Queer people find expression through thrift shopping

By Brett Kelly

Thrift stores are known for good deals, hidden surprises and a peculiar aroma. Used textiles, secondhand furniture and electronics create an odour both strange and familiar. 

Each piece on display has its own history, and thrifters like 21-year-old Marty Desrochers says part of the fun in thrift stores is finding items with unique stories.

Desrochers said he found roughly half of his current wardrobe and many of his home decor items at thrift stores around the city. He said he and his roommate often visit the Salvation Army and Value Village stores on Nairn Avenue.

“I always go for the sweaters,” he said. “It can be a great and cheap way to be creative with clothes.”

Marty Desrochers shows off some of his favourite thrift store finds, including a faux-fur duster-style coat. The 21-year-old says he has found about half of his current wardrobe and many of his home decor items at thrift stores around the city./BRETT KELLY

Thrifting in the queer community is common practice, said Desrochers.

All of his queer-identifying friends go thrift shopping regularly, particularly those new to or exploring drag performing.

Another Winnipegger Jeremy Anderson said he has been in and out of work through the pandemic, and said thrift stores can be a budget-friendly option.

“It’s great for self-expression,” said 23-year-old Anderson. 

The average household spent nearly $3,500 on clothing in 2019, according to Statistics Canada. In a separate survey, Statistics Canada reported LGBGTQ+ people aged 18–24 were more likely to have part-time or contract work. Throughout the pandemic, thrifting has become a necessity for some queer people.

“I think there are lots of young queer people who come from small towns with no money, and that’s probably why so many of us love thrifting,” said Desrochers.

Stores like Closet Space cater specifically to trans and non-binary people in Winnipeg. Owner Suzanne Reesor said on the store’s Facebook page Closet Space aims, “to help 2SLGBTQIA+ people find affordable, gender-affirming clothing in a safe, supportive environment.”

Other local businesses like Shop Take Care include safe-space mandates in their mission statements.

Desrochers said he feels safe exploring clothing and accessory options in thrift stores.

“Most people ignore you,” he said. “I can just pick through whatever section I like, as long as it’s my size.”

Anderson said he will continue to shop at thrift stores regardless of his employment.