(not so) random links

this week, some tales (and troubles) concerning thrifts, thrifting and thriftiness:

-according to the NYT, in poland, style comes used and by the pound. apparently, buying and wearing second-hand clothing was once looked down upon by the hip folk in that formerly communist eastern european nation…they allegedly once eschewed used goods with much distain, instead favoring new, designer threads that suggested wealth (when there was little to go around). nowadays young poles, living and thriving in a more burgeoning economy (at least compared to the old days) are following in the footsteps of trendy city dwellers worldwide, and are deigning to dig through the stacks and racks at their local thrift (or thrift store equivalent)…and are sporting secondhand duds with pride. funny how times and perceptions change, when it comes to matters of culture and clothing.

i’m an old gal: i just reached the ripe old age of 33 this past summer. i can remember when secondhand shopping was considered really gross and distasteful, and looked down upon by most. back in the late 80s, early 90s when i was a teen obsessed with vintage clothing, the act of wearing said “vintage” clothing was at the time considered really alternative and subversive, at least where i grew up…in the steamy, sunny, all-american suburbs of central florida. if you wore old, used things, you were considered, at best, a freak…and most people probably assumed that if you bought and wore such garments, you were poor. if you had money then, you bought brand new things, natch!: reebok high tops! guess jeans! bennetton sweaters! it wasn’t until the late 1990s, i feel, that thrifting, and vintage clothing became a more mainstream trend…it’s when i noticed the practice getting lip service in the media (magazines, television, the internet, and so forth). times are so different now than they once were.

so, i’m curious:

-anyone else of a similar or earlier vintage to myself remember when wearing old clothes here in the states was not so chic? why was this so?

-did the bull market of recent years past encourage experimentation clothing-wise in a mainstream sense? in other words, when the economy is good, are people more willing to experiment? do people feel free to eschew expensive items when they have the luxury of choice? if we do indeed fall firmly into a recession or depression, will the wearing of old things again become something disdainful, or will the burgeoning commitment to wearing green (as a worldwide trend) keep the secondhand buying and wearing in vogue for years to come?

on a related note:

those secondhand clothing stores many of us have grown to love to pilfer paw through are sadly no longer packed with racks and racks of nice, quality old threads, ripe for the picking. these days, said stores are brimming with tons of barely worn, chintzy castoffs from discount fast fashion retailers such as primark, wal-mart, target, and the like. such clothes were little more than trash from the get-go, treated as if they were, for all intents and purposes, disposable, by the manufacturer *and* the consumer. but the trouble is, said clothes aren’t as disposable as they seem…they are in deplorable condition almost from the first wearing, and as one might guess, they hold little to no value with regard to recycling and resale.

according to the times online:

textiles have become the fastest-growing waste product in the UK. about 74 per cent of those two million tonnes of clothes we buy each year end up in landfills, rotting slowly (or not at all) in a mass of polyester, viscose and acrylic blends.

a very small percentage of said used clothing is considered sellable in the developed world…but the rest of that crappy, cheaply made clothing is baled up, sold wholesale, and then shipped by the boatload to developing nations (africa, eastern europe, etc.).

some of it gets reborn in products like those made by companies like kilakitu (they fashion fabulously stylish shirts and such out of the aforementioned castoffs that have been sent to africa)…

but what the people of those developing nations cannot or do not use, ends up in the landfills of those nations, basically rotting away (if it’s able to rot at all!). out of sight and mind, then (at least to us), eh? wear it once, ditch it, and never think about it again…on a national, and really, global, level.

makes me wonder:

-why do companies even shill that junky crap to begin with? oh yes, greed. but, why do we buy it? why has quality become a forgotten virtue when it comes to matters of clothing, pushed to the wayside by the desperate pursuit of quantity? hasn’t the notion of more over less, for less gotten old and out of favor yet? or will such persist in the face of further stretching one’s precious and rare dollars/pounds/euros/yen/etc.?

i’m pointing the finger at us all (myself included!) when i question the way it is, and the way it could be:

