Smelly old clothes including sweaters that are older than you, odd nature paintings in surprisingly ornate frames, randomly organized furniture that looks like it would collapse if it was used—is this your grandparents’ house or perhaps the closest thing we will get to heaven on earth? Nope, just your local thrift store!
To me, thrifting is a semi-religious ritual. It’s an adventure that has rewarded me with some of the greatest memories and items I possess. You can thrift solo, on a date or with friends. You can thrift at the local Goodwill or at the hipster-run curated “vintage shop” where everything costs $50. Each thrift store seems to have a different vibe, produce a unique experience and yield new gems.
While nearby New York City is known for its vast array of thrift shops, Poughkeepsie has at least a few good thrifting prospects. Needle in the Haystack, Barn Again, and Salvation Army are the closest ones to Vassar while more are scattered across nearby towns. While I have only been to the local Salvation Army, there are some Vassar students who are more adventurous or perhaps more thrift hungry than myself. I sought to learn about their experiences, their thoughts and most importantly, their finds.
Alex Yim ’25 really likes the local Salvation Army on Main Street—so much so that he has now been there three times since the semester started. “It was a good shopping experience because everything is so well organized. The tag system makes it really easy to know the pricing and the employees are really sweet people,” he noted. Since Yim is no longer thrifting to sell to others, he is adjusting his attitude towards what he looks for at a thrift store. “I used to just stick to hoodies, crewnecks and t-shirts because back then when I was reselling the mentality was different,” he explained. Now he’s drawn to the solid selection of pants at Salvation Army, notably the high-quality, vintage Levi’s and Wrangler denim.
Yim has a unique relationship to thrifting in his hometown of Orlando, Florida. “I would go to the Goodwill bins to buy and then I’d sell later in the day out of my car,” he shared. For Yim, his thrifting eye locked onto things that could sell well, relying on a few key skills for locating valuable items. He explained the importance of looking at the tags, which can provide information like where the item was manufactured, what material was used and the age of the item. All of these factors are key when looking for high quality, true vintage items. With t-shirts in particular, Yim emphasized the importance and rarity of a single stitch shirt. “Single stitch means it was made in (or prior to) the 1990’s,” Yim explained.
For Yim, thrifting can provide an emotional connection to clothing. The process of searching itself is meaningful because deep diving into bins of clothing takes hard work. The history and character in old clothes is also important to Yim: “You see a couple of stains, a couple of rips—sometimes you see previous owners’ names on the tag,” he said longingly. “That’s history and you’re just carrying it on.”
Ariel Schwartzman Miles ’25 has a unique connection between family and thrifting. “My whole childhood I had mostly thrifted or secondhand clothes from family members,” she explained. She credits her mom for being an avid thrifter back when people looked down on buying second hand. “It’s just a family activity. We always thrift together. And I always send the pictures when I find cool things,” she said touchingly. In her time at Vassar, she has been to Salvation Army, Barn Thrift Shop and the Dutchess County SPCA—all of which she has loved. Considering she hails from Brooklyn—a borough with some amazing thrift stores—this stamp of approval is a prestigious one.
For Schwartzman Miles, thrifting is more than just shopping for second hand clothing—in fact, one of her greatest finds here in Poughkeepsie has been a beautifully-painted bird house. While her intention was to hang it up in her room, Vassar’s unfortunate rules about not putting holes in the wall means it will live as a dandy book stand for now. Clothing adjacent, she also found some charming fabrics for 50 cents and plans to use them for patchwork and embroidery.
Schwartzman Miles and Yim have slightly different methods when approaching the clothing racks: While Yim looks for signs to signify age, Schwartzman Miles is first drawn to the texture. “I look for texture and color, that draws me in first,” she explained, “texture like leather or cool fabrics or silks.” While she might not look through every item in the entire store, she trusts her well-trained radar: “I just go where I know there’s gonna be something good and I usually find something.” When that special item is found, Schwartzman Miles said, “It’s beautiful because I get to reincarnate that particular item into my own identity.” Furthermore, she can feel good knowing that thrifting is sustainable compared to buying newly produced clothing, fast fashion or otherwise.
For Lydia Wright ’25, thrifting was also a go-to activity with friends before college. She enjoyed showing off the uniqueness of her thrift finds. When people would inevitably inquire about the cool things she was wearing she would cooly respond, “It’s thrifted, like sorry you can’t just buy it…They would hate me,” she recalled, grinning.
Her experience at Poughkeepsie’s Salvation Army was also a good one and yielded some very cool pieces including a versatile green dress made from a wool and acrylic blend. “Other thrift stores would be vetted constantly by fashionable young girls then after a while, there was nothing good,” Wright said. Think Depop sellers who completely clean out the racks looking for some profit. This one, on the other hand, seems to get much less foot traffic and buyer competition. “I feel like there are more hidden gems,” Wright said confidently.
When thrifting at a store where you have to go digging through bins and racks, Wright looks at fabric first. “For me, a quality item of clothing is a quality fabric,” she noted. She’s a quality-over-quantity type of thrifter who feels more satisfied walking out with a well-made piece than a bunch of flashy, cheap things. “It’s not about the price, it’s about finding a unique, really cool item,” she said.
This article, however, would feel incomplete without a warning to avoid the ways in which thrifting can become problematic via thrifting gentrification. When thrifting, you should always be self-aware and have an understanding of your impact on the community you are sourcing clothes from. “You just have to do it mindfully. You have to be aware of where you are. You have to be mindful of what you get,” Schwartzman Miles reflected. For many, the local thrift store is where you get a coat to make it through winter or a cheap place to get clothes for your kids when the mall is out of budget. So when you do thrift in Poughkeepsie, just make sure you aren’t taking important clothes from people who need them more than you. That third winter coat isn’t so stylish if it means someone finds themselves without one. Thrifting is an activity you have every right to enjoy; just make sure you’re being conscious of your impact.