. In contrast, not forking your dollars over to a giant corporation and instead showing a little creativity while embracing uniqueness in style and, one presumes, in life, is fresh, sexy and more likely to get you laid at the club. In other words, cool.

They be like “Oh that Gucci, that’s hella tight”
I’m like “Yo, that’s fifty dollars for a t-shirt.”
Limited edition, let’s do some simple addition -
Fifty dollars for a t-shirt, that’s just some ignorant bitch shit.
I call that getting swindled and pimped, shit
I call that getting tricked by business.
That shirt’s hella dough,
And having the same one as six other people in this club is a hella don’t.
Peep game, come take a look through my telescope:
Trying to get girls from a brand? Then you hella won’t. Then you hella won’t.

-Thrift Shop

With lyrics like this, Macklemore has created more than a delightful, obscenity-laced, slightly political rant about the joys of second-hand shopping. He’s also created a modern anthem for Conspicuous Frugality.

You remember conspicuous consumption, don’t you? Spending to show that you could spend? That’s what people did before we all realized those credit card bills weren’t gonna pay themselves and a $300 clutch purse isn’t very good for carrying poop-stained cloth baby diapers home from the library. Conspicuous consumption is what happens when you start to believe the oft-told line that what you buy makes you what you are.

Well, somewhere along the line everyone cool woke up and realized conspicuous consumption is really fucking stupid. Some of us have transitioned to a less consumption-driven life, opting for a more DIY, productive-home type scenario. Some of us are working, through choice or necessity, on just spending less money, and some of us are focused on making sure every dollar we spend (vote with) goes to something we actually support.

Some people who were terribly un-hip all through the recent spate of conspicuous consumption phase, what with their paper bag re-use and second-hand shopping and money saving backyard gardens, suddenly (and much to their own surprise) found themselves pretty cool now that the name of the game is conspicuous frugality.

Tables have turned. A song about how cool thrift shoppers are has hit and held the top spot on billboard charts all over the world. Who woulda thought? People who wouldn’t have deigned to shop Value Village five years ago are swapping purple-tag tips with their girlfriends over a homemade pot of coffee. Spending less and doing more with creativity is trendy.

People are shopping second-hand and they aren’t ashamed of it. That’s the key. Thrift is being redefined as a virtue again, not something to be ashamed of or, God help us, something UnAmerican. Folks are bragging about their great, cheap find. A guy on a forum I frequent once commented he’d never pay more that $8 for jeans, and he said it with pride.

The mood has officially shifted. I’ve been feeling this for awhile, but I’ve been putting it off to the circles in which I travel. When you are surrounded by greenie, frugal, hippie-gardener types who haven’t watched cable TV in eight years, sometimes you forget that people still go to the mall - for fun. But now I think conspicuous frugality is officially mainstream. Macklemore’s deserved success confirms it.

But, just a skeptic’s word of caution – any time something becomes really popular there is the risk that it will get played out. Any great song, on the 50th playing, will feel tedious. My dear husband tells me, with notable regret, that Thrift Shop is getting overplayed on the radio.

Conspicuous frugality risks being popularized and hipsterified beyond all recognition, too. If I’m not mistaken (and remember I know nothing about clothes, so I might be), isn’t there is a store called Anthropologie that specializes in that thrift shop look for a lot more? How long until conspicuously frugal people start to brag about their thrift shop find that isn’t – because it’s really a $130 “slightly distressed look” new, mass-produced product made with sweat shop labor in China? And don’t even get me started on some of the items in the Williams-Sonoma Agrarian collection.

Trends come and go and eventually thrift shop chic and conspicuous frugality will probably fade. And then some of us will be left with our no-longer-cool front yard vegetable gardens and thrift store clothes and silly old fashioned ideas about staying out of debt. And people will look back and laugh about how they spent that summer canning tomatoes when they could have gone to the Caymans on credit and bought tomatoes in a can anytime they wanted.

The thrift bubble will pop. Unless, unless…maybe we can go from beyond trend and start redefining thrift as the new normal. Maybe conspicuous frugality can just be…not conspicuous, just normal life. New normals can be defined. Smoking used to be normal. Now it’s considered gross across a pretty big swath of the population.

Maybe Macklemore’s Thrift Shop will be like the ticket in for people, a hook-filled, funky, non-threatening way to get people to start to think about how they spend. Maybe it will give people permission to permanently reject the idea that the $50 t-shirt makes them somehow more awesome than the thrift shop t-shirt.

