Thrifting Tips

Buying Thrifted Uniforms: Should You or Shouldn’t You?

There are some items at the thrift store that are so original and so unique they can’t help but catch my eye. I feel this way about thrifted uniforms, any floral day dress that just happens to include pockets, a gorgeous blazer with perfect stitching (preferably Pendleton) or a piece of authentic, vintage Fiestaware in the home goods section.

However, let’s discuss that first category a little farther. When it comes to personal style, not everyone pictures herself rocking a 1960s cheerleading uniform on the daily, even if it is downright adorable. I cheered for 15 years myself and that’s why I zoned in on this piece. Still, even I’ll admit I wasn’t quite sure what I was thinking when I bought it. Well, back up. I’ll tell you what I was thinking. It was nearing Halloween and I was in the height of my Etsy reseller days. I just knew it would appeal to someone who was planning to dress up as a cheerleader for the big day. Sure enough, it sold within hours.

So, I started looking for thrifted uniforms every time I went to the thrift store. I found the most adorable little schoolchild blazers, navy blue with gold buttons on the cuffs. I found a very old nurse uniform, complete with a little pillbox hat a’la Jackie O. I also found a biker uniform that I could never pull off, but I’m sure was meant for someone else. Then, one day during my lunch break, I stumbled upon what I thought was the perfect piece. It was a throwback airline stewardess uniform from what appeared to be the 1940s or 1950s.

Had I just bought the uniform for my own personal use, I may have been just fine. However, ever the young entrepreneur that I was, I decided to post the thrifted uniform on my shop. I couldn’t figure out why it was stalling in the sales department, especially after the others had gone so quickly. Then, a well-meaning shopper pointed it out to me.

In a personal message, she explained that while the actual uniform design in question is no longer in rotation at the airline, many of the elements on it, from the emblems to the stitching and design, still were. Moreover, we’re at a time in our society when security is highly prioritized at the airport. The idea that someone could wear that uniform and, to an unsuspecting eye, pass as an attendant and even board a plane without credentials, was concerning. She suggested I remove the item from my shop immediately.

I did so without looking back and I’m so relieved that someone caught and pointed out my mistake before the item sold. If I’d been notified after the fact, I would have spent countless hours worrying about whether or not the item was used for good or malintent, what the outcome was, and whether or not I needed to bring in legal backup to cover myself!

At the end of the day, the message is that thrifting is all about personal expression. There’s nothing like stumbling upon that hidden gem that’s perfectly “you.” If that means you’re walking down the street rocking a cheerleading uniform from four decades ago, you do you! (I actually think the skirt alone could look downright amazing with a white button-down and some flats, or the top could be worn with some high-waisted jeans. It’s all about vision!)

But, think twice about buying a thrifted uniform that’s associated with someone in a position of authority. That includes police officers, firemen, EMTs, and yes, pilots and airline officials. While these outfits might work fine for a private Halloween party, they could cause confusion if worn out in public, and that’s one type of attention you don’t want to receive for expressing yourself. So, stick with the recreational looks, throw on a shiny red lip, and wear that uniform with pride!