Trying to figure out why I spend most of my disposable income (and sometimes a bit of my not-so-disposable income) on fashion.
I am so obsessed that I even watch videos of shoppers unpacking their own shopping bags to get a contact high from their purchases. I eat, sleep, and breathe outfit ideas, However I have the most fun sifting through the clothes that other people discard.
At first, I worried my addiction to thrifting was a character flaw. I believed I was trying to fill a void in my life by accumulating things I didn’t need. I thought I spent money in an effort to suppress an inferiority complex that had something to do with living in a lower socioeconomic bracket. I thought that if I could spend a little effort searching I could spend a fraction of the full price for an item that I might have missed during its season.
I took a break from thrift stores for a short time. But I found myself put off by department stores and conventional clothing retailers. I couldn’t visualize myself wearing the clothing on the racks or on the mannequins. Carrying an armload to the fitting room, I always felt the dread that my garments weren’t designed for me. I mean, why would they put my size at the end of the spectrum? It seemed like all the items in their collection were designed, priced, and marketed for someone else.
I found some comfort in online shopping. I could search by garment characteristics that most of my clothes shared. Strangely, not being able to try clothes on never posed a problem, because clothing items come with detailed descriptions and (usually) hundreds of consumer reviews.
I discovered how much I trusted clothing more when I knew someone else had purchased, tested, and approved it first. Clothes are artifacts of our civilization, and the rhetoric surrounding clothing pieces can be suffocating. I felt suffocated by the branding of clothing in conventional retail stores; and the mannequins’ empty faces emphasized the clothing’s alienating feel. It was impossible to visualize a garment after a wash or two or to imagine how it might crease around my joints at the end of the day.
I also felt the clothes I picked in department stores were picked for the wrong reasons. Maybe it looked good on the mannequin or in comparison to the rest of the collection. It could have been one of the more affordable items in the store. Sometimes I would buy clothing retail and then feel dwarfed by the brand—How is that style?
But the thrift store is a living, breathing collection of clothes. Someone brought this item into their home, and then shared their days with it. Some clothing is decades old: an embodiment of the materials, trends, and technology of its native era. Some clothing is timeless, a good design with evergreen fashion appeal. During my field research, I am learning evergreen fashion appeal is somewhat of an illusion, because clothing manufacturers will always tailor craftsmanship of staple items to fit current industry trends that change minutely with every season’s production.
I love exploring the other sections of a thrift store too. Nowhere else can you see what people use every day in their own homes. It’s an excavation of regretted purchases and discarded favorites—and usually the function and designs don’t really make a lot of sense. But it will make sense to whomever will purchase it second-hand and it made sense to whomever first took it out of the packaging. It also made sense to its designer, maker, marketer, and distributor. It’s amazing to see an item at this point in its product lifecycle, and to see its physical characteristics frozen in time and out of place.
New clothes still represent all the creative and economic thought and manpower that dedicated people put into them, but it’s just too hard for me to see past the marketing and branding to appreciate it. So now I am finally able to admit that I am obsessed with clothes. And I would rather sift through a grab bag of culture than envy a mannequin. Any day.