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Buying clothes from thrift stores: an analysis of young people consuming second-hand clothing in Rio de Janeiro

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Abstract

This article presents the results of a research that analyzed the consumption of second-hand clothing among young people in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Theoretically speaking, the research was guided by the anthropological perspective of consumption. The research was conducted based on the ethnographic method with participant observation and in-depth interviews. The results show the relationships between consumers and merchandise and reveal the main motivations for buying second-hand clothing and accessories.
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Buying Clothes from Thrift Stores: An Analysis
of Young People Consuming Second-hand Clothing
in Rio de Janeiro
Comprando “Roupa de Brechó”: Uma Análise
Sobre o Consumo de Vestuário de Segunda Mão
entre Jovens na Cidade do Rio de Janeiro
Un análisis sobre el consumo de ropa de segunda
mano entre los jóvenes de Río de Janeiro
Sílvia Borges Corrêa1
Veranise Jacubowski Correia Dubeux2
Abstract This article presents the results of a research that analyzed the con-
sumption of second-hand clothing among young people in the city of Rio de
Janeiro. Theoretically speaking, the research was guided by the anthropological
perspective of consumption. The research was conducted based on the ethno-
graphic method with participant observation and in-depth interviews. The results
show the relationships between consumers and merchandise and reveal the main
motivations for buying second-hand clothing and accessories.
Keywords: second-hand clothing; consumption; ethnography.
Resumo Este artigo apresenta os resultados de uma pesquisa que analisou o
consumo de vestuário de segunda mão enre jovens no Rio de Janeiro. Em termos
teóricos, a pesquisa foi orientada pela perspectiva antropológica do consumo.
Quanto ao procedimento metodológico, foi realizada uma pesquisa etnográfi-
ca, com observação participante e entrevistas em profundidade. Os resultados
mostram as relações entre consumidores e mercadorias, e revelam as principais
motivações para o consumo de roupas e acessórios de segunda mão.
Palavras-chave: vestuário de segunda mão; consumo; etnografia.
1 PhD in Social Communication, Social Communication Departament, Escola Superior de
Propaganda e Marketing - ESPM, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil. E-mail: sborges@espm.br
2 PhD in Administration, Department of Administration, Escola Superior de Propaganda e
Marketing - ESPM, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil. E-mail: vdubeux@espm.br
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Resumen En este artículo se presentan los resultados de una investigación
que analiza el universo de consumo de ropa de segunda mano entre los jóvenes de
Río de Janeiro. En términos teóricos, la investigación fue guiada por la perspecti-
va antropológica del consumo. En cuanto a la metodología, se llevó a cabo una
investigación etnográfica, con observación participante y entrevistas en profundi-
dad. Los resultados muestran las relaciones entre los consumidores y los bienes,
y revelan las principales motivaciones para el consumo de ropa y accesorios de
segunda mano.
Palabras clave: ropa de segunda mano; consumo; etnografía.
Submission date: 28/07/2014
Acceptance date: 13/02/2015
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Introduction
In recent years some studies have highlighted the importance that the
fashion industry has on the Brazilian economy in general and especially
in Rio de Janeiro. Confirming this perspective, a survey conducted in
2011 showed that in the city of Rio de Janeiro the fashion productive
chain has an annual turnover of more than R$ 890 million and that the
total number of people formally and informally employed in the cloth-
ing industry alone is approximately 35,000 (IPP/SEBRAE-RJ/FGV,
2011). However, within this universe of fashion and clothing there is a
segment that is beginning to receive media attention and arouse interest
among consumers, but it has generated only a few studies and has no
official statistics: the second-hand clothing market.
The objective of this paper is to present some of the results of a study
that sought to analyze the dynamics of changing and building values,
the meanings and reinterpretation of objects, and the forms of sociability
present in the universe of second-hand clothing consumption (clothes
and accessories) in the city of Rio de Janeiro. The investigation of this
universe included uncovering and analyzing the meanings attributed
and the motivations of consumers to purchase and use second-hand
articles.
The anthropological perspective of the consumption is what guided
this work and in this perspective, specifically regarding the consumption
of clothing and fashion, some authors highlight the clothing system as a
map for the cultural universe (SAHLINS, 1979) and fashion as a system
of communication (McCRACKEN, 2003). Hansen (1994, 2004) points
out in his work that clothes are things that have history and meaning
and, moreover, that objects in general have the power to structure and
transform social relationships. In her perspective, clothes go through
a process where they are highlighted or valued in the Western World
beginning in the 90’s when retro or vintage looks began to be valued.
As for the methodological procedure, the research used an ethno-
graphic approach. Therefore, for twelve months, between April 2012 and
March 2013, the fieldwork was conducted through direct observation
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and in-depth interviews with consumers of second-hand clothes in or-
der to understand aspects related to motivation, practices, meaning, and
the building of value of this type of clothing. The group of consumers
interviewed was composed of young men and women between 19 and
22 years of age, residents of the northern, southern, and western areas
of the city of Rio de Janeiro, predominantly middle class. These respon-
dents buy second-hand clothes and accessories mainly at thrift stores
and goodwill bazaars promoted by religious institutions, but some also
acquire second-hand articles online (on websites, blogs, or social net-
working pages).
