From Goodwill to Grunge

A History of Secondhand Styles and Alternative Economies

By Jennifer Le Zotte

342 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 24 halftones, notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3190-5
    Published: March 2017
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3189-9
    Published: March 2017
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-3191-2
    Published: February 2017

Studies in United States Culture

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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.

Considering buyers and sellers from across the political and economic spectrum, Le Zotte shows how conservative and progressive social activists--from religious and business leaders to anti-Vietnam protesters and drag queens--shrewdly used the exchange of secondhand goods for economic and political ends. At the same time, artists and performers, from Marcel Duchamp and Fanny Brice to Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain, all helped make secondhand style a visual marker for youth in revolt.

About the Author

Jennifer Le Zotte is assistant professor of history and material culture at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.
For more information about Jennifer Le Zotte, visit the Author Page.


“A rich and timely cultural history of secondhand clothing.”--Business History Review

"From Goodwill to Grunge is an impressive and imaginative work of scholarship that will become essential reading for historians of capitalism, fashion, and consumer culture. " --American Historical Review

"Le Zotte's. . . vivid account of secondhand exchanges and styles compellingly demonstrates the significance of the material culture of dress in social, economic, and cultural history."  --Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty

“A welcome addition to the growing body of literature around used clothing, addressing the relative lack of material that examines the American secondhand market. A lively and readable text that makes an important contribution to scholarship in the area of cultural economy, this is a text that I will certainly recommend to students in the future.”--Journal of Dress History

“Accessible and highly readable, From Goodwill to Grunge is a long-awaited look at the secondhand clothing industry. Jennifer Le Zotte offers an important contribution to a vibrant and growing body of scholarship that considers clothing as a central part of American cultural history."--Deirdre Clemente, author of Dress Casual

"From Goodwill to Grunge tells the fascinating history of secondhand markets and their role in shaping American fashion and shopping economies. Jennifer Le Zotte skillfully recreates a world where luxury and thrift are two sides of the same coin for Americans and will make you nostalgic for the clothes you wish you still owned."--Tanisha Ford, author of Liberated Threads