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The History of Thrift Shops

June 2, 2018

Being a Historian (MA, History), I was curious about the history of thrift shops. I did a little digging and here is what I found out!


According to JSTOR Daily, secondhand sales have always existed; indeed, secondhand shops thrived in Elizabethan England long before the thrift store was invented. But immigration and industrialization created a critical moment both of financial need and secondhand goods. Add the popularity of the rummage sale—bazaars that sold society women’s cast-offs to raise money for churches and other charitable causes—and you had a moment ripe for reformers.


In the 1890s, you could buy used goods from rag dealers—often Jewish immigrants. But anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic prejudice set in, and the public painted their profession as filthy and predatory. In 1897, the Salvation Army stepped in with a “salvage brigade” that offered poor men food and shelter in exchange for collecting scrap paper and other castoffs. Settlement houses and churches followed suit.



History of Thrift

1300’s: Thrift = Thrive. The word “thrift” is derived from from Middle English thriven, “to thrive”


1760 – 1840: Industrial Revolution Mass production leads to greater consumption


1820: Charity fairs originate in America featuring secondhand goods


1879: The Salvation Army comes to the U.S.


1902: Goodwill Industries is founded in Boston


1919: The term “thrift shop” is coined


1929-1941: Stock Market Crash, The Great Depression. Goodwill opens almost 100 stores


1971: Dolly Parton releases Coat Of Many Colors


1974: Buffalo Exchange opens first store in Tucson, AZ


1986: Pretty in Pink’s Andie Walsh further popularizes thrift


1990: Invention of the World Wide Web Businesses begin to shift online as local becomes global 


1991: Crossroads Trading opens first store in Berkeley, CA


1991: Kurt Cobain epitomizes the grunge look


1995: eBay and Craigslist are founded


2007: Tyra Banks challenges America’s Next Top Model contestants to create secondhand outfits


2008: Stock Market Crash, Great Recession. Resale stores experience average of 35% increase in sales


2008: Angelina Jolie wears $26 thrifted dress on the red carpet



2011: The RealReal and Poshmark are founded for the resale of luxury goods, and as a peer-to-peer social networking resale platform, respectively


2013: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s hit single Thrift Shop reaches #1 on U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart


2015: The average college student graduates $35,000 in debt, needs frugal options


2016: Apparel resale now an $18 billion industry (online and offline)


2016: Sarah Jessica Parker boasts that she only buys her son secondhand clothing



2021: Market size of the resale industry is projected to be at $33 billion




Sources: Merriam-Webster Dictionary; Oxford English Dictionary; NARTS.org; The New England Quarterly (Vol 86, No 2); thredUP 2017 Resale Report; USA Today; Erin Blackmore for JStor Daily

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