Is Thrifting in I.V. Worth It?

Illustration by Diane Kim

Lola Heymann

Contributing Writer

The atmosphere at Thriftopia seemed out of time, but in the best possible sense — from all the colorful stands selling clothes that were between ten and 50 years old, to a local band playing songs by The Doors, and students who looked like they teleported straight from Woodstock dancing on the grass. The band did a great job, with the lead singer giving his best Jim Morrison impression and the strong guitar chords reverberating throughout the field. The event seemed almost like a festival rather than just a place where you can buy clothes.

On Oct. 8, the Isla Vista (I.V.) community was welcomed to Thriftopia in Little Acorn Park, where different vendors put up stands to sell second-hand clothes, shoes, jewelry, and accessories. Moreover, different local bands gave performances all afternoon.

I love that thrifting culture is gaining traction to the point where most students at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) regularly buy second-hand. With vintage styles rapidly coming back, especially the Y2K trends from the early 2000s, thrifting becomes an even more attractive, humane, and environmentally friendly alternative to fast fashion. Therefore, I was intrigued to see how Thriftopia would compare to other thrifting experiences I’ve had.

When I got to Little Acorn Park, I was very much positively surprised: my expectations were rather low after having been to some thrift stores in downtown Santa Barbara where I found their clothes to still be horribly overpriced. But, quite frankly, I didn’t expect how cool the clothes at Thriftopia would be. They weren’t selling just any kind of junk from their grandma’s attic — most stands were offering outfits that looked like something a character from The O.C. or some other iconic 2000s show would wear. 

I, by no means an early bird, arrived at Thriftopia rather late so the market had been going for more than four hours already. While I can’t say what it was like at the start, the vendors  (and the band) were definitely still going strong, and in no way did the stands give the appearance of already being picked over. In fact, they still had a great variety of clothes to offer, most of which were of more or less high quality. This differed slightly from stand to stand, but generally, the clothes looked well-preserved. If they were of lower quality or already showed signs of age, it was reflected in a low price (such as offers ranging two to five dollars per piece). 

The prices differed between vendors and I refrained from buying all the pretty clothes I’d usually deem “my style“, on account of finding them slightly too pricey, even though many were fair in their prices. However, when a turquoise cardigan caught my eye and what was actually meant to be a hand-drawn $16 price tag looked to be $14, I took the opportunity to haggle.

“It’s alright, I can give it to you for $12”, the vendor said. When I found $11 in my wallet and fumbled with coins, she just smiled and said, “It’s fine”. 

This, I felt, was a very good deal. In my experience with thrifting in Santa Barbara so far, there was never any opportunity to bargain, so it was nice that the prices in Thriftopia were not fixed. Generally, they were not the best value for money I’ve ever come across (nothing beats thrifting clothes in Amsterdam or Bulgaria, so if you’re ever in Europe, that’s where you make the best deals). But I think for California, the prices were more than fair. Especially compared to new clothes from similar states that they sell in the shops on Santa Barbara State Street, Thriftopia is a great alternative and worth trying out.

The vendors themselves whom I interacted with were all friendly and easygoing, making for a very enjoyable experience that feels much more personal and more fun than going to a large, established thrift store. All vendors are young people, some of which also sell handcrafted jewelry in addition to second-hand clothes, and they also seem to have a genuinely good time being there. Additionally, vendors from different stands sell clothes of different styles, which adds some nice variety to the experience. Furthermore, I liked the fact that you don’t have to pay everything in cash, but, depending on the stand, the vendors give the opportunity to pay by card, Venmo, or PayPal.

I haven’t had the opportunity to do much thrifting in I.V. yet, but based on the Thriftopia event, I would definitely say it is worth it. Even if you don’t find anything to buy, it is still a fun event to go to, and personally, I also love seeing other people and their cool outfits. In a sense, Thriftopia felt almost like a festival and if another such event was organized, I would definitely attend.