-why can’t we or why don’t we in the affluent west make a real effort to live with less? why can’t there be more of a widespread trend to try to wear the same thing over and over, but…in a creative way, mixing it all up in a cool way each time so’s it looks different? perhaps those who keep their closets carefully and crisply edited, and cunningly curated should be loudly lauded, in lieu of the current trend to congratulate conspicuous consumption? media (blogs included!), get on that, won’t you?

i really the sentiment behind this quote from the same article (said by a supposed supermodel here in the states):

“female celebrities need to demonstrate that it’s possible to be happy while wearing the same thing,” he says. “it’s where we were 20 years ago. lives weren’t ruined by lack of clothes. it’s a habit that we could break.

if we spent exactly double the amount of money on each garment and bought exactly half as many garments, nobody would be impoverished by that.”

see also: talk is cheap: the new thrift (via the new york times), wherein rob walker questions the “new” trend, frugality, and it’s relationship to the old and allegedly now outre trend, hyperconsumerism.


the quicke and dirtee:

-model elyse sewell is hilarious. her blog is one of my new favorite online reads, mostly because i dig her sick/black sense of humor. she now resides and works in china, and her view into daily life in that country is fascinating. i had no idea who she was until like, last week, having not ever been a viewer (or fan) of america’s next top model

-thrift town, my favorite thrift store here in SF, has a myspace page. who knew? (not me obviously…)

-for a seasonally appropriate laugh, see this round-up of fugly holiday sweaters over at list of the day. *snort* (thanks to my husband for sending that linky my way!)

-i agree with dreamecho, danish streetstyle site gademode is, as she stated recently, deliciously different than the usual suspects in said blogging category.

-an article on the phenom of street style blogging, and the alleged best of the best in that category, from the new york times.

i wanna ask: do you look at street style sites merely for the eye candy, or do you use the inspiration found within to literally inform what you wear (i.e., do you copy what you see piecemeal or wholesale)? am i alone in just liking to look but not aspiring to replicate what i see exactly, if at all? the trend (from what i see in perusing blogs) suggests most have a penchant for the former…


  1. Frida

    Answer to some of your questions:

    I don’t really try to consume less, but the things I buy are almost exclusively of good quality and are worn with love for a long time. Sometimes I find an old garment that I haven’t worn for a long time, and suddenly it feels like I have something new! I like to have long time relationships with my clothes, I want them to be my friends forever. But I don’t know why quality isn’t considered to be better than quantity. I do my best to try to spread the word.

    On the subject of street style sites, it’s eye candy to me. If there’s ever somethings that’s copied, it’s the subconscious that’s doing it.

  2. Pingback: Who Benefits? | 3stylelife
  3. Sal

    I’ll be turning 32 in less than a month, and DO remember a time when thrifting was stigmatized. My guess is that, since socially accepted styles were far more narrowly defined back then, buying used just fell outside the comfort zone. I know this kind of polarization still exists now in middle- and high-schools, but I think it was more severe back in the 80s. (Think, don’t know for sure.)

    As for the whole rampant, wasteful consumerism problem, I think that “supposed supermodel” might be onto something. If more celebs – they who stoke the fires of fashion – were to advocate less-is-more, wear their clothes more than once, and speak out about wastefulness, people might listen. We certainly aren’t listening to each other …

  4. Ally

    Such a great post. You touch on so many things I think about every day as I get dressed.

    I grew up when it was easy to find amazing things in thrift stores. Wearing second hand was already hip for a small section of the populace in Chicago, though in 85 you were as you say a freak for wearing castoffs– when I moved to SoCal wearing second hand was a style explosion that really inspired me.

    Thrift shopping in London isn’t happening. Good stores know they are good and charge as much, more than I can afford. There are no discoveries, no room to play. Most of the stuff around where I live is full of throwaway crap priced the same as when it was new.

    The Primark phenomenon scares me. I’ve gone in, tempted by some of the styles, and walked out when I saw how badly they were made. I have no closet space, so living in London has really become a meditation on what possessions I can afford to live with, space wise. I can’t really afford to buy a bunch of disposable things. When I look at my wardrobe, it’s the splurges I don’t regret.

