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What's the difference between secondhand and vintage clothing?

On our site, we've divided up our guides to secondhand shopping into three categories: thrift or consign, vintage, and kid's clothing.

Secondhand and thrift have such similar meanings that we sometimes use them interchangeably. The definition of thrift, as a verb, is:

To shop for or buy used goods especially at a store that specializes in secondhand merchandise

And secondhand clothing means it is not new and has been owned by someone else. So the definitions are intertwined!

Some secondhand stores operate as consignment stores, meaning the store is selling items on behalf of an individual owner. For example, I could consign my Patagonia sweatshirt to Second Gear. They set the price of the item for sale, and as the seller I get a portion of the sale as either a monetary payout or store credit.

From a shoppers perspective, thrift or consignment stores are fairly similar. The bigger difference as a shopper is between shopping at a secondhand or vintage store.

In the table below we share some of the main differences between secondhand and vintage.



Age and Era

This term encompasses any pre-owned garments, regardless of their age. You might find items that are relatively recent or even those from a few seasons ago.

Specifically refers to clothing from a bygone era, usually at least 20 years old. These pieces often evoke nostalgia for a particular time period.

Cultural Significance

While some secondhand pieces may hold personal significance for their previous owners, they may not necessarily carry broader cultural or historical significance.

Vintage garments often hold cultural and historical significance, serving as artifacts of fashion history. They offer insight into past styles, societal norms, and cultural movements.

Style and Design

While you can find a diverse range of styles in secondhand stores, the inventory may include recent trends as well as styles from previous decades.

Vintage garments often have a distinct aesthetic that reflects the fashion sensibilities of the era in which they were created. They may feature unique details, fabric patterns, and silhouettes that are characteristic of that time period.


Depending on the store, this can vary based on brand, quality of the item, or seasonality.

Also depends on the store, as well as an item's uniqueness or rarity, era, and condition.

Check out our guides to thrift or consign and vintage stores in Asheville to plan your shopping!


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