Best thrift stores in Boston and Oakland – and is it okay to thrift XMas gifts?

nia beckett wearing thrifted clothing
Northeastern journalism student Nia Beckett shows off some of her favorite thrift store finds. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Thrift shopping is having a moment among college students eager to save the planet—and their wallets.

The online consignment giant ThredUP published a resale report saying that, globally, secondhand clothing sales climbed from $96 billion in 2021 to $119 billion in 2022, with sales expected to increase by $99 billion by 2026.

Four Northeastern University students studying fashion or the environment—three of whom are from California—told News@Northeastern their favorite brick and mortar locations and open markets to thrift in and around Boston and Oakland, where Mills College at Northeastern is located.

They also explained why they shop secondhand and why they plan to give pre-owned presents this holiday—and described a few of their finds. 

Why thrift?

“I’ve been having this whole journey throughout college with environmentalism and finding ways for people to get involved in climate solutions,” says Nia Beckett, a fifth-year journalism major with a global fashion studies minor.

“I think thrifting is a big piece of that, because everybody puts on clothes in the morning. And we know that fast fashion is a huge issue that’s contributing to landfills and workers not being treated properly.”

Ava Rognlien, a fourth-year student majoring in environmental studies with a minor in design, says she also prefers to buy secondhand clothes to extend the life of garments and avoid the fast fashion cycle of rapid production of inexpensive new clothing that ends up in landfills.

“Definitely my passion lies in stable fashion,” says Rognlien, who volunteers for the NGO Fashion Revolution that works to protect the rights of garment industry workers around the world.

She says thrifting is also about personal expression and building community.

“I’m the oldest of three kids. My stuff has always been passed to my siblings,” says Rognlien, who is from California. Now she shares clothing with her roommates. “We never need to go to the store.”

“With fast fashion, you can find a really cool piece—but everyone has the same piece,” says Kiki Pearson, a second-year student majoring in international business with a minor in global fashion studies.

“I think it’s good to buy things intentionally and also to buy secondhand,” says Evelyn LaVelle, a second-year environmental engineering major. 

“When you’re thrifting, you can find one-of-a-kind stuff. That’s the most rewarding part, Pearson says. “For environmental purposes, secondhand is much better than fast fashion and buying new stuff.”

What are your favorite thrift stores?

“A big one that everyone likes is the Garment District in Cambridge, Beckett says. “Another one I really like is Buffalo Exchange (in Brookline). Sometimes they get pieces that still have the price tag on them.”

The Goodwill store in Roxbury and Boomerangs in Cambridge make LaVelle’s list.

But her favorite of all time is the Alameda Point Antiques Faire near Oakland, a once monthly open-air flea market where she has shopped with her mother since LaVelle was in middle school.

“That flea market is so big,” LaVelle says. “It’s just a fun place to go.”

Pearson also grew up in California and is more familiar with second hand stores in Oakland, San Francisco and Berkeley than in Boston.

“My favorite one is called Wasteland. It’s on Haight. It’s a higher-end thrift store. It has Prada and Yves St. Laurent. They’re pretty selective with what they get.”

Rognlien, a part-time sales associate at Boomerangs Special Edition in the South End of Boston, says, “I just love Boomerangs in general. The one in Jamaica Plain is also awesome.” 

Rognlien also enjoys the Boston Open Air Market in Copley Square that runs from late May to the end of September. The market features independent designers as well as dealers of vintage goods.

Cambridge Vintage Antiques is also on her list. It has several stories of clothing, furniture and jewelry. “I could spend hours there,” Rognlien says.

Favorite finds?

A Calvin Klein coat for $10 from the Goodwill Store in Cambridge is one of Beckett’s most prized secondhand possessions. 

“I’m from Florida, so I came up with no outerwear,” she says. “It’s always a great find.”

A hot pink Moschino T-shirt from Wasteland tops Pearson’s list of thrifted finds.

“Lots of tops today are cropped. This is a full-length fitted T-shirt. I like to wear it with low-rise jeans. It’s kind of a 2000 silhouette which I think is coming back a little bit.”

Rognlien says she purchased a chest from Boomerangs in Jamaica Plain that she considers one of her smartest secondhand buys since it can store so much clothing.

She says she must mention a long, black faux fur coat from the Goodwill in Roxbury. “It’s incredible.”

For LaVelle, a brown Gap sweatshirt purchased at the Alameda flea market is a comfortable favorite item of clothing. “It’s an extra large, but it’s a child size” so it fits, she says.

Other flea market treasures include a large flowered shirt she cut up to sew into two tank tops.

Would you thrift a gift?

“I actually just did that,” LaVelle says.

She says she purchased, at Indigo Vintage in Berkeley, a sweater, candle, candle stand and leg warmers for a “Secret Santa” present.

“I think it just depends on who you are giving the gift to and if they can appreciate the story behind it,” Pearson says. 

“My parents aren’t really big fans of” thrifted gifts, she says. “Some of my friends are really into it.”

“You want it to be nice or something that person is actually going to cherish,” Beckett says.

Rognlien says this year she purchased a shirt, men’s diesel jacket and necklace with an initial on it at secondhand stores as gifts for loved ones. 

“All my gifts this year were thrifted gifts,” mainly from Boomerangs and the online thrift store Depop, Rognlien says.

“It’s not about the price,” she says. “It’s being able to express to someone you are thinking of them. The gift is so personal to that person.”

The downside of thrifting

The students say the low prices typically associated with secondhand stores may tempt people to purchase too much stuff.

“It’s important not to buy too much,” LaVelle says.

“Just because it’s less expensive doesn’t mean that you should buy something if you’re not going to wear it,” Beckett says.

Sometimes “you have to search through a bunch of stuff that’s not so good,” Pearson says.

“It’s not like you just go to Newberry Street and find what you want.”

The increasing popularity of thrifting is driving up prices, a phenomenon Rognlien calls “the gentrification of thrifting.”

“Prices are spiking because there’s so much interest,” she says. While purchasing second hand items is a good thing, Rognlien says it’s important to keep in mind that people in lower income brackets may depend on second-hand items for everything from clothing to dishware.

Don’t forget to swap

Swaps are a way to exchange clothing and other goods with no exchange of funds, says Rognlien, who helped co-found a clothing swap at Northeastern called the Tailored Collective in the fall of 2021.

The swaps are held each semester, with the last one occurring in October.

“People say, ‘I’ll swap you this for this.’ It’s just awesome,” says Rognlien, who also has organized clothing drive donations for homeless shelters and other programs.

“Just because you don’t want it doesn’t mean someone else can’t get good use out of it.”

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