I’ve been an enthusiastic thrift shopper since I was 15 years old. And in the three decades (yikes!) since my secondhand adventures began, a lot has changed.
TV shows such as “American Pickers” and “Antiques Roadshow” taught the world that real treasure may be collecting dust in our attics and local thrift shops. And in 1995, eBay gave novice entrepreneurs a way to cash in on everything old.
The result is a secondhand market that’s more dynamic and unpredictable. More buyers, more flippersand more profit potential have made once-common finds incredibly rare. Shoppers take note: These items are vanishing from thrift store shelves.
1. Original artwork
Where have all the hobbyists gone? Thrift shops used to filled with vintage Paint-by-Numbers masterpieces, unique homemade sculptures and memory jugs. These pieces were never high art, but they had an aesthetic that was endearing and uniquely American.
No offense to the popular “Paint and Sip” crowd — your efforts are well-represented in the secondhand market. But I miss sorting through old art class cast-offs and “dinner table da Vincis.”
2. Hand-embroidered textiles
If you’re “of a certain age,” the linen closet of your childhood home was probably filled with embroidered pillowcases, tablecloths and napkins.
The handiwork of grandmothers everywhere, these textiles are becoming hard to find in the resale market. Buyers have discovered that this type of intricate customization is hard (and expensive) to replicate.
3. Solid wood furniture
Furniture made of particle board and MDF (medium density fiberboard) has been around for decades — long enough to trickle into thrift stores everywhere. But it appears millennials and Gen-Z are rejecting disposable furniture.
A cottage industry of restorers and flippers are rediscovering the value of solid wood construction and buying up vintage pieces. And through the power social media, they’re sharing the hunt for quality furniture, the restoration process, and compelling before-and-after photos.
4. Authentic midcentury decor
The world is going wild for all things midcentury. In the early 1990s, I’d trip over fiberglass lamps, funky teak furniture and boxes of Russel Wright dinnerware. Today, most shops have been picked clean by collectors and resellers.
The good news? A few midcentury pieces still slip through the cracks. The best places to look are small towns in the Midwest and Southern U.S.
5. Colored glass
Have you noticed that some colored glass sold in retail stores isn’t colored at all? The tiniest scratch will reveal that a tinted coating is applied over a base of clear glass.
It must be an attempt to reduce production costs. From vases to lampshades, true colored glass is becoming scarce in thrift shops (particularly shades of green, blue and amber). If you find a piece you love, buy it. We may be losing access to the genuine article.
6. Vintage comic books
When I was a kid, there was a little thrift shop in town with an entire wall of shelves devoted to used comic books. Back then, the going price was 10 cents each. (Ahh, the 1970s.)
Over the years, the supply of secondhand comic books has gradually dwindled. Today, it’s nearly impossible to find an old Beetle Bailey, Richie Rich or Space Ghost in the wild.
7. Non-stretch denim
We all need a “forgiving fabric” every once in awhile. But what happened to choice? Today, the majority of jeans and denim jackets are made of a hybrid fabric consisting of cotton, polyester and elastane (the generic name for Lycra or Spandex).
Traditional all-cotton denim is slowly disappearing from thrift store racks. The result is clothing that just doesn’t hold its shape over the years and doesn’t last as long.
8. Pendleton shirts
Men’s Pendleton shirts used to be so plentiful in thrift stores that they were a secondhand cliche. But by the early 1990s, the Grunge Movement had changed all that. These simple wool shirts became part of the “slacker style” uniform of alternative rock.
Today, vintage Pendleton clothing is more mainstream — and rarer. The two or three shirts I find each year are quickly snapped up online.