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Brown’s thrifting culture fuels desire for vintage clothes; affordability remains a problem

Providence’s variety of charming thrifting options deliver high-quality items — at a price

Whether it be at the Salvation Army, local pop-up shops or Main Green clothing sales, thrifting is ingrained in Brown’s campus culture, providing a fun and environmentally friendly way to shop, students told The Herald. 

Maria Trifonova ’25, graphic design director for Fashion@Brown, believes a contributing factor to Brown’s thrifting culture is the “sheer concentration of shops” nearby. Enjoying thrift stores on Wickenden Street, downtown and across the Providence metro area, Brown students have ample opportunity to search for secondhand clothes. 

Others believe that Brown’s creative and environmentally conscious atmosphere pushes students to shop second-hand more frequently. 

“There’s a pride in knowing that your clothes are thrifted that I feel like people have here,” Quinn Cowing ’25 said. Cowing also guessed that peoples’ interest in thrifting at Brown may come from a “desire to be socially conscious,” something the campus environment promotes. 


Grace Jarell ’24 expressed a similar opinion, saying that students’ thrifting tendencies may come in “opposition to fast fashion culture.”

 “With thrifting, you’re giving things a longer life than they would have had,” she said. “That sort of aligns with our general culture amongst the student body of trying to live sustainably and being intentional with our decisions.”

Trifonova added that Brown’s artistic nature and large number of LGBTQ+ students contribute to a campus-wide interest in vintage fashion.

The fact that items are pre-worn also adds to a thrifter’s intrigue. “Thrifting allows you to engage with the identity of the wearer before you,” Trifonova said. 

“It’s also about the story of how you found it,” she said. “There’s a difference between finding a cute thing in H&M and finding a cute thing in a thrift store.” 

“It’s probably the only one of its kind in the entire store,” Jarell said. “There’s a feeling of Eureka which is really exciting.”

But Trifonova emphasized that thrifting in Providence can come with quite a large price range. Thrifting for affordable clothing at stores like the Salvation Army and Savers can be a lengthy and dull process, with piles and piles of clothes to sift through. More expensive or high-quality items are much easier to come across, namely at higher-end thrift stores like Nostalgia or Thrifty Goose. 

While clothing affordability may not be a primary concern for all students. 70% of Brown students report a median family income from the top 20%. Still, shopping second-hand isn’t always about the bargain. “You are really paying for the experience,”  Trifonova said.

For Cowing, the experience of thrifting near campus feels more like shopping at consignment stores. “I feel like people have items where they feel like they look very high-quality so they sell them with prices to reflect that,” they said. “Then it’s not as accessible.”

“I wish there were more affordable options around campus,” Jarell said.


They also added that people who may only feel comfortable wearing specific sizes of clothing may find it more difficult to find appropriate sizing options while thrifting. For someone on “the higher end of pant sizes,” Cowing explained, options can be limited.

But students also highlighted the need to thrift responsibly.

“Thrifting becomes a slippery slope when people are doing it solely because it’s cool and they’re going into places where people truly need thrifting or an affordable wardrobe,” Cowing said. “Same thing with the idea of oversized clothing. A lot of people are taking clothes sizes that are way larger than what they need.”

Regardless, Trifonova said that thrifting is likely to remain a staple of campus culture because “Brown students are really keen on being special, and I feel like thrifting is a great way to be special.”

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Cate Latimer

Cate Latimer is a senior staff writer covering faculty and higher education. She is from Portland, OR, and studies English and Urban Studies. In her free time, you can find her playing ultimate frisbee or rewatching episodes of Parks and Rec.

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