Because that would be fucking awesome.

Boom, That's A Garden Plan
Giveaway: The Speedy Vegetable Garden

Comments

  1. Thorstein Veblin is revered as a minor deity in this house. Be careful, you’re starting to approach him on the Fucking Awesome meter. :-)

  2. The question now at hand is if Macklemore will continue thrift shop hunting now that he has blown up, has super status and a fat wallet ;)

  3. The only trouble with thrift shopping is that SOMEBODY (and really, quite a few somebodies) have to continue to be gratuitous consumers in order to have things to donate to the thrift stores for the frugal folks to buy.

    • Well, right now only a small fraction of the clothing that gets donated actually stays in the US, while the rest of it gets shipped off to third world countries and dumped on their already depressed textile markets. We’re way far off from there actually being a deficit of thrift store items.

      • If you’re an common size in an area with significant donations. 2 petite (vintage 6) does not bode well for finding work clothes or jeans (in good condition) that fit in thrift stores in areas without a generous supply of donations. Sewing can only do so much unless you are a true seamstress rather than a “I can hem” sort of sewer. Thrift stores are still great sources of books, housewares, and even greeting cards though.

  4. Great post Erica, (again) and I hadn’t heard that song yet. I have noticed that some clothing manufacturers have started making that thrifted/upcycled/re-purposed look in their new ranges and that dismayed me because I realised that even simple living could be hijacked by consumerism. It also has me wondering how many resolves will stay firm once we become the un-cool again? But then I wonder, will things ever be the same again?

  5. That was hella awesome lol!! That was my favorite place to shop in jr. high and high school. Still like going but I think I’ve lost that “I can totally rock this look” thing that youth (and not being a mom) affords.

  6. What??? he’s 2 timing us? Thanks Erica for the great blog. Love the Mack. Maybe your homebrew husband and I can start some web anaylis on the thrift shopping :) but we’ll have to use an older version of Business Objects.

    • Homebrew Husband says:

      You know, Manal, that reminds me of something else: sometimes getting a NEW thing isn’t actually as good as hanging on to an OLD thing…

  7. YES! also, I refuse to pay more than 8$ for a pair of jeans. My friends know I’ll take their used clothes (used?? more like new) and it’s like xmas here when I get to go through garbage bag full of loot! I don’t know about you in the states but Value Village here in Montreal has really started getting crazy with their prices. I only head there for the 50% off days. I find church sales and sally-ann type shops are still much cheaper. Thanks for the great post!

  8. Chicks with bricks says:

    Hey! I’ve been a lurker on your blog for months now, but gotta comment on this post. Yes! Love Macklemore and love that Thriftshop is getting air time. It’s funny, though, that this is JUST NOW blowing up (the conspicuous frugality thing). In MIDDLE SCHOOL (nearly-ahem-20 years ago), I remember all the cool kids (sadly, not me) shopped at Savers and would come decked out in weird, funky threads. And I grew up in the ‘burbs, so I imagine this was not unique to my upbringing. So I have a hard time believing that this is a new phenomenon. Also, like everything else in the slow-food-urban-homestead-simplicity-diy world, finding killer clothes at Goodwill takes TIME, PATIENCE and ENERGY… some people will probably never jump on board, preferring to spend $150 at Anthropologie on a single item. But bravo to those that do!

    • Ahhh, yes, I was just thinking about grunge and flannel shirts, and the mourning that happened when thrift store chic became mainstream for a while… I think it’s a cycle. I’m lucky to live in Columbus where thrift stores have been plentious for a couple of decades at least – I hope they never go away… I’d seriously have to up my sewing skills.

  9. Love having $20 in my pocket and popping some tags!

    • Not sure if you realize this, but “popping tags” is not a good thing. It’s swapping tags so you can get stuff cheaper, aka stealing.

  10. Great song! But I’m not sure the problem is that we’re buying $50 stuff when we should be buying $5 stuff instead. We just buy too much stuff.

  11. Maybe I just take the no-cable and don’t listen to mainstream radio too far, and yes I’ve heard of this guy and briefly remember a song recently about him, but he isn’t overplayed in my books because I have never heard his song! I guess that is what I get for listening to NPR, Pandora, and an indie station in Dallas.

