Today we welcome a guest post by Jennifer Le Zotte, author of 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.
In today’s post, Le Zotte writes about the history of thrift stores as sites of commercial support of queer communities.
In this divisive political season, American public bathrooms and changing rooms are spaces of contention. For example, in March 2016 North Carolina legislature passed the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, better known as HB2, in reaction to a Charlotte City ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in various settings. North Carolina’s HB2, one of a string of recent “bathroom bills,” specifies that in government buildings, individuals must use restrooms and changing facilities corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate. In a swift and somewhat contentious response, discount retailer Target formally welcomed transgender shoppers, inviting them to use whichever bathroom corresponds with their gender identity.
In recent years, corporate support of LGBTQ rights is not unusual, but in the 1950s and 1960s, major retailers were often complicit in the systematic anti-homosexual campaigns known as the Lavender Scare, firing gay employees and alienating or even arresting cross-dressing patrons attempting to try on clothing. In most states, wearing clothing “intended for the opposite sex”—even briefly in dressing rooms—meant risking a rap sheet.Continue Reading Jennifer Le Zotte: Before Target, There Were Thrift Stores: How Postwar Secondhand Commerce Supported LGBTQ Rights