Methodological Notes
The survey conducted can be classified as exploratory as to its objec-
tives; qualitative as to the type of data that was analyzed; and, in relation
to procedures, an ethnographic research was conducted. Ethnography
does not seek general rules or universal laws, but rather describes and in-
terprets social phenomena and tries to understand the logic, values, and
meanings present in a community from the “native point of view”. There-
fore ethnographic studies are guided by a kind of scientific knowledge
that is generated from another’s point of view, allowing a research within
the reality of a group, escaping the ethnocentric bias through a perspec-
tive that is more relative. The centrality of anthropological knowledge
and practice is, for Peirano (1991), the creative tension between theory
and research—a permanent tension between the accumulated knowl-
edge in the discipline and “native categories” presented by the members
of the social groups surveyed. The ethnographic method recommends
conducting field work in which two techniques are used, complement-
ing themselves in the construction of a “dense description” of a group,
event, or social phenomenon: the participant observation and in-depth
interviews. In relation to the participant observation, through direct con-
tact and interaction with the group researched, the objective is to know
the group or phenomenon in its various aspects. To do so, it is necessary
to follow the everyday and special moments—routine and rituals—that
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take place in the environments studied. However, in relation to the in-
terviews, they should be conducted through a script to allow the flow of
speech of respondents and preferably be recorded (audio) so that they
can be analyzed later and in order to withdraw “native categories” used
by the group researched. With this type of interview it is possible to
obtain the motivations, definitions, classifications, meanings, and the
vision as a way of perceiving the world by the group’s members.
In reference to the ethnographic method, a twelve-month field work
was conducted between April 2012, and March 2013, in which the fol-
lowing was carried out:
a) In-depth interviews with 12 consumers (10 women and 2 men)
based on a script that addressed aspects related to the motivation,
practices, meaning, and the building of value of second-hand cloth-
ing. The interviews were conducted preferably in the consumers’
homes. In addition, so that more detailed information about the
second-hand clothing market and customer profiles of these shops
were obtained, interviews were conducted with six owners of thrift
stores located in the northern and southern areas and downtown
Rio de Janeiro. For these interviews, a specific script was written
that allows us to understand not only the thrift stores as a business,
but especially the universe of changes, relations of sociability, and
value building of this specific type of merchandise.
b) Visits to thrift stores and open markets (Feira de Antiguidades on
Praça XV and Feira do Rio Antigo on Rua do Lavradio, both lo-
cated in downtown Rio de Janeiro) with the intention of observing
consumers while shopping in specialized consumption spaces of
second-hand clothing located in different neighborhoods of the
city of Rio de Janeiro.
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The Anthropological Context on Second-hand Clothing
Consumption
The research that originated this article was conducted with reference
to the field of Consumer Anthropology, which is an area of knowledge
that has as a prerogative a perspective that is more relative in relation to
the consumption phenomenon and a perspective that points to steer-
ing away from seeing merchandise as mere utilities with only a value
of use and with an exchange value. In this field, we try to emphasize
the cultural dimension that goes beyond consumption practices, under-
standing the consumption as a sociocultural process—which involves,
in addition to use, exchange, and creation—and, therefore, intends to
establish the relationship between culture and consumption. Culture is
understood as a set of ideas and activities through which we manufac-
ture and build our world, while consumption means the processes by
which consumer goods and services are created, bought, and used. For
McCracken,
culture and consumption have an unprecedented relationship in the
modern world. (...) Consumption is an entirely cultural phenomenon.
(...) consumption is shaped, driven, and constrained at every point by
cultural considerations. (...) consumer goods are loaded with cultural
significance. Consumers use the meaning of goods to express cultural
categories and principles, cultivate ideas, create and sustain lifestyles,
construct notions of oneself, and create (and survive) social changes. (Mc-
CRACKEN, 2003, p. 11)
According to the same author, in contemporary Western societies,
culture is deeply connected to and dependent on consumption, and
goods are key elements for reproducing, representing, and manipulating
our cultures. It is therefore necessary to understand the cultural aspects
of consumption and the importance of consumption for culture. Ac-
cording to the anthropological view on consumption, the answers to the
question “why we consume” are diverse: we consume to mediate our so-
cial relations, to check status, to build identities, to establish boundaries
between groups and individuals (including processes of social inclusion
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and exclusion), to classify, to express our desires, our aspirations, and our
affection. Ultimately, it is about analyzing consumption from a perspec-
tive that does not reduce this social phenomenon to a merely utilitarian
or economic dimension but instead highlights aspects of collective lan-
guage, communication and social classification present in the modern
consumer. (DOUGLAS; ISHERWOOD, 2004; SAHLINS, 1979).