    Or, I guess I just live under a rock?

  12. My daughter played this song for me. She thought it was cool and is loving exploring new thrift stores in her big city college town of San Francisco!

  13. You nailed it. Whatever we come up with can be commercialized, and any trend will end. It is both heartening and ironic how much it is all like the early seventies. I would like the see the alternate reality in which Jimmy Carter was re-elected, the solar panels stayed on the White house, and our civilization skipped that whole insane revival of consumerism.

  14. The thrift trend… it will stick because it convinces our right brain (I’m cool and creative with my thrift store finds, yo) and our left brain (money in my pocket? I might be the smartest. version. of. myself. EVER.). If it took obscenity-laced song of conscious spending to make it happen? Bring that mother effin’ s@#t on!

  15. I love your articles Erica. You’re one of the few bloggers that can keep my attention through an entire post. Because you get it and you’re articulate enough to say what a lot of us can’t. I was totally living under a rock and only first heard this song a couple weeks ago. I do love it’s message, even if it’s a bit heavy on the F word – and by that I don’t mean Frugal. :)

    Keep up the good work! Maybe we can convince Macklemore to do a song about how canning and growing your own foods is so much cooler than the grocery store. Can you imagine how much more interesting Bravo’s Real Housewives series would be?

  16. Hilary Seidel says:

    Wise observations. And, yes, a great song and artist (an Evergreen alum too!)

    In the new age of frugality, I think it’s also important to remember that some things are worth paying for. We’ve been trying to wring a good deal out of our infrastructure and essential services for years. We were willing to pay $50 for a t-shirt, but not full-price for education – and we’re still not. The reality is, we can’t coupon our way out of paying for kindergarten.

    When our neighbors make high quality products we can truly use, grow or prepare delicious food, or provide a much needed service we must be willing to pay what it costs them to do it. This reinvestment in our community will sustain us beyond the bubble. Here’s to many more years of homemade delights, quiet clucks drifting from backyards, solar panels in suburbia, and saving our money for something that matters.

  17. Hella awesome songs!

    I do tend to think the trend is limited to my urban homesteading/steiner school type communites, because I also know people at work (public service web team) who actually spend $300 (and then some) on a hand bag or a nappy bag for real. We (people at work) recently gave a ‘going on maternity leave’ present to someone having her third baby, and I kid you not, a $300 nappy bag was the gift. What the?

    On the other hand, Australia has not (yet) felt the effects of the GFC the way the US has. I do tend to think frugal/thrifting is going to have to become the new normal over the next decade or so as we realise globally that we simply can’t go on as we have. I hope so anyway.

  18. Erica —

    I’ve been hearing about Thrift Shop, but hadn’t listened to it yet. Thanks for the link…extremely entertaining. I can live with the profanity if it gets folks to shop more sustainably.

    I’m not so worried about the “Thrift Shop” look taking over the mall stores. To a degree, that’s been going on for a long time (see “acid-washed jeans” and distressed clothing a la Torrid.) I live in Bellevue, WA where backyard veggie gardens, canning, and sustainable living are NOT the norm. It would be great to see thrift shopping become a little more main stream.

  19. It is already happening – the expensive “thrift store” look. It’s been happening for quite awhile at least in Seattle. Pretty much ever since the early 90′s when the Seattle “grunge” scene was so popular and suddenly faded, torn flannel shirts with buttons missing could be bought for $160 at trendy boutiques. That’s why I tell my old punk rock friends (who like me are all now in their 40′s) that pink and the middle-age-suburban mom look is the new punk rock. Until some middle aged mom gets a reality show and makes that a trend … sigh … I do love that song (although now I’ve heard it too many times so now I only love it as a concept). I’ve decided the non-designer-label message outweighs the profanity and it’s a good song for my daughter to listen to as long as she doesn’t accidentally sing “this is fucking awesome!” on the playground at school.

  20. A selfish part of me wants the thrift store shopping, up-cycling, DIY trend to get over with already so I don’t have so much competition for the good used stuff and interesting junk. My favorite thrift stores are pretty picked over anymore.

  21. Please don’t make fun of material slaves, don’t discourage them from being slaves…we’ll be screwed if they look in the mirror and see clowns in trinkets. That’ll be the day the machine collapses. Sane people need them, need their illusions and delusions to live free.

