American youth have always used money as an outlet for self-expression. Recently, teens and young adults have shifted their purchasing powers away from ostentatious displays of wealth to a more understated way of making a monetary statement– thrift shopping or ‘thrifing.’ This ‘new’ way of shopping not only alters the styles seen on the streets but also cultural ideals (particularly the concept of self-expression) of American youth. In order to fully understand this social shift, one could assess the phenomenon from different perspectives of cultural anthropology.
From a Functionalist standpoint, thrifting might be seen as means for connecting different members of society. Functionalists suggest that there is a specific relationship between individuals and society, and that culture is a way of creating a holistic and balanced society. An article of clothing has the potential to connect people of different ages, races, and socio-economic backgrounds. Thrifting can be viewed as a mechanism for providing a network between people who might not be connected normally. By reusing and recycling personal items, each individual is not only directly creating interconnectedness, but is also contributing to the social ideals and customs that keep society together.
A Symbolic-Interpretive Anthropologist on the other hand, might explain thrifting as a symbol of innovation and practicality in American youth. This school of Anthropology says that symbols are vehicles of culture and that they communicate the ways in which people should view and feel about the world. The idea of “effortlessly cool” is portrayed through thrifting; one does not need to exert much resources, both monetary and effort, to be trendy. Since thrift stores tend to resell clothing articles for a lower cost than department stores, being a thrifter shows that an individual is sensible when it comes to spending money on material goods. In order to successfully use thrifting as means of expression, a person must be clever and innovative to make a used item ‘new’ and fresh again. Analyzing thrifting as a symbol of youth culture gives us insights into what is valued and respected when it comes self-expression.
While both Functionalists and Symbolic Interpretive Anthropologists see thrifting as different social mechanisms, both approaches acknowledge that the phenomenon has an important role in constructing and maintaining social ideals. The change from designer brand names to Goodwill sale rack items is significant in that it revises the cultural values of affluence as a sign status. Today, the kid wearing the thrifted 1978 chukka boots may be more greatly revered than the guy with the new Nikes. The different perspectives of Anthropology help us better understand the use of money as outlet for self-expression.
– Alex F.
 Lecture: The Individual and Society, Part 1, 9-24-13, Carole McGranahan
 Anthropology Theory wiki: Symbolic and Interpretive Anthropology