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Generation Depop: What Can Second-Hand Clothes Tell Us About Social Class?

By Megan Byrom - HSPS Student @ Queens' College, Cambridge


The high street, by most factors, is in decline. Fast fashion is now met with disdain and increasing unsustainable microtrends have left many consumers apathetic. Yet, Depop and the rise of second hand ‘thrifting’ has bucked the trend. With Gen z flocking towards the site, in 2020 alone its sales increased 300%, with usage up 163%. Amongst an environment in which traditional fashion retail is in decline, these second-hand sites have instead met increasing success.

Depop has generated a culture of exclusivity by conjuring a specific culture capital. Based on ‘vintage’ and second-hand clothing, the sub-culture has emerged across social media, identifiable by second-hand finds and new throwback trends to the late 90s and early 2000s. Such tactics have been used by brands for decades. Notably, retailer Jack Wills promoted its ‘preppy’ and ‘varsity-style 'by projecting its image onto the most privileged of students of elite universities. Soon it became synonymous with these groups, as well as their wealth and lifestyles; something the general consumer in the UK wished to emulate. This cultural capital, whether conscious or not, has similarly attached itself to Depop and other second-hand sites, promoted across social media by these middle-class groups.

With Pierre Bourdieu's ideas of ‘cultural capital’ in mind and the ways in which social groups can attribute value to different forms and media, second-hand shopping has also become a social currency of its own.

Unlike brands that have used exclusivity as a marketing tool before, thrifting in itself is an exclusive mode of shopping. Whilst fast fashion brands can mass produce items, making them easily accessible both online and in-store, with second-hand thrifting, items are uniquely positioned as one-offs, unable to be rebough