The braggadocio exuded by the Notorious B.I.G. somehow extends beyond his mammoth 6-foot-3, 310-pound frame. It’s 1997, and aboard a yacht, Biggie Smalls details a life of luxury and indulgence in the music video for “Hypnotize.”
Despite a myriad of sex references and a distinct hazy flow, it’s hard to pay attention to anything other than the glistening gold chain Biggie dons over Versace linens. In a genre previously defined by bucket hats and baggy pants, “Hypnotize” was one of hip-hop’s first steps toward name brands and comma spliced price tags.
The bottle of champagne sprawled beside a rapping B.I.G. likely costs more than Seattle emcee Macklemore’s entire wardrobe in 2012's “Thrift Shop.”
With the sleeper hit “Thrift Shop” comes a decidedly new culture for fashion in hip-hop and beyond. In an era where 2 Chainz is still asking to be buried inside the Louis store, the emergence of an unexpected sub-genre of ironic rap makes it just as cool to check out the secondhand shop next door.
Yet it’s not just thick-rimmed hipsters flocking to thrift shops, either. The Association of Resale Professionals estimates that up to 18% of Americans will shop at a secondhand retailer in a given year, compared to just over 19 percent of Americans that will visit a standard department store. Moreover, 20% of people shop in thrift stores regularly, compared to a 14% clip from 2008, according to executive director Adele Meyer. Today’s ravaged economy makes it smart to thrift shop; the DIY aesthetic of Internet-era music makes it trendy.
And it looks like that trend isn’t dying any time soon.
The used merchandise industry became a $16 billion entity in 2012, per Research and Markets. With larger audiences discovering that distinguished brands can be worn for low prices, Meyer says that there’s been a 7% spike in total thrift store locations each of the past two years.
Macklemore isn’t even the only notable celebrity sporting ragged threads these days. Academy Award-winning director Clint Eastwood and multi-platinum pop singer Madonna are just two of the dozens of Hollywood personalities that have been spotted at the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Los Angeles, while actress Jada Pinkett Smith and daughter Willow have been seen thrift shopping in Santa Monica.
Paparazzi, prepare your hippest filters.
But why are socioeconomic elites frequenting an industry reserved for the lower class? Cost is just one factor that fuels a tag-poppin’ thrift shopper. Like shredding an expensive pair of jeans to bolster that Joey Ramone factor in the 70s, secondhand style attracts customers of all backgrounds, eager to find the edgy or vintage look that continues to pervade 21st century culture.
The extravagance of hip-hop fashion now takes a sudden uppercut from this secondhand invasion. Kanye West’s perpetual Giorgio Armani name-drops are less impressive when you can buy a pair of silk Armani socks for just 35 cents at Chicago’s Unique Thrift Store. Hip-hop thus becomes less of an outsider phenomenon and more of an intimate art, and fans are able to connect with artists on a much deeper level with the humility and modesty of thrift style. Would swarms of teenagers still be shouting lyrics of Tyler, the Creator if he traded in his raggedy button-ups for a Gucci suit?
The augmentation of thrift shopping also keeps culture humbled. Secondhand threads keep style unpredictable and individuality embraced. Throwback shoes, ruffled jackets and decade-old pop culture merch is no longer goofy, or rather, goofy is now in season.
It’s a nod to every kid who was mocked in grade school for wearing an outdated basketball jersey, a swipe at those who shelled out too much money for the almighty “Hollister Co.” to appear across their chest.
There’s always going to be high fashion bouncing around college campuses, urban main streets, and especially hip-hop circles. But as teenage style is increasingly crowd-sourced and thrift shopping continues to gain momentum, there’s no reason to believe that an over-sized coat-wearing Macklemore won’t be pedaling a bike to keep up with Biggie’s yacht.