New York City is home to countless consignment shops. In recent years, the popularity of NYC thrift stores has steadily increased as trends have favored sustainable fashion. Slowly, people are realizing the many disastrous flaws of the fashion industry, specifically fast fashion. Named for both how quickly the clothes can be produced and how quickly they fall apart, fast fashion perpetuates unethical business practices and environmental damage. Industry giants like Forever 21 and Zara abuse factory workers, only for their clothes to be sold and then disposed of within a few years. Fast fashion relies on trends and consumerism to maintain momentum, and the resulting fabric waste is terrible for the already-struggling environment.
The alternative to fast fashion is sustainable shopping, wherein people actively seek out durable, timeless and ethically-made clothing. However, sustainable clothing brands like Reformation are often very expensive and not accessible for the average person. This is where thrift shopping comes in. Because thrift shopping, by definition, involves secondhand clothing, it is a form of recycling that does not benefit fast fashion companies and keeps good clothes out of landfills. It is also extremely affordable, which is especially important in cities like New York where the cost of living is high.
However, not all NYC thrift stores are created equally. Some are good for wardrobe staples, while others are better for vintage finds. Here is a list of my personal favorite thrift stores in the city, and what I think is so great about them.
Unlike the other NYC thrift stores on this list, Beacon’s Closet has received recognition from high fashion publications such as Vanity Fair and Vogue as one of the trendiest spots in New York City. Its reputation is only enhanced by the fact that it was founded and continues to be owned by an all-female team. Furthermore, the business boasts ethical practices such as paying all employees a living wage as well as paid maternity and paternity leave.
You can peruse the racks of vintage clothing and colorful shoes knowing that your dollars are supporting happy, well-cared-for workers. Although based in Brooklyn, among the four locations is a downtown Manhattan shop, near Union Square. In my heavily biased, Manhattanite opinion, this is the best location. It seems to have the more eclectic finds, while the three Brooklyn stores have more everyday pieces. Admittedly, I have found a few spectacular tops in the Brooklyn Park Slope location.
Located in Manhattan’s East Village, Cure is part thrift store, part antique and vintage store. It was founded by a woman living with Type 1 diabetes who wished to combine her love of thrifting with her passion for seeking a cure for the illness that plagues her. As a result, the store is a nonprofit, with proceeds going toward Type 1 diabetes research and advocacy. Although the story behind Cure is lovely, the two-story extensive collection of vintage clothing, furniture and art pieces is just as delightful. Some of the clothing is a bit pricey, but there are often sales and plenty of classic cheap thrift items.
One aspect of the store that sets it apart is the rack in the back of the first floor, which holds a variety of old silk nightgowns and dressing gowns. Not only is the silk fabric of these pieces beautiful, but their colors and lace detailing are dazzling as well. I have found more than a few timeless treasures on this rack. There is also a rack of bathing suits, with cute modern options and vintage pieces, with a few Y2K throwback bikinis too. On the bottom floor, there are tons of belts, scarves and bags, situated around antique furniture that gives the space a cozy, intimate atmosphere. Another bonus to this store is that they always play phenomenal music over the speakers, so your shopping experience will have a nice soundtrack. Overall, Cure is worth a visit, even if just for the vibes.
If you’re looking for basics, L Train Vintage is the way to go. With six locations, some of which have slightly varied names, you’ll surely be able to find one close to home. Additionally, most of the locations are absolutely enormous, which is wonderful for social distancing purposes. There is a huge selection of denim, from shorts and jeans to vests and jackets. The tie-dye rack is pretty impressive as well, and the same goes for the T-shirts.
It is entirely possible to spend over an hour just looking through all of the hundreds of multi-colored T-shirts, all with different logos and designs. While you won’t find a ton of statement pieces here, you will definitely be able to build up the basics in your wardrobe without breaking the bank. Most of the clothing here is very affordable, with rare exceptions in the cases of very vintage items. Unlike most thrift stores, each location of L Train Vintage has many fitting rooms, so that you can try on your picks without having to wait long, if at all.
Although there are almost a dozen Salvation Army locations across the boroughs, it is my humble belief that the Hell’s Kitchen location is the most superior. The store is enormous, like a warehouse filled with rows upon rows of criminally cheap secondhand clothing. Unlike the stores listed above, you will be hard-pressed to find a true vintage piece here. But if you, like myself, are into Y2K fashion and hip grandma-style pieces, this place will seem like the Holy Grail of thrift stores. There are always basics available, such as tank tops, cardigans and turtlenecks in every color imaginable. As for more exciting items, there is a large skirt selection as well as many purses and bags.
A word to the wise is that the little boy’s section often has cute graphic tees that you can fashion as crop-tops or layered over a long-sleeve. While you cannot try anything on, the best part about this store is that you can buy 15 items and end up paying $30-$40. Low prices mean you won’t feel guilty buying those pants that you’re only 75% positive will fit you. Make a point to bring bags, because your arms are going to get heavy carrying around all of the great stuff you’re sure to find.
While browsing at NYC thrift stores is economically and environmentally sustainable for those who wish to practice ethical consumption, it has a more serious purpose for some. There are many people, in New York City and around the world, who struggle to make ends meet and are completely unable to afford clothing from many brands. For them, thrift stores are an essential rather than a fun and healthy option. That is why it is important for privileged New Yorkers to be conscious about their shopping habits.
There is a recent trend among young women to buy clothes from thrift stores and then resell them for a profit through online retailers. Buying out the sweater section in Salvation Army to resell online might seem like a good money-making idea, but it also might mean you’re the reason somebody in need doesn’t have a sweater for the chilly Manhattan nights. It is good to have fun and support your local thrift store, but be aware of the space you take up, both physically and financially, and always think of others.