In the anthropological perspective of consumption, goods have a dual
role: on one hand, undoubtedly, they provide sustenance, but on the
other hand, they promote social relationships. In this sense it is possible
to state that consumption can be understood as a means of communi-
cation between people, in which objects act as mediators or indicators
in this interactive process: goods are communicators. In a single phrase,
“goods are good to think” (DOUGLAS & ISHERWOOD, 2004, p.
108). Therefore, they serve to produce classification systems from which
social groups set boundaries and differences amongst themselves.
Another set of authors relevant for their contributions to the anthro-
pological study of consumption are those related to the field of material
culture who study fashion and consumption of clothing. Miller (2007),
who points out the need for more ethnographic work seeking to under-
stand clothing through the meaning of using specific clothing, states
that “material culture studies work through the specificity of material
objects to ultimately create a deeper understanding of the specificity
of humanity inseparable from its materiality.” (MILLER, 2007, p. 47).
The role of objects creating social relationships is essential; therefore,
for the author, it is the merchandise that produces the relationship be-
tween itself and the various people who come into contact with it, and
the relationship of people among themselves. In another study, dealing
specifically about clothing, the author states that, “clothes are not su-
perficial; they really are that which makes us be what we think we are.
(MILLER, 2000, p. 13)
For Sahlins (1979), the clothing system is a map to the cultural uni-
verse because the categories and cultural principles can be seen and
are evident in clothing. In this way, by analyzing clothing it would be
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possible to understand the processes, principles, and social categories
of a group or society as well as aspects related to social distance, to
everyday communication, and to the history of this social group. Mc-
Cracken (2003), in turn, analyzes fashion as a communication system
and clothing as “expressive media”. According to the author, “It is char-
acteristic for clothing 5o act as a record and guide to cultural categories”
(McCRACKEN, 2003, p. 85), because clothing highlights different
categories (categories of gender and social class, for example) and also
communicates properties that are supposed to be inherent in each of
these categories, but one cannot ignore the dynamic character of cul-
ture and, consequently, the fact that the cultural meaning of goods is
something that is constantly changing.
Related specifically to consumption of second-hand clothing, Han-
sen (1994, 2004) points out in his work that clothes are things that have
history and meaning and, moreover, that objects in general have the
power to structure and transform social relationships. Contextualizing
the historical, economic, and social aspects that led to the development
of a bustling market of used clothes in Zambia, Hansen (1994) ana-
lyzes how the population of that country uses clothes discarded by the
West and what this has to say about the construction of identity and the
difference in that country. In addition to the analysis on the issue of sec-
ond-hand clothes in Zambia, Hansen (1994) attempts to show, based on
news and media articles specialized in fashion, how these used clothes
have undergone a process of being highlighted or valued in the West
after 1990. “Looks”, “retro” or “vintage” clothing have become valued
by famous and non-famous people.
In a later text, Hansen (2004) points out to the increasing amount
of academic work (books, articles, journals, theses, etc.) about clothes
and fashion beginning in the late 80s in several areas. For the author,
the anthropology’s contribution lies in the consumption perspective as
locus and process of meanings; however, clothing and the consumption
of clothes would be studied from this perspective of building mean-
ings and identities. The author lists the many possibilities in which the
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subject has been studied in Anthropology in the last two decades, points
to different perspectives to study the issue of clothing, and highlights
the change of studies that were based on the emulation viewpoint to a
broader notion of bricolage and hybridity, incorporating into the studies
on the subject questions such as locus of conflicts of values, interactions
between classes, inter-relations between genders and generations, and
the economic and cultural exchanges of a global nature. Hansen (2004)
highlights the importance of studies that introduced the prospect of ma-
terial culture in studies on clothes and apparel. In these studies, the
materiality of the clothes would be a surface or a platform representing
social relations and “states of being”. The author brings up a specific
discussion on second-hand clothes and on research carried out in dif-
ferent social contexts. In general, research on second-hand clothes in
developed countries focus on the consumption of clothing as a locus of
consumption for building identity, gender, and looks through clothes,
and they work the perspective of incorporating accessories and specific
clothing articles in dressers of young people—what might be called a
retro style. On the other hand, in third world countries, especially in Af-
rica, second-hand clothes, which are imported from western countries,
besides representing a large volume of objects and being a part of major
international as well as local/regional trade, will be decontextualized
from their original universe and will be incorporated into local garments
through specific social processes and different consumption practices,
acquiring, through these processes and practices, several uses and mean-
ings (HANSEN, 2004).
Drawing on the ideas of Sahlins (1979), it can be said that these
second-hand clothing items are acquired according to specific cultural
logic and through multiple purposes. “Original” consumptions are often
ignored or subverted as soon as these clothes arrive in other societies,
being incorporated into local cultures.
Moreover as the clothes go through the hands of different consum-
ers and social contexts, McCracken describes the rituals of release.
