The high-collar, vintage-inspired cream lace blouse caught my eye. Holding up the blouse, I could feel the quality and told myself I needed something new.
I searched for the price tag and my face dropped: $50.
Walking away from the blouse, I realized dressing with style might seem like an insurmountable budget challenge for a college student. Thankfully, some retail stores on High Street are selling new and gently-used secondhand clothes at bargain prices.
By 2013, Justina Smart had collected so many vintage clothes she needed to open a store. Smartypants Vintage in the Short North tailors to men and women and features garments from the 1920s to the 1990s.
“[College students] really help me dictate what I put out during the summer,” said Smart. “I pay attention to Instagram. The Levi jeans and vintage T-shirts are huge and have been for two years now.”
Smart sells vintage cut-offs between $18 and $28, which retail from $40 to $180. Her classic tanks and tees average $24.
“We keep things very affordable here,” said Smart. “We want people to buy this stuff. I don’t want to keep it forever. I want it to go back out into the world.”
Smart said that she loves handpicking items in good condition that are to be worn as everyday outfits, not costumes. Plus, not only does she display the best-of-the-best in her store but she also posts items for sale on Instagram.
Smart said since her store carries very wearable pieces she teaches customers to incorporate a piece of vintage into their already existing wardrobe to add some unique flare.
“Vintage just makes you feel different. They’re just really special individual pieces,” said Smart. “And people approaching you don’t even know you’re wearing vintage. They just want to know ‘Where did you get that?’ and the best part is telling them, ‘You can’t find it anywhere else.’”
Josh Harden was setting up shop in 2015 when he heard a knock on the door and was amazed to see the indie-rock band The Cold War Kids. After shopping around the band made a deal: vintage T-shirts in exchange for concert tickets.
Harden was ready for business.
Located in an old brick building across from Ohio State’s campus, Clothing Underground is tailored to college students, offering vintage and new garments like graphic tees, Hawaiian shirts, and sports jerseys.
The main focus though is upcycling—the art of taking vintage garments and changing them to appeal to a target market. Local designers hired by Harden will create crop tops out of vintage T-shirts or add screen prints to vintage blank tees.
“It’s really cool to see people get excited about a really unique item and take it home,” he said. “We are giving a new use and purpose to items that had been forgotten about. It’s a cool feeling to keep pieces of history alive and appreciated.”
Harden said a customer can buy a pair of cut-off shorts and a 1999 OSU Final Four T-shirt or a fanny-pack with an upcycled OSU crop top for $30.
“Shopping at our store is a great way to show your individual personality,” he said. “With upcycling there is never two of anything. Each piece is unique and one of a kind.”
For some college students, the opportunity to buy new clothes may require selling old clothes. Enter Buffalo Exchange.
Located just north of Hudson Avenue, Buffalo Exchange opened in 2016 and has more than 45 national locations. Based out of Tucson, Arizona, each store features gently-used men and women’s apparel, shoes, and accessories.
“Almost our entire inventory is bought from our customers,” said Columbus store manager Sophia Bolton. “We’ll take a look through your items and for any items we’re able to purchase, you’ll receive 30% of our selling price back in cash or 50% back in store credit.”
Breaking down the math, if Buffalo Exchange bought a customer’s item to sell for $20, the customer would have the option of $10 in store credit or $6 in cash.
Bolton said they look for styles that are current, unique, vintage, designer, or everyday staples. Plus, they get new inventory daily and most pieces range between $10 and $30.
“Our price points are perfect for students,” said Bolton. “Not only are they affordable but students can clean out their closet and create new outfits without spending a penny.”