  22. Someone needs to tell the kids this! Our teenager refuses to acknowledge even Ross or Marshalls because it’s too cheap and only want’s designer labels (which we refuse to buy). The horror when we mention Goodwill is priceless.

  23. Since Ericka asked if I would, here goes. For those of you digging the Thrift Shop song, be sure to check out Macklemore and Lewis’s song/video “Wings” as well. Macklemore is building a commentary through his work that I think speaks to the heart of a lot of people in my generation… us 30 somethings that grew up immersed in this culture of consumerism and have come to be disenfranchised and mindful of it’s real effects. So many families mortgaging their future to keep up appearances…. So many fathers and mothers pushed to work long hours with nothing but the shirt on their backs to show for it and a dysfunctional or non-existent relationship with their children. Many of us have moved beyond the social pressure to keep up with the Joneses and build the facade of wealth that supposedly determines our “worth”. I applaud Macklemore and Lewis for bring this message to the masses, even if so many misinterpret his humorously serious social commentary for satire. When you get tired of the “overairing” of Thrift Shop be sure to search out the rest of his work. “Wings”, “Same Love” … Macklemore and Lewis are writing a creed from the heart for a revolution of social change, not just one catchy tune meant to go viral. They are rewriting what it is to be a valuable member of society in America and I hope people take that message to heart.

  24. I’m glad you brought up about the sweat shop labor in China; just finished reading The Great Divide by T. Davis Bunn; a real eye-opener in that regard

  25. Been a fan of thrift-shopping since I my early teens (many…many… years ago) when I realized there was an inexpensive way to be able to pick my own hand-me-downs. Most kids from a big-ish family with have experienced hand-me-downs (especially us lower on the familial totem pole). Though my sister’s taste was not particularly my own – it was just nice to wear something ‘new to me’.

    What pushed me over the style / choice threshold though – was wearing my brother’s hand-me-downs. Not once removed, not twice removed, but clothes then on the 4th round and 7 years past the sell-by date…in particular I remember a navy blue anorak with the fake fur hood rim washed into something the consistency of frayed rope. At that point I found my mantra – “I don’t mind ‘used’ – but butt ugly has to go.”

    Best ‘find’ of note – a well-made leather bag that’s attractive but as sturdy as a saddle. Lists for over $500 dollars – got it for $5. My sister wanted me to put it on eBay immediately. In that moment I realized the appeal of a bargain. I said – “You’re missing the point. It’s $5. This is the best quality $5 purse I will ever own.”

  26. Really, thrift shops are the need of modern world, as they help average salary family to get costly goods at an affordable rate. Just have a try with http://www.rummagehunter.com , they are really awsome in service and help to find local thrift shop

  27. Andrew Tuttle says:

    Thrifting is and has been the norm for myself my entire life. Just the other day i bought my new favorite shorts for $1, enough plastic sheeting to build 2 greenhouses for $8, and a super nice tennis racket for $1, all at the same store. You know why i purchase everything second hand? Because i came from the Pacific Northwest. The only place i have ever lived where reusing is cool. The only place where doing your part to help protect the planet is normal. Maybe its because in the Northwest we are surrounded by so much beauty and we see what we are destroying with our ignorant consumerism. GOD Bless The Pacific Northwest and all of you beautiful people. I miss you more than i ever though possible.

  28. Oh no you di-int! Andrew, it’s cool that you’ve been buying things second hand your whole life, but I have as well, and I grew up in southern Illinois, went to university in central Illinois and most recently lived in Wisconsin for 12 years. So no, the Pacific Northwest doesn’t have an exclusive right to reuse.

    However, I’m going to cut you a bunch of slack because it sounds like you’ve had to leave your beloved homeland and you’re feeling the “everybody around here is lame” pain. I’m familiar with that feeling (especially after canvassing for Russ Feingold in 2010 and to recall Scott Walker in 2012). I’ve moved to Portland, Oregon and it’s wonderful, but I’m not feeling the thrift shop love. Maybe I was just spoiled in my little Wisconsin town with the excellent cast-offs at St. Vinnie’s but the prices at Goodwill here are too high! $1 for a cheap stamped metal fork? A single fork?? And I’m still trying to figure out where I’m going to buy cheese (I could get local no-hormone mild cheddar for $5/lb in Madison, WI ) because New Seasons is PRICEY.

    I hope you get to move back home soon!

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