  5. Shay

    Yes, bad quality throwaway clothing in thrift shops has definitely been on my mind recently – there is far too much stuff that is simply unwearable – extremely pilled, mis-shapen, paper thin, badly dyed and faded, worn to nothing. Part of the problem is the recent drive to manufacture very “on trend” items (H&M) at very low costs so they last a season before the wearer is bored of them. Funnily enough you can find these items in barely worn condition in thrift shops often too….But I don’t think they’ll last long enough to be considered vintage in another decade!! A lot of clothing made in the 80’s and particularly the 90’s was poorly constructed as well, I don’t think this is a new problem in many ways…

    I remember when thrifting was very un-cool as well, and I never told anyone I did it! But it’s always been one of my favorite pastimes, I started going with my parents as a small child. Honestly, I often wish it was still uncool, as the thrift shops are so picked over by people who don’t necessarily need the financial helping hand that thrifting provides. The local thrift shop in the town I grew up in for example, frequently has a parking lot full of luxury vehicles…

  6. Nadia Lewis

    I’m 25 and I’ve spent my life thrifting: in elementary school because we were lower-middle, in high school as a cheap way to explore my eccentric style and in university because I was poorpoorpoor and hated the mall.

    What I find interesting is that while thrifting gets exalted for being the green and cheap solution — as though thrifters are redeeming the mistakes of mall shoppers — people who thrift don’t really seem to be buying any less than their mall counterparts (at least the ones I know); rather, their consumerism gets whitewashed by the new green “save the planet” discourse. It’s just that mall shoppers get to brag about labels and newness and thrift shoppers get to brag about low prices and uniqueness.

    For myself, I’ve gotten exhausted of always hunting for new pieces and the upkeep of a large wardrobe either by mall or thrift store. I found it fun to buy a lot of clothes for cheap, wear them, send them back when I got bored, but lately, I just don’t have the time, space or energy. When I was rich in time, I could spend all Saturday in a thrift shop and my weeknights trying them on and mending/washing/trading/remixing them. Now, I just want pieces that work together.

    Right now, I’ve chosen two neutrals (brown and gray) and two colours (pink and green) to make a small, tight wardrobe out of. I like fashion, but I don’t have it in me to play in the major leagues. I just want to min/max the wardrobe game by having versatile pieces that can give me the largest range of options with the smallest number of pieces. I’m using Lucky’s shopping guide book to think about what I really need in each category: skirt, dress, pants, etc. I’m spinning, knitting, sewing, buying and thrifting pieces I will love and keep for years.

    Woah! Long rant. Sorry about that. šŸ™‚

  7. Jenn

    While I don’t remember thrift stores being heavily stigmatized while I was growing up (I’m 28 now), it certainly wasn’t something that people were necessarily eager to advertise. The only time it was advertised, at least in my experience, was usually by people who were into grunge and relied on thrift stores for flannel shirts and old jeans. At the time, when I shopped at thrift stores I think it was pretty obvious, since I didn’t really look like anyone else, but I don’t recall ever feeling all that uncomfortable about it, other than my general differences from people in my school. I loved it though, and gradually managed to build up my own look from thrift store finds, rather than just buying and wearing whatever was cheap.

    I still shop at thrift stores – mostly because I love it, but also because grad school doesn’t pay all that well. I find there’s a lot more cheap stuff out there now at somewhat questionable prices for a thrift – I walk out with a lot less these days than I used to. I don’t buy anything other than socks and underwear new, but even when I’m buying from a thrift store I try to buy good, well made pieces that will last, so I’m not spending money and cluttering up my apartment with things that aren’t good quality. This really makes the pickings pretty slim once I remove the badly made stuff from the equation, but it also means that I can keep clothes for a long time, so I’m never in dire need of something for my wardrobe (although wanting is another matter altogether).

    As for style blogs, I read the odd one here and there, but it’s more about inspiration than anything else. While I may see looks that I like, at the most I’ll borrow a colour cobmination or something similar from them – I don’t have any interest in flat-out imitation of someone else’s look.