One occasion and purpose for the release ritual is when “an individual
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purchases a good that previously belonged to another” (McCRACKEN,
2003, p. 118). In these situations the ritual is done to “erase” the mean-
ing associated to the previous owner. The good is then “liberated” from
the previous owner and free to be claimed as his by the new owner. In
other words, when goods are passed on they need to be “purged” from
their previous meaning in order to be incorporated by the new owner,
avoiding “contamination” (of meaning). For the author, “what seems to
be merely superstition is actually an implicit recognition of the mobility
quality of the meaning invested in goods.” (McCRACKEN, 2003, p.
118).
This idea goes along with authors such as Gregson, Brooks, and
Crewe (2000) who, in researches of second-hand clothing in the con-
text of goodwill shops and “retro” stores, unveil the need to symbolically
“remove” the former owner of the clothes. Miller, when referring to the
work of these authors, states: “We usually think in terms of people tak-
ing off their clothes, but here we have to get used to the idea of people
being taken from their clothes” (Miller, 2000, p. 80). However, at the
same time, research work in goodwill and “retro” stores points to the
fact that the value of second-hand clothes (especially for middle-class
consumers) is still largely derived from the fact that they were previously
used. The value of these clothes lies mainly in its past and, therefore, its
authenticity.
Palmer and Clark (2005) clarify and illustrate the relationship of
clothing worn by their former owners in different social contexts:
Taboos against wearing used clothes are culturally determined and can
have positive and negative associations that provoke strong emotional re-
actions. East Asian cultures have beliefs that clothes carry the presence of
deceased that are very “honored” and in this way remain “alive” by means
of a tactile “memento mori”3 (...) But by the end of the twentieth century,
many cultural taboos had been eradicated, such as the exchange of used
clothing, which develops on a global scale driven by fashion, as well as by
a genuine need. The tendency to wear ‘vintage’ second-hand clothes that
3 “Memento mori” is a Latin phrase meaning “remember that you are mortal.”
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emerged in western urban clothing serves as an illustration. (PALMER;
CLARK, 2005, p. 3-4)
These same authors also reveal another contemporary aspect of sec-
ond-hand clothing consumption phenomenon: the consumption as a
means to reveal the “alternative” lifestyle as well as political and ethical
manifestation.
Hansen’s work (1994, 2004) and other authors who study sec-
ond-hand clothing4 (CLARKE, 2000; GREGSON, BROOKS &
CREWE, 2000; GREGSON & CREWE, 2003; PALMER & CLARK,
2005; FONTAINE, 2008) will therefore show the consumption of this
category of clothing—considering the uses, practices, meanings, and
exchanges—in different social, cultural and economic contexts, and
emphasize the relevance of studying this kind of social phenomenon,
which can reveal interesting aspects of consumption in contemporary
times.
Second-hand clothing consumption in Rio’s context
The consumers of second-hand clothing interviewed are mostly women,
but two men are also part of this group. All, except for one, are studying
or have a higher education and ages ranging from 19 to 22 years old.
In regard to socioeconomic issues, it was based on self-classification,
and the majority of respondents defined themselves as being “middle
class”, but sometimes this “middle class” was further explained using
terms such as “upper middle class”, “average middle class” or “more
towards the lower middle class”. Only one interviewee classified herself
as “high class”. The responses show the relativity of self-classifications,
but from what was observed during field work, it may be suggested that
the group is part of what has been called in anthropology as the “urban
middle classes”. It should also be pointed out, as a delimitation of the
4 Regarding Brazilian authors, research and academic texts only two studies were found: a
monograph presented to the UESC Arts Center (ROSA, 2009) and a dissertation presented
for a Master’s in Administration from PUC-RS (KRUGER, 2010).
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research group, that the focus of the study fell on people who buy sec-
ond-hand apparel (clothes and/or accessories), which means that they
spend some money, even if the value in Reais is low when acquiring
these articles. Therefore, the consumers referred to here as second-hand
garment consumer, this is not considering people who receive clothing
and/or accessories in the form of a donation.
An important element to be analyzed is related to native categories
that are used by the consumers researched. Since the beginning of the
field work it became clear that the term “second-hand clothes”, a term
widely used by the reference literature and used in research as a cate-
gory of analysis, was strange to the respondents, not because they did
not know what it was, but because this expression is not used, or should
we say that it is avoided. “Used clothing”, “old clothes”, and “thrift store
clothes” are some of the terms used by the interviewees to describe the
clothes that once belonged to other people, that have had other owners.
The adoption of one or another expression is not free and reveals the
relationship that is had with the clothing in general and specifically with
this category of clothes and accessories. Because of this, the people who
do not consume this type of clothing will more easily use the term “old
clothes” and “used clothing”, while “thrift store clothes” or “goodwill
clothes” is the expression most widely adopted by those who consume
them. Although the rejection reaction is subtle, you can notice that the
term “second-hand clothes” does not bode well with the respondents.
