From Goodwill to Grunge

From Goodwill to Grunge: A History of Secondhand Styles and Alternative Economies


In this surprising new look at how clothing, style, and commerce came together to change American culture, Jennifer Le Zotte examines how secondhand goods sold at thrift stores, flea markets, and garage sales came to be both profitable and culturally influential. Initially, selling used goods in the United States was seen as a questionable enterprise focused largely on the poor. But as the twentieth century progressed, multimillion-dollar businesses like Goodwill Industries developed, catering not only to the needy but increasingly to well-off customers looking to make a statement. Le Zotte traces the origins and meanings of “secondhand style” and explores how buying pre-owned goods went from a signifier of poverty to a declaration of rebellion.

Considering buyers and sellers from across the political and economic spectrum, Le Zotte shows how conservative and progressive social activists--from religious and business leaders to anti-Vietnam protesters and drag queens--shrewdly used the exchange of secondhand goods for economic and political ends. At the same time, artists and performers, from Marcel Duchamp and Fanny Brice to Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain, all helped make secondhand style a visual marker for youth in revolt.


Salvation Army promotional pamphlet, circa 1920. Courtesy of The Salvation Army National Archives.

Salvation Army promotional pamphlet, circa 1920. Courtesy of The Salvation Army National Archives.

"From Goodwill to Grunge is an impressive and imaginative work of scholarship that will become essential reading for historians of capitalism, fashion, and consumer culture. " --American Historical Review

"Le Zotte's. . . vivid account of secondhand exchanges and styles compellingly demonstrates the significance of the material culture of dress in social, economic, and cultural history."  --Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty

“A rich and timely cultural history of secondhand clothing.”--Business History Review

“Accessible and highly readable, From Goodwill to Grunge is a long-awaited look at the secondhand clothing industry. Jennifer Le Zotte offers an important contribution to a vibrant and growing body of scholarship that considers clothing as a central part of American cultural history."--Deirdre Clemente, author of Dress Casual

"From Goodwill to Grunge tells the fascinating history of secondhand markets and their role in shaping American fashion and shopping economies. Jennifer Le Zotte skillfully recreates a world where luxury and thrift are two sides of the same coin for Americans and will make you nostalgic for the clothes you wish you still owned."--Tanisha Ford, author of Liberated Threads

"Packed with intriguing surprises and fascinating juxtapositions and connections, From Goodwill to Grunge offers a history of secondhand merchandising in thrift stores, flea markets, and garage sales interwoven with an analysis of the cultural meanings of secondhand consumption, especially clothing. Jennifer Le Zotte brings imagination, ingenuity, and extensive research to a book that provides fresh perspectives and eye-opening analysis to the history of American consumer culture."--Susan Strasser, author of Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash