UNexpected upside to the stigma surrounding second-hand shopping in my small town (possibly Germany as well)

Posted on 18.09.2011


I’ve been trying to understand how the Germans, in all of their green-do-gooder-ness could possibly see buying used clothing (or anything, for that matter) as a bad thing. Understandably, Germany is much more of a welfare state than the US, and some trends are slow in catching on. Maybe it’s just my area, maybe thrifting is super awesome and acceptable, even fun, in places like Berlin and Hamburg. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll never know.

But we have flea markets. They are nothing like the Brooklyn Flea– you don’t have to fight people over secondhand Calvin Klein or whatever the kids are wearing these days. Most often there are a few people selling clothing at the flea markets, but it never appears to be too many, and the goods aren’t amazingly excellent.

Early last week, I made it my goal to find ALL of the thrift shops in Wü. Technically, Germany isn’t that up on advertising businesses on the web, but the thrift shops were easy enough to find. I found about 10. I know for a fact that two or three of them require you to actually be receiving welfare payments (called H4 here) or a student in order to shop with them.

On Friday I had a lot of time to kill, so I decided to check out one of the shops that was not within walking distance from the city center. It happened to be close to one of the offices I teach at, so I know the area well enough. This one was part of a bigger chain of shops, called Brauchbar. They have different locations and different focuses for each. The one I visited happened to be a Pfundgrube, which translates to ‘Treasure Trove’, or ‘By-the-Pound shop’, depending on where you see it. Ultimately, this place had a section of by-the-pound (about 500g) clothing, along with a section of regularly priced (re: 4-E for a pair of pants, 1-E for belts) clothing.

The place was fucking immaculate. I mean, imagine the most well-organized thrift shop you’ve ever been to, that was this place. I love when they separate the clothing into sizes for people, it shows that they care about (and take stock in) the clothes they have and also their customers. It is so much easier to shop when your sizes are all grouped into sections. They even had the pants separated by length. Um, awesome. It also makes the shopping experience better, I think, for people who might feel bad about having to shop at the second-hand store. Which they shouldn’t, but you know. Some people do.

The place was so awesome, that I ended up texting Verena to tell her about it. She wanted to check it out, so we went back again yesterday. The place literally was a treasure trove for both of us! For about 3-E over two days, I picked up:
~ a long grey skirt
~ a banging black sweater
~ a badass pair of EDC pants in Herringbone
~ A beige cord blazer
~ a pink shrug/cover for my tops/dresses
~ a really awesome scarf in fall colors

(I’ll be working all of these into my wardrobe photos for the next few weeks, rest assured!) But what I got was NOTHING compared to what V got, she walked away with practically an entire wardrobe. #winning!!! On top of that, the guy at the register totally lowered our total prices without us even saying anything. I wasn’t considering trying to barter, because that just doesn’t seem right for the nearly literal steal we were making, so it was awesome that he just took off an euro or whatever because he felt like it. Totally cool.

While we were perusing the racks, we were talking about the stigma around second-hand shopping. I was asking her about it because I wanted a German person’s opinion on WHY, exactly, this isn’t more popular. I told her stories of how I started thrifting as a teenager, and how all of my friends did it. Many of us didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but also, thrifting is just effing FUN. Like hunting. I told her about my fashionable friends in NY that refuse to buy things full price and the Brooklyn Flea, along with the high cost of some vintage stuff in the bigger cities. I just can’t wrap my head around why this isn’t more widespread.

All of the things she responded with were pretty much what I expected; that it seems low-class to do it, that people like to have new things, teenagers define themselves by what names they’re wearing, etc., and I guess that makes sense enough. I know some people who are like that in the states as well. I told her that my middle and high school experience was exactly the same. And total bs.

But when I think about how sad it is that this is such an untapped fashion resource, part of me (the selfish part) thinks about how great it is that there’s more stuff for me and my friends. On Saturday afternoon (remember, stores aren’t open on Sundays here), there were maybe 6 people shopping there, none of them our size. We could easily walk away from something and expect it to be there next weekend if we weren’t sure about it.

It’s kind of like how on one hand, I hate that Esthero isn’t more popular. On the other hand, I get to see her at smaller shows and have her all to (mostly) myself.

Granted, I don’t expect to find anything super insane ‘OMG-how-is-this-still-here?’ amazing, but what we did find was great enough to keep me content with the fact that the Germans aren’t down with used clothing. Go right ahead and pay full price for the same stuff as everyone else, that just leaves more of the excellent for us. kthanks.

I can’t wait to go and check out the other shops.

Posted in: shopping