  8. Christine

    I’m 40, so a bit more vintage, and in the ’80s it was not cool at all to thrift in the popular high school set. My friend’s mother actually bought thrift clothes to put the labels into new off brand clothes for my friend. When I went to college I learned about thrift stores and even better, “curb shopping” (which I still do, altho I tell people I found things at a thrift store because my kids get embarrassed when I tell people I found their clothes in the trash – but sheesh! The things people throw out! Especially on the military base because they move so often – I reclaim the clothes and sell the really good ones at a consignment store).

    In the new economy I think currently thrifting is seen as a good thing to do – but I agree there is a lot more junk there than there used to be. I think some of the clothes never even get bought, they are donated after they don’t sell. And still people don’t buy them. I’ve also noticed that in many thrift stores (especially the Salvation Army) things that used to be great deals are now priced as much as it costs to buy things new – a blazer that used to be $5 is now $25. That’s just crazy, man.

    And as for why things are cheap? Another thing to blame on Walmart.

  9. sarah

    yes, I remember the stigma; I wonder if part of the increasing appeal of vintage was the drive to find something new/different during the boom of the 90s. As expendable income increased and luxury goods became more accessible, perhaps the previously-snubbed “vintage” option became a way for starlets and fashionistas to differentate themselves from the crowd? I’m not sure…

    Why do companies keep making crap? Well. If people stop buying it, perhaps they’ll stop. But that means that humankind needs to break a cycle of greed, or at least that conspicuous (over)consumption needs to become passe. Who knows? Maybe the economic downturn WILL result in just this paradigm shift – I am cynical that it will be a long-term effect, but I do know that the shoe-repair business is up these days and that retail sales are down….

    As to street style blogs, no, I don’t imitate. For one thing, there are many looks that I can appreciate on others that I don’t like on myself, or that don’t fit my lifestyle and career goals. However, I suspect that over time, most things we consume visually leave a trace – while this isn’t really imitation per se, I’d wager that these sites have affected my style somehow. To take one example, I think your colourful life and the experimentation I witness on w_r has encouraged me to play with and incorporate more colour and pattern into my daily wear. For the most part, though, I just like to look and look and look.

  10. Stacy

    I remember those sad days when thrifting was weird! I was the only one in middle school and high school who thrifted and wore vintage other than as a joke. There was so much brand consciousness then, without it being super high-end luxury brands as it is now.I also think that emerging from the recession period of the 70’s – early 80’s pushed an acquisitive/competitive feeling. All of those brat pack films…to John Hughes’ credit, Andie in Pretty in Pink inspired me waaay back in 3rd grade. Whenever I got funny looks in the school halls for my mod dresses and colored tights, I smugly smiled inside because it reinforced my Molly Ringwald fantasy!

  11. tandsm

    When I was young we couldn’t afford to shop at expensive stores and I always felt ashamed next to the other kids who were wearing clothes from the Gap but then there were the times when I got something great and people couldn’t believe I’d found it at a thrift store. I’m grateful that there were thrift stores to shop at at a low price and because it has helped nurture my love of thrift stores and finding treasures and things that nobody else thinks are wearable and working it into a fabulous outfit. I know what you mean about finding clothes from popular stores, if I wanted to buy things from Walmart or Target I would go to those places. I’d much rather thrift something vintage and interesting that nobody else will have.
    Anyway, thanks for the info. These are some great thoughts

  12. Mary

    I think clothing started going downhill, quality-wise, in the late 80’s, (also when things started getting really fugly overall, in my opinion) when globaliazation started to hit harder- if you look at old labels you’ll see that “Made in the USA” tags start disappearing around that time.

    Of course, now we’ve really reached a new low. People used to think about quality because they didn’t own that much, so what they had had to last, but now there is cheap stuff everywhere so quality becomes a non-issue. It really is depressing, and the fact that we also ship all this stuff overseas is terrible, not only for ecological reasons, but because people in other countries are probably forgoing locally made, perhaps culturally significant clothing for something from Wal-Mart.

    I guess I mainly look at streetstyle blogs to see how people work/are victimized by the current trends. I am definitely inspired sometimes, but I find the majority of them to be like 10,000 pictures of the same person.

    When I was in earlyish middle school, I was sooooo embarrassed that my mom shopped at Goodwill. I was, like, terrified someone would find out. Even though I agree thrift-shopping is getting increasingly socially acceptable, it’s depends so much on class in general. It’s one thing for a some deisgner’s “muse” in Vogue to be like, “Oh, I pair my thrifted blouse with these Chloe pants” and another thing for someone who thrifts because it’s the only option within their budget. It’s still supposed to be a quirky supplement, not the source of all your clothing.

    Oh man, do yourself a favor and rent the first season of ANTM! Elyse is completely amazing on it.

  13. jennine

    oh tricia, i’m the same age as you, and yeah, i remember being made fun of for shopping at ‘goodwill’ even though i never shopped there, because there were better/cheaper thrift stores in my town. for me, i did it first because of financial reasons but i just continued because i like the clothes… i love vintage, but often times the stuff i pick up at thrift stores aren’t vintage. like i remeber less than a year after h&m opened in san francisco, i was seeing h&m clothes flooding the thrift stores.

    buying secondhand is still the greenest way to stay clothed. the whole sustainable movement is great, but i think there should be more focus on reusing clothes, and reconstructing whatever you can. this holiday i made everyone gifts reconstructed from sweaters i got at the fleamarket. it was actually really hard to find wool and cotton swetaers, almost everything is synthetic.

  14. ambika

    As a child, we went to Value Village because we were poor. & we never talked about it because it was an insult to be so poor that you needed to shop there. In high school, with the explosion of grunge, it suddenly seemed like you couldn’t hit up a thrift store without running into half a dozen high school & college kids.

    I agree with the commenter who said the thrifters are consuming just as much as the retail shoppers–it’s stopped being about making do with less & just about saving money & supposedly being original.

  15. midoritsuru

    You raise so many timely and essential questions here, it’s hard to choose which one to address first!

    You’re right, the quality of thrift has generally gone down, unfortunately. However, you could also look at that situation as having rewarding folks ahead of the curve, which is a good thing, I think. In terms of the quality of the clothing as it’s been manufactured recently, I wouldn’t argue that it’s mostly schmattes. However, I think any raw material can be made into a high-quality product. I believe all that schmattes can still be useful, but not necessarily in its current incarnation. That’s where everyday crafty entrepreneurs come in. In any case, we’ll eventually have to work with what whatever we’ve got!

    Concerning why remixing isn’t a widerspread trend, I say, give it time! I do believe that’s in our future, if only because it’s healthy and an everyday application of creativity, which is what makes life fun. At least for me :o)

    Finally, street style: I enjoy it on several levels. On one level I enjoy the actual items some people wear, like a gigantic mohair sweater, knee-high Doc Martens or a nice, crisp bow tie. On another level I enjoy imagining what that individual’s style may be, since any snap is just a moment in time. For all I know that person could have worn something completely different the day before. And then I enjoy the blogger’s eye, trying to gather a sense of their aesthetic based on what they deem interesting enough to share. I am so glad there are more street style blogs than there were even two years ago.

    I’m with you in hoping that the new year will see the end of mindless consumption. I also hope that conscious living will become a widespread trend!

  16. vasiliisa

    In fact I should thanks the 1990’s recession for making me thrifter. Before that, thrifting was much more uncommon in Finland. I certainly can’t say what the attitudes were, because I didn’t even know anyone who thrifted. When the ecomony collapsed, there were suddenly thrift stores everywhere, and people learned to shop at them. Then it was a necessity – now second hand has become rather trendy as well. I hope that if a new recession is evident, it will at least help thrift stores flourish.

    However, I do think thrifting can also be a part of the consumerism problem and not the solution. People learn to think that dumping stuff at thrift stores is a honourable way of getting rid of old clothes when you get bored with them and want to buy new ones. In result, way too many cheap disposable clothes are brought to charities and thrifts, and what we see is just the top of the iceberg.

