Published on august 17, 2017

THRIFTY, FLIRTY, AND THRIVING: History of Thrift Stores

written by Team thredUP

Through the years, the cultural lexicon has associated thriftiness with neediness. Well, listen up peeps. Being thrifty is smart, not cheap. Did you know? The noun thrift originated from the verb thrive. Thrifty means to use money and other resources carefully and not wastefully. Thrive means to grow or to flourish with a clear sense of prosperity.

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When “13 Going On 30” reminds you thrift derives from thrive. 😉

We’ve been thinking about this a lot lately (and doing a ton of research). Turns out, the history of thrift is fascinating AND it’s closely tied up with what’s going on with current events and the economy. The clothes we wear and the ways we shop, while fun and frivolous, are also indicators of our societal values.

Today, August 17 is National Thrift Shop Day. In honor of the day, we’ve put together a full timeline of how thrift has evolved over the decades (centuries, really). It culminates with the opening of thredUP’s second retail store located in Walnut Creek, CA.

Here’s a quick look at how the perception of thrift has changed over the years. Hint: It’s come full circle.


Thrift Definition

thrift: (noun) The quality of using money and other resources carefully and not wastefully. ‘the values of thrift and self-reliance’

Middle English (in the sense ‘prosperity, acquired wealth, success’): from Old Norse, from thrífa ‘grasp, get hold of’. Compare with thrive.

Thrive Definition

thrive: (verb) To grow or develop well or vigorously. ‘the new baby thrives’

Middle English (originally in the sense ‘grow, increase’): from Old Norse thrífask, reflexive of thrífa ‘grasp, get hold of’. Compare with thrift.


What is a Thrift Store

A thrift store is defined as a retail store that sells secondhand goods at reduced prices. Throughout most of the 20th century, thrift stores existed solely as brick and mortar locations. Today, with the advent of the internet, you can find many secondhand sites online. 

There are two types of thrift and consignment stores online. An augmented marketplace takes on logistics, photography, and customer service to deliver a more convenient customer experience.

A peer-to-peer marketplace brings buyers and sellers together within a hosted platform to perform transactions.

Resale Disruptors (thredUP, The Real Real, Tradesy) represent a specific segment of the apparel resale market. Resale disruptors focus on higher-quality, gently-used, brand-name products and present a more curated product assortment. Resale disruptors sell their products via peer-to-peer marketplaces, augmented marketplaces, and retail stores.

The traditional apparel resale market represents all secondhand apparel both online and offline. It includes traditional thrift stores, established auction sites such as eBay, and other online marketplaces. The price, quality and selection of products vary widely.


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.

2009: thredUP is founded and becomes the largest online thrift store for women’s and children’s clothing.

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.

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

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

2017: thredUP opens brick and mortar stores in addition to ever-growing resale operations, empowering customers to thrive IRL as well as digitally.

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

Pop some tags, ya’ll. Happy birthday, thrift!

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Sources: Merriam-Webster Dictionary; Oxford English Dictionary;; The New England Quarterly (Vol 86, No 2); thredUP 2017 Resale Report; USA Today