Nearly two-thirds of Goodwill shoppers in DC identify as female (64%, according to their most recent data). Why is that? To get to the bottom of the Thrifting Gender Gap, I dove right into the research.
Just kidding – I am not an expert in consumer habits, nor do I have the time to do a thorough meta-analysis of the literature. Instead, I interviewed Seth at @wholemilkthrift to get one dude’s perspective on the topic.
Full disclosure: Seth is my partner and I “influenced” him to start thrifting shortly after I stopped buying new. Together, we have not purchased any newly made clothing or home decor for over a year. Now, we both promote the Thrift Life through our Instagram accounts.
Before we get into the interview, it’s critical to acknowledge a few things: 1) if you’re reading this, chances are you identify as a woman (88% of our readers identify as female); 2) that said, please help us out and share this article with the men in your life, and 3) gender is a tricky social construct, so when we refer to men/dudes/guys in this blog post, we mean people who identify as men and transmasculine people, though there may be significant differences within that cohort.
OK, thanks for holding. Here’s what Seth had to say.
CCC: How did you get into thrifting?
SBK: You started, and I followed suit — literally, since I just wore a thrifted suit (and tie) to a wedding. I always had an interest in fashion, but it was passive. Then I watched you develop your personal style through thrifting, which evolved into a sustainable habit. And you got serious results! I saw daily proof that restricting yourself to secondhand could elevate your style. That blew my mind.
CCC: Is it fair to say that you were primarily inspired to thrift by the promise of style #gains?
SBK: Totally. You got me thinking hard about personal style and why it’s worth sinking a lot of time into it. You were on Pinterest, dissecting magazines, watching thrifting videos…a switch just flipped. I was surrounded by sustainable fashion media and it was exhilarating — like, I remember discovering thrift haul vids and just being fascinated. That exposure to sustainable inspiration helped me realize that I did not dress well. And I wanted to change that.
CCC: So what stopped you from thrift shopping on your own in the past? Had it ever occurred to you?
SBK: No. There was a Goodwill in my rural hometown, but all my friends just used it for Halloween costumes. If we wanted to buy “cool” clothes, the expectation was we’d go to department or brand-name stores. There was an unfortunate stigma around thrifting. My sixteen-year-old self would be shocked at how much I love it now!
CCC: Once your interest was piqued, was it hard to get started?
SBK: Yeah, mostly because of how I used to view thrift stores. I worried about being judged. Then once I got over that, I felt like I didn’t belong because I don’t think of myself as an inherently stylish dude capable of finding great pieces. Also I had no idea what I was doing! Over time, I did get more comfortable. Plus the social aspect made it easier.
CCC: What do you mean by the “social aspect” of thrifting?
SBK: By the time I started you already had your Instagram account running, with followers, people commenting, Goodwill Meetups happening… I realized there was a constant conversation around sustainable fashion and being part of something bigger, especially at Goodwill. Plus it’s an active sort of fun, since I’m not just running into H&M to find cheap pants as fast as I can. I’m treasure hunting. And cool finds turn into kudos for finding those pieces. Which helps me build fashion confidence!
CCC: There really are so many unknown benefits. I think if more people knew about them, they would give this a shot. So give me your armchair opinion: Why are men not catching on to secondhand shopping as fast as women?
SBK: Oh boy. Why don’t guys think about sustainable fashion? It seems like men don’t invest time in fashion, period. A lot of men think it’s emasculating to care about patterns and fabrics and shoes and coordination. But at the same time, these men really want a look that signals “success”. Which I think is why lots of men in my demographic, in DC especially, wear the same plaid shirt, Patagonia vest, Clark’s boots, etc.
Regarding sustainability — I think men have a weird obsession with power that translates into thinking secondhand clothes have less cachet. I once told a guy that I’m really into thrifting. He responded, “I don’t buy secondhand, I want to be the primary owner of my clothes.” That made me want to bang my head against the wall. To me, that indicates a lack of concern for the exploitation of garment workers and the environment. It also means you don’t buy clothes to express personal taste and values. So you’re just wearing an unsustainable outfit that was already curated for you.
CCC: Brutal, but the truth can be harsh. What advice do you have for the guys who want to change their ways?
SBK: One: You can do this and keep your current style. I guarantee that whatever you’re currently wearing — and I mean literally the exact same Banana Republic pants you have on right now — are at Goodwill for a much lower price. And you’re helping a good cause by buying them. And guys, please round up your purchase, seriously.
Two: If you want to turn heads and find a super rad tee or a luxe cashmere or a retro blazer, those are at Goodwill, too! At this stage, that’s what keeps me thrifting every week. There’s a thrill in finding something totally fresh that will end up being uniquely yours. And guys, when you wear those pieces, that’s a total power move.