For the consumers interviewed, “old clothes” refers to clothing that is
worn and threadbare and therefore to use this expression not only has a
pejorative character, but it betrays ignorance about the universe of sec-
ond-hand clothing. The term “used clothing”, although it doesn’t have
such a strong reaction as in the case of using “old clothes”, it is also not
a very well regarded expression. Some interviewees like to stress that at
thrift shops and goodwill stores clothes can be found that are “almost
new” and in excellent condition. “Old clothes” can also refer to clothing
produced in other decades, which would approach the idea of vintage or
retro clothing. Definitely the term most commonly used by consumers
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is “thrift store clothes,” which seems to dispel the negative connotations
that exist in some of the other expressions.
Second-hand clothes does interest and attract the consumers sur-
veyed when they meet one or more of the following requirements: price,
exclusivity, and quality (the idea of quality can also be referred to by the
respondents as “durability”, “finish”, “cut”, and “resistance”). In addi-
tion to these three requirements, the aspects of demand and achievement
are also taken into account in this universe.
The low price of these goods in absolute or relative terms, combined
with the style they have, is something that these consumers are proud
of and boast about because they love to tell you the price they paid for
the articles, especially when someone pays them a compliment for the
clothing or accessory. The ideas of expensive and cheap can be made
relative, but in general “first-hand” clothes serve as a parameter. In ad-
dition to publicly saying the price they paid for a piece of clothing, they
also like to say next that it was bought in a thrift store.
“The parameter is more or less the price I know it has at a normal store.
For example, I know if I walk into any fashion store to get a blouse I am
going to pay R$ 150. OK, so I’m not going to pay R$ 100 at a thrift store
for a blouse. (...) Because usually in these fashion stores it is R$ 150 for
a simple blouse, so at the thrift store I am going to pay 20 or 30, max.
But the price really depends on the location of the thrift store. Here in
Ipanema it will be much more expensive than in a thrift store in Santa
Teresa. So I always take that into consideration along with how well the
clothes are conserved—does it have a defect, will I have to take it to the
seamstress, does it have a little button missing...
The same young lady was asked about articles that don’t exist in “nor-
mal stores”, such as clothes with a particular cut or clothing that could
be considered vintage. She explains how this price evaluation would be
made since it would involve an article that she no longer would have a
parameter from another store.
“I think you have to go with what your gut is saying. There are things I
liked so much, and I had the money, so I paid more. There have been
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some articles that I paid more for, but the most expensive thing I have
spent in a thrift store was R$ 150. It was a blazer that I just loved. I said to
myself ‘it’s mine; I have the money, it doesn’t matter.’”
As for another interviewee that is part of the group that usually buys
in stores in the north and west part of the city, the price is an item even
more important and she usually gets different articles for less than R$
10.00, and it may even get as low as R$ 1.00, but still the store price is
a parameter, a reference to calculate the value that she is willing to pay
for the article.
“I try to compare it to the price of a store. If an article has a certain price,
it can’t be that price and even close to that price because it is already
second-hand, right? So, if it is used, you aren’t going to buy it for the same
price as a new one. (...) For example, you decide to buy a pleated skirt just
because it is fashionable. It will cost around R$ 80.00. But if you go to a
thrift store you may find one for R$ 3.00 or R$ 2.00.”
As for the brand, this does not seem to be a major concern of con-
sumers when looking for clothes at thrift stores or goodwill shops, even
though it is common knowledge that certain brands are valued and can
make the article more attractive and more expensive:
“Brand is one thing I don’t care much about. But if I like something and
it is of a strong brand, that adds more value to it so I may be willing to pay
a little more. But only if it catches my eye first.”
There is an exception among the respondents: In the case of Beatriz5,
she only buys second-hand clothes over the Internet, on blogs, websites,
or on social networking pages. For her, price is not something really
important because what drives her is to look for and obtain articles that
she has seen and has not been able to buy in stores. They usually are
from well-known brand stores and are references for young people living
in Rio. Beatriz is from an upper middle class and her motivation, which
is unlike the other interviewees, causes her to disregard the price of the
5 To preserve the anonymity of respondents, all the names used here are fictitious.
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article or be willing to pay a price that she admits is high. She has paid
up to R$ 350.00 for a second-hand skirt or paid for an article at a more
expensive price than the original store price.
“There was a time when a bikini was shown on the cover of Veja Rio
that was from Farm. I called all the stores, all the stores in Brazil. I called
Bahia, and found it in Bahia, so I asked them to send it. When they sent
it, they gave me an OK, I went in the store and you wouldn’t believe it!
They sold the bikini. But I decided to not make a big deal of it, right? I
wasn’t going to make a scene. So I started to search on the Internet like
crazy to try to find it because I knew the name of the pattern, I knew what
I wanted, I knew everything. Then I found a girl selling one. The bikini
cost R$ 98.00. I’m pretty sure at the time it was R$ 98.00, and she charged
R$ 170.00. I don’t remember if it was used. Then we met and I said ‘I’ll
pay it, whatever...’. So we met... I bought it.”
But in general, what can make a difference as a motivation for buying
second-hand clothing is exclusivity because these consumers are used to
going to thrift shops and goodwill stores and many times they are looking
for “one thing that no one else will probably have”, something that is
different and unique.
