When I was younger you could not catch me dead in a thrift/secondhand store. My grandmother and her cousin weekly would make their rounds to the various thrift stores in our area. They would find deals, unique things, and create memories. Nonetheless, at a young age, I had a bias that only certain type of people thrift. To me it was taboo.

That all changed in undergrad when I realized that I was gender nonconforming and did not have the money to pay for high-end clothing at full price. Also, I would get odd looks and comments from staff when I would want to look for or try on select items.

So, one day, I went to a Goodwill looking for clothes that I could use to explore my gender expression. I met so many nice people and workers that helped me find clothing that was well suited for my frame and personality.

Then it hit me like a brick wall. I realized that for years I had been stereotyping thrifting spaces and those who are frequent them. It hurt. I realized that I was so scared of a space that only wanted to embrace and nurture me because I was ashamed of it. Wisdom really does come with age. I realized that when you only take something a face value and do not delve deeper into the context, history, or process of it can make it easy to pass judgement on it.

This is funny because, when I tell people that I thrift or buy pre-loved a lot of times, I am met with the same kind of degradation and disdain I used to have for the space. It is always a funny reminder to me to never judge a book by its cover. When I judged the book before reading it, I made assumptions that could have made me have a love of thrifting at a way younger age. I may have realized that department stores while necessary are not my usual first choice option. Further, I can now truly say that when I embraced thrifting it changed my life. I stopped putting unneeded and toxic expectations on myself. I stopped thinking that the label on a piece equated to quality. I stopped thinking that paying more for something makes it better. I realized that I had missed out on some much in my youth because I was afraid to get out of my comfort zone. I truly now believe that you cannot grow if you are constantly comfortable. Thrifting has challenged me to think outside of the box, try new things, and be uncomfortable in some cases because I might fall in love with it.

More importantly, however, I have begun paying attention to people’s stories more rather than assuming them. When I was younger and would begrudgingly have to tag along to thrift, I would make assumptions about the people in the store. But, I have come to realize since my college days that doing this was the most shallow thing I could do, and I have missed out on getting to learn about some most likely very interesting people. Thrifting has the uncanny ability to bring people together of different races, genders, nationalities, ethnicities, religions, socioeconomic statuses, and creeds. It is one of my favorite things about it. Thrifting is one of the only places that people can come to a place a just be people.

It is very humbling to be humanized in a space that you used to dehumanize others in. Thrifting can truly help you with your style but it can also help you see the world in a more inclusive, broad, and empathetic way. So, next time that you see a thrift store, go inside it could change your outlook on life.

Xavier (Zay) is a fashion educator who teaches people how to Slay Responsibly when it comes to handbags, fashion, pre-loved items, and brands. He helps people realize they have more power when it comes to handbags and luxury than they think. Zay lives in the Washington, DC area, is a P.h.D student studying strategic communication, identifies as nonbinary, and is self-proclaimed baghead!