i saved this article from an old issue of bust magazine entitled “beautiful garbage, beautiful dresses” (shown above) because it really got me thinking about the subjective nature of value when it comes to clothing, where our clothing comes from, and how perception plays into what we choose to buy and where we choose to buy the things we wear/consume.
lauri apple, the woman featured in the article, is (was?) a NYC-based law student who made a habit of wearing things she found on the streets of new york. when i was living in san francisco, i used to see a LOT of piles of discarded clothes on the streets. not just now and again, but with a startling regularity…just piles and piles of clothing, everywhere.
every single time i saw those piles of abandoned clothing, i would think back to the article above.
i think the idea of wearing found clothing (i.e., clothes that may be now considered “garbage,” clothing found on the street, clothing not purchased in an approved manner (new, from a retail store, etc.) is somewhat of a subversive act. i’d postulate that most folks would find the act of wearing found (“garbage”) clothing abhorrent.
i feel as if thrifting clothing is one step up from this trash level, to some degree, for some people. or at least it was, up until it became more acceptable in recent years. example: my dear mother really doesn’t like shopping at thrift stores, but she will buy used things from garage sales. i wonder if this is because the past of the item is unknown, and could be something unsavory? am i right, mom? but when you know whom you are buying from, perhaps it’s somehow “different”? is the anonymity of the item, the mystery of it’s former life, too much to bear, too much of a risk? what if it’s been used/abused in a really nasty way? what if it’s all germy?? eeek, you say?!
does knowing the source of an item make it easier to adopt it and use it, for some folks? is the provenance of an item important, or does it really matter? is it all in our minds?
i believe that that there is a perception amongst many, real or not, that “new” things are somehow cleaner and have no history. which may or may not be true, if you think about it…it’s likely that even a “new” item passed through many hands, and travelled many miles, through what some may consider less savory locales, before reaching you. for starters.
i think the real issue here, with wearing found or used clothing, is perception, and also, value, concepts which are, to a great degree, inherently subjective. one person may rabidly champion wearing “garbage”, eschewing any culturally entrenched negative associations with such a practice, claiming that after a thorough cleaning, such items, in general, are in fact no different than items bought “clean” but secondhand, or even items that have been purchased brand “new”. conversely, others might have a real, visceral distaste for even the very idea of wearing found or even secondhand clothing (from thrifts, garage sales, or even or friends and relatives), believing it’s past or current state to have tainted that object, haunting it forever, and making it unsuitable for continued use.
thing is, these ideas about the savory or unsavory source of our clothing, or any clothing, or really, any object, are merely perceptions. they are subjective notions. in