“I needed a blazer and some slacks, but I wanted an older cut, not these
slacks that have a very new cut. I wanted a blazer that was purple, yellow,
blue, so it was very hard to find. So I went to a thrift store that a friend
recommended to me and I got there and found a purple, green, and a
blue blazer...
Considering that the articles in thrift stores are, in general, one of a
kind, to find something that consumers like and that matches the size
they use, does not always happen, and this is exactly why to find an arti-
cle is viewed as something that generates satisfaction. The very looking
for something specific can be assumed as a “mission”, as revealed by an
interviewee. The feeling of satisfaction also arises when one can boast
of an article, something beautiful and cheap, that make others pay a
complement:
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“I like to tell people ‘I bought this skirt for twenty reais.” [referring to a
skirt she was wearing at the time of the interview]. Someone says: ‘I love
your dress.’ Really? It cost 50 reais. I like this.
Regarding the biography/history of the clothing and accessories pur-
chased, the first respondents were not very keen to learn about, but, for
some, to know why the article was disposed of is something to think
about and that generates some curiosity. The following three parts of
testimonials show these nuances.
“No, I don’t really care. Want I want to know is if it fits me and if it’s what
I want. It may have been a convict, a cleaning lady, a socialite, a president,
for me it is indifferent.
“[The clothes] are mine. It is my fabric and now it is going to be me who
am going to make my story with it.
“I like to think that those clothes are there because they didn’t fit someone
anymore and now they are going to fit me. So I think it’s cool to shop at
a thrift store because, besides buying some clothes that I like at a better
price, the clothing also has a story. Someone one day saw those clothes,
liked them, and for some reason did not want them any more so decided
to get rid of them. (...) I wonder why it did not fit any more on that person.
I’m always looking for the motive. Did the person put on weight or simply
did not want to wear it anymore, or moved? But the reason I really will
never know, right? It’s the same when you go to a used book store and you
see a message written in the first page. A book that nobody wanted any
more, an outfit that nobody wanted any more—the rejects. “
As the interviews progressed, statements began to emerge in which
this issue of the clothing’s history had some or a lot of relevance. For
André and Cláudia, the exact biography of a clothing article or of a
particular accessory doesn’t really matter much. Who wore it, how, and
where it was used does not generate any interest in them, but they would
like to know the historical context of the articles. For them, the clothes
and accessories found in some thrift store can be easily identified as
having been produced and originally consumed in past decades, and for
them they want to understand what was that historical moment: what
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songs were listen to, what was happening in the country and around
the world, what were the social movements that emerged, who were the
fashion icons, etc. The clothes and accessories this way would be able
to send them back in time, being mediators of a social and historical
knowledge.
The topic that invariably comes up when consumers talk about sec-
ond-hand clothes is the prejudice (in relation to these clothes) that may
be associated with the history of the clothing and/or a socio-economic
issue. For the younger respondents, this prejudice is repeatedly attrib-
uted to “older people”, meaning the generations of their parents and
grandparents, and the reason for this, according to them, would be the
fact that in the past they were people of lower classes or with financial
difficulties who resorted to second-hand clothes that were often donated.
“A lot of people who don’t like it [thrift store clothes] say things like ‘Yuk!
Other people used that, people who died.’ But that doesn’t have anything
to do with it; it is only a piece of fabric! The mother of my boyfriend is
paranoid with me: ‘But you brought this thing into the house... it used
to belong to someone’. That has nothing to do with it. Are you going
to throw it away? I’ll use it! (...) This [prejudice] is common for older
people a bit more. (...) Because I think that with older people, I don’t
know... I think people who are older...in there time people used to use
second-hand clothes because they didn’t have money to pay, so I think
that there is this inheritance, like, ‘but I’ll give you money to go to the
store,’ but I don’t want to; I want to go there. I think there’s some of that.
It could also be that the clothes aren’t the best possible quality. I think it
has to do with these things.”
“Younger people are more open to new possibilities and have less preju-
dice. The prejudice comes from those who are older. Because it used to
be that the thrift clothing store was for those who were poorer because
they didn’t have money to buy a new outfit so they went there and bought
used clothing. So I think the older folks who were born some time ago still
have this in their head and think ‘used clothes, I don’t know; who used
it, who passed by there.” Even a friend of mine, her mother will not let
her buy thrift store clothes because they don’t know who used them; they
carry a negative energy. Some people still think that way. No one I know
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of my age has that kind of prejudice. And it seems that they are becoming
fashionable because every blogger I see goes to a thrift store or posts some-
thing about a thrift store.”
As shown in the statements above, part of the prejudice seems to come
not only related to the aforementioned issue of income, but also to the
ideas of “contamination” of the clothes—not exactly to the possibility of
the articles being dirty, but to be contaminated by the “energy” of the
former user of the clothes. As for the cleaning processes, the consumers
interviewed have shared that they don’t have any specific rituals of puri-
fication and decontamination for the second-hand clothes. Most speak
of just a “normal wash” in the washing machine or scrub basin that is
done before the articles are stored in their closet. There is even a case of
an interviewee who used the clothes without washing them because she
wanted to wear the dress on the same day that the purchase was made.