  17. elliebelle

    You ask great questions! I often struggle with the inner demons of cheap fashion. For me, I know a lot of why I buy in excess is more of a body image issue, rather than trying to have the next best thing. I see advertisements or blogs or whatever, with someone looking beautiful and chic, and I fall for it – I want whatever that person has. And when some of the products are inexpensive it becomes very difficult to pass up. I always feel like this one piece will complete my wardrobe! It never does of course, and then I’m on to the next thing. It becomes a difficult thing to curb – and since we are all bombarded with fashion images all the time, how can you resist the temptation? This year I am vowing to try to stop so much of the purchasing of throwaway fashion and sew more of my own clothes that will allow me to feel great in! So there’s my two cents. šŸ™‚ I really liked your post!

  18. kasia

    reading this i remembered something from a magazine like elle or cosmopolitan that i read in early highschool, so maybe 8 years ago: a comment in an article along the lines of ‘wearing jeans that someone else wore? eww, gross!’
    now mainstream magazines are featuring stylish girls who are wearing those secondhand jeans, so there is a different attitude clearly visible today. at the same time, i can think of friends who never got into thrifting who would still be disgusted by it.

    interesting post, lots of things to think about

  19. laura

    here in germany, second-hand-shopping is still not considered chic by most. many people think old clothes are loathsome and they dislike the fact that someone has worn them before – especially when it comes to clothes that are worn directly on the skin. i, however, am of the same opinion as you: we have to rethink our habits. i try to buy less clothes and make more things myself (out of new & old materials), because i’ve noticed that i love my handmade clothes more. the reason might be that i have to think about what i want the garment to look like again and again during the making process and that it fits better. in addition, i shop for vintage clothing that i change.

    i hope the depression doesn’t make people buy more cheap things, but change their attitude. it would be great if people started to buy less things that have a better quality, could be worn for a longer time and repaired or reworked afterwards and buy more vintage clothes instead of new.

    most of the time, i only look at streetfashion websites for the eyecandy. however, i also save pictures with beautiful clothes in my “sew it yourself some day”-folder now and then.

  20. Phalla

    I purchase almost equal parts crappy commercial clothing, high end clothing and thrifted/vintage clothing alike. It does depress me sometimes to see the lack of thought that a lot of girls put into their wardrobes lately, pouncing on the stretchiest, shiniest item they can get their hands on and blending in with the crowd. Even at the age of 24 I to have really seen a rapid deterioration of the great things I used to find in thrift stores really become taken over by commercial castoffs. Overall I think a lot of people don’t understand the big difference there is between used thrift store clothing and actual vintage. Anyway, I thought you might enjoy this video I saw on Current a while ago. It showcases where a ton of our discarded American clothes go and the ‘pepe’ or “secondhand’ phenomenon that those items have in Haiti. http://current.com/items/88838892/pepe_secondhand.htm

  21. Pingback: current TV: haiti’s ‘pepe’ (aka secondhand clothing) market | bits and bobbins
  22. bART

    I find these discussions really interesting. It was one of the reasons I started Kilakitu in Kenya. There was such a surplus of cast off clothes which were still perfectly great fabrics. Viewed purely from a utilitarian use – we could make new clothes from this surplus. Then it became an art to try and fashion unlikely combinations. Our first 58 shirts were such a huge success because people liked them enough to buy them! Our tailors and models and so excited to keep trying and trying and creating. There is a certain spirit to our work which I feel so privileged to be a part of. I must say, I can feel the same spirit in your work. Wishing you all the best!

    bART from kilakitu clothing

  23. bART

    ps – we tried to make a cowgirl dress for the ladies and learnt that its not an easy endeavour at all! http://www.kilakituclothing.com/cowgirls.php – we decided to put the idea on hold until we get our guys clothing running steady. Our lady friends (pictured) told us they wouldn’t actually buy a dress online without being able to try it on – whats your policy on buying online?