The Rewards of Shopping for Fashion From A Dump

“I used to be ashamed of my secret. But I’m ready to come clean…When I was a fledgling fashion editor, living broke in New York, the dump was my secret.” V. Hyland, The New York Times, May 4, 2022

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Credit- Illustration by Dana Robinson


Excerpt: I’m a Fashion Editor, and I Shop at the Dump, By Véronique Hyland, The New York Times, May 4, 2022

“Or at least, it was a secret in New York. On the summer trips I made to small-town Massachusetts, the dump there was an agora of junk, a festival of refuse — the local newspaper listed what was new and hot, and people gathered just to gossip and shoot the breeze. I’ve never been bold enough to fish directly from the dump’s central piles of rusted castoffs.

But its Swap Shop — a tiny cottage — had come to serve as a free boutique of sorts, and there I discovered many items of weird delight, including a pair of sky blue clogs that could pass for Rachel Comey, and a circa-1970s Gucci scarf, patterned with leaping zebras, that earned me compliments at Paris Fashion Week…I loved the Swap Shop, and not only because everything was free. When I walked into curated, antiseptic boutiques, I felt starved for novelty…As the years went by, and the 1 percent inched closer to making up 100 percent of the town’s population, the summer people began to drop off some jarringly pristine items. I’ve dug out perfectly wearable A.P.C. sweaters and COS shirts, and a family friend told me about finding a Ferragamo bag with leftover cash inside it…Making new things out of others’ castoffs is something small-town America has done for decades, in a sort of municipal precursor to Free cycle or Buy Nothing groups. The importance of sharing resources became increasingly clear as the Covid-19 pandemic raged. For more and more people, getting free stuff from neighbors went from being a quirk, or a fun excuse for a day’s outing, to being a necessary form of mutual aid.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 60 minutes.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

 Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer

Directions: Examine the title of the post and of the actual article. Next examine  any photos. Write a paragraph describing what you think this article will discuss. A pre-reading organizer may be used.

Pre-reading chart by J. Swann


II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Try to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. You use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. I used to be ashamed of my secret. But I’m ready to come clean.
  2. The tag dated  the garment to the last millennium.
  3. Extravagantly sturdy, it had the air of what magazines might call an investment piece.
  4. My friend sitting next to me at a New York Fashion Week event inquired about its provenance.
  5. My coat was from the dump.
  6. When I was a fledgling fashion editor, the dump was my secret.
  7. I’ve never been bold enough to fish directly from the dump’s central piles of rusted castoffs.
  8. Luxury brands that once destroyed unsold merchandise are now thinking of ways to reinvent it.
  9. I began thrifting and scrounging my way to some semblance of personal style.
  10. Salvage and resale have become antidotes to the conveyor belt of fast fashion.


Grammar Focus: Word -Recognition

Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.

When I began thrifting/thrift and scrounging mine/my way to some semblance of personnel/personal style, there/their was/were still something shameful about admit/admitting that your/you’re clothes has/had a past/pass, unknowable-to-you life. Ive/I’ve spent/spend a decade and a half covering fashion.


Reading Comprehension Fill-ins

Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences  taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

(I’m Elle’s fashion features ___now), and ___that time I’ve seen the___ awakening to sustainability and reuse. ___brands that once ___and even___unsold ___are now thinking of ways to ___it.

WORD LIST: reinvent, merchandise, burned, destroyed, Luxury,  over, industry, director


Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Have  students discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards,  students share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.

  1. Have you ever looked for clothes in a dumpster? If yes, did you find any good items?
  2. Make a list of questions that you would like to ask the author.
  3. List three new ideas  that you’ve learned about the topic from the reading,  two things that you did not understand in the reading, and one thing you  would like to know that the article did not mention.  Share your responses with your class.