However, this consumer acknowledged that this was an exception, and
added that she was reprimanded by her father for doing that. While
respondents state that, in terms of cleanliness, there is no difference be-
tween first and second-hand clothes, the fact that they wash the clothes
before putting them away and using them already denotes a difference.
After washing the clothes, they go to the closet and are put away
mixed in with the new clothes they bought. There is no separate space
for the second-hand clothes that in quantity may even be greater than
the number of “new” articles.
Last but not least, a more detailed reflection could be made on the is-
sues of cleanliness, pollution, and contamination. The first observation
that can be made is that the second-hand clothing consumers do not
seem to be “afraid of” or “disgusted with” these articles or places where
they are sold. At first, they don’t show a concern about the possibility of
them being contaminated, either by the “energy” of the former owner or
by body fluids or diseases present in the clothes. For some respondents
this question seems really resolved. For example, for one interviewee,
she doesn’t see a problem with using newly arrived clothes from thrift
stores even before these are washed. But, dismissing this exception, what
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is observed is that these articles must at least be washed before they
reach the closets, wardrobes, and dressers, even if it is just a “normal
wash”. Once they are cleaned and decontaminated they can be mixed
in with the other purchased new clothes. This seems to indicate that the
consumers of second-hand merchandise are people for whom this issue
is well settled in relation to others who express disgust and fear to wear
clothes that once belonged to others and were used by other persons,
and usually an unknown person. However, as the topic was explored
deeper and more interviews were conducted, it was possible to notice
that some respondents had times when the possibility of contamination
came to light, even though they tried to demonstrate confidence—and
many seemed to really be confident as to the fear of being contami-
nated. The question of “spiritual pollution” by (bad) “energy” of the
former owner was practically nonexistent and is generally considered
“nonsense”, but the fear of “bodily contamination” by a disease is more
present, but they have decontamination rituals of articles that once done
reassure the new owners of these articles.
These issues relating to cleaning and hygiene processes of second-hand
clothes made by the respondents reveal a side of what McCracken
(2003) calls the release rituals, which means that there is a procedure
that “frees” the clothing from their former owners and “prepares” them
to be consumed by the new ones. But especially with respect to fear
of contamination and the differentiation between “spiritual pollution”
and “body pollution”, these questions are dealt with in Douglas’s work
(1991) on the notions of pollution and purity. Douglas points out the
“relativity of impurity” because, according to the author “what is pure
in relation to one thing may be unclean in relation to another and vice-
versa. The language of pollution lends itself to a complex algebra that
takes into account the variables of each context.” (DOUGLAS, 1991,
p. 21). If the reflections of Mary Douglas are valid, the difference that
respondents make between “energy” and “skin disease,” expressions of
“spiritual pollution” and of “body pollution”, respectively, come to no
avail and their “washing”, whether they are “ordinary washes” or “special
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washes”, are purification rituals that reflect the compartmentalization of
experiences and of rituals typical of complex societies. Thus, the wash-
ing of second-hand clothes on the grounds of hygiene reasons is both a
physical action and a symbolic action to “clean” the clothes of their past
and insert them into their new condition.
Final Considerations
The bibliography for this research makes clear two types of motiva-
tions for the consumption of second-hand clothing. One motivation
refers to the objective of saving money when purchasing clothing items,
namely, the individual is primarily looking for cheaper articles and these
second-hand articles represent in some cases an important part of the
total set of clothes he or she has. It should be noted that not always is
this objective related to an unfavorable financial situation on the part
of the consumer since some second-hand items cannot be considered
cheap in absolute terms, but only in relative terms, which is compared
to new clothes. The other motivation relates individuals who consume
second-hand clothes in search of articles that are unique and that com-
plement their attire. These articles are generally vintage or retro items
that would make a modern, cool look.
The research pointed to the combination of these motivations—
price, exclusivity, and quality. The considerations made by consumers
about what they value and how much they are willing to pay for “thrift
store clothes”, which is how they refer to second-hand clothes, include
the relationship between consumers and merchandise, as present in the
discussions of Appadurai (2008) about the construction of the value and
the concept itself of merchandise. Based on the idea of value, in a clear
reference to the work of Georg Simmel, Appadurai (2008, p. 15) affirms
that “the value is never an inherent property of objects, but a judgment
that people make about it.”
The data presented in this study supports the perspective pointed out
by Hansen (1994) concerning the valuation process through which the
second-hand clothing underwent beginning in the 1990s. The growing
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interest in second-hand clothing was highlighted by consumers surveyed
who claim that the retro or vintage look “is in style,” particularly among
young people. This interest is also evident on the business side as we
see new thrift stores opening up, especially beginning in the 2000s, in
the city of Rio de Janeiro.
