By Jennifer MacAdam-Miller
Darling Boutique and Twice Is Nice came in at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in both the Vintage Clothing Store and Consignment Store subcategories this year, even though Darling (which stocks mostly next-to-new designer threads) is not really a vintage clothing store, just as Twice Is Nice (which accepts donations of gently used clothing) is not actually a consignment shop.
The distinctions might be lost on consumers who are just interested in one thing: scoring quality clothes for cheap. But there are deeper things at play, too—cultural and socioeconomic forces that influence people’s buying habits and lay the foundation for Charlottesville to become a secondhand shopping mecca.
Whether it’s the closet-cleaning frenzy inspired by the Netflix show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” or a trend toward more eco-conscious shopping, Charlottesville’s used clothing stores are experiencing a boom in both supply and demand. Already this year we’ve seen Darling Boutique expand to bigger digs near the Downtown Mall, Twice Is Nice open a second shop on Preston Avenue, and Goodwill close two smaller locations in order to open a megastore in the old Gander Mountain space on Route 29 North. With an abundance of other vintage and secondhand outlets like Low, Rethreads, Natalie Dressed, Plato’s Closet, Kid to Kid, Earlysville Exchange, and the good ol’ Salvation Army around town, there’s something for everyone.
Before you gleefully shout, “Yay, more for me!” and rush out to claim your share of the hand-me-down bounty, Darling owner Linnea White suggests that you stop and think for a minute. This summer she invited customers to participate in the #slowfashionseason challenge. The global movement aims to take on the “fast fashion” industry by pledging not to buy new clothing from June 21 to September 21, and shop only at secondhand, consignment, vintage, and thrift stores as well as locally-owned boutiques. But White encourages conscious consumption even with secondhand purchases, stressing quality over quantity, and proper care and repair of the clothes you already own.
White’s finger is certainly on the pulse of trends like ethical fashion, and her business model of pairing customer consignments and locally made goods—all expertly selected—is true to her professed ideals.
What’s sort of ironic is that the mass manufacture of clothes is the reason secondhand is even a thing: People wouldn’t be willing to part with last year’s wardrobe if it weren’t so easy to replace. White doesn’t shy away from discussing such heady stuff on Darling’s social media accounts, but she seems to realize that her customers are really in it for the #darlingfinds. After all, dressing secondhand isn’t just virtuous—it can also look pretty darn cool and stylish. As White wrote in a recent Facebook post, “There’s magic waiting in the secondhand world for you. Keep your eyes out for magic, darlings.”