It was also found that for most respondents, to know the story of the
clothing and have information about their former users was not a rel-
evant issue. What is important for them is the story that they will now
build with these clothes; clothes that gain meaning and new significance
from the moment that they become part of their personal wardrobe. For
the consumers, the clothing does not bring with it nor does it establish a
historic relationship with the former owner. The uses that will be made,
the combinations with other garments, the occasions when it will be
dressed, all this will depend on the appropriations that these new own-
ers will do, which will follow specific cultural logic and serve multiple
purposes. The uses made by the former owners are ignored or subverted
from the moment that these clothes get into their closets.
The research that originated this article has shed light on the con-
sumption of second-hand clothes and accessories among young people
ages 19 to 22 living in Rio de Janeiro. While the focus has been this
age group, during the research it was possible to notice that the con-
sumption of this type of clothing is not exclusive to young people. This
realization became clear during the field work, particularly with regard
to observation work in the different thrift stores visited. There are chil-
dren’s thrift stores, thrift stores for designer clothes and luxury brands,
thrift stores specialized in women’s work clothes (known as “female
suits”), vintage thrift clothes, and in these thrift stores circulate different
consumer profiles. It would be interesting for new research to broaden
the scope of the work both with regard to the location, because it is possi-
ble to imagine that other cities have different aspects and configurations,
as well as about the different economic and social-demographic profiles
of the second-hand clothing consumers.
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... For such people, thrift shopping is a popular way of refreshing a wardrobe. A recent study on young thrift-shoppers in Rio De Janeiro found that people thrift shopped for a mixture of three reasons-price, exclusivity, and quality [6]. However, thrift shopping is also quite restrictive; shoppers may not be able to find a design they like in the size they need. ...
Preprint
Full-text available
We present a speculative design for a novel appliance for future fabrication in the home to revitalize textiles using re-programmable multi-color textures. Utilizing colored photochromic dyes activated by ultraviolet (UV) light, we can selectively deactivate hues using complementary colors in visible light to result in the final desired dye pattern. Our proposed appliance would automate this process within a box placed in the bedroom. We envision a future where people are able to transform old apparel into unique and fashionable pieces of clothing. We discuss how the user would interact with the appliance and how this device elongates the life-cycle of clothing through modification. We also outline the central issues to integrate such a concept into the home. Finally, we analyze how this device fits into personal modification trends in HCI to show how this device could change existing conceptions around sustainable fashion and personal style.
... Contamination could be analyzed from a cultural perspective in future research. For example, in a Brazilian context, Corrêa and Dubeux (2015) showed in a qualitative study that the participants had no concern about contamination, indicating that contamination may not be an issue for that group. Tables Table 1. ...
Article
Full-text available
In most retail environments, customers can handle products. However, the downside of this freedom to touch products is product contamination. The objectives of this paper are threefold: (a) to examine the effects of contamination cues (tangible vs. intangible) on consumer responses; (b) to show the mediating role of contamination, disgust, and mental imagery; and (c) to assess the robustness of the results on three product categories for different levels of contact intimacy. Three experimental laboratory studies on different product categories (a book [n = 95], T‐shirt [n = 118], and apple [n = 102]) showed that tangible contamination cues decreased product evaluation and purchase intentions more than intangible contamination cues did. Moreover, contamination, disgust, and mental imagery mediated the effects of contamination cues on product evaluation and purchase intention. The findings provide theoretical and practical insights to help researchers and retailers understand the effect of tangible contamination cues on consumer responses.
Article
Exchanges have always had more than economic significance: values circulate and encounters become institutionalized. This volume explores the changing meaning of the circulation of second-hand goods from the Renaissance to today, and thereby examines the blurring of boundaries between market, gifts, and charity. It describes the actors of the market - official entities such as corporations, recognized professions, and established markets but also the subterranean circulation that develops around the need for money. The complex layers that not only provide for numerous intermediaries but also include the many men and women who, as sellers or buyers, use these circulations on countless occasions are also examined.
Pureza e perigo: ensaio sobre as noções de poluição e tabu
  • M Douglas
DOUGLAS, M. Pureza e perigo: ensaio sobre as noções de poluição e tabu. Lisboa: Edições 70, 1991.
O mundo dos bens: para uma antropologia do consumo
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ISHERWOOD, B. O mundo dos bens: para uma antropologia do consumo. Rio de Janeiro: UFRJ, 2004.
HANSEN, K. Dealing with used clothing. Salaula and the construction of identity in Zambia's Third Republic
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O processo de construção e de movimento dos significados culturais do consumo de roupa de segunda mão em um brechó no Rio de Janeiro: uma etnografia
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Old clothes, new looks: second hand fashion
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PALMER, A.; CLARK, H. Old clothes, new looks: second hand fashion. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2005.
Territórios da moda: a indústria da moda na cidade do Rio de Janeiro
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Da fragmentação à ressignificação: o discurso contemporâneo dos brechós em Florianópolis. 2009. 132 f. Monografia (Graduação em Moda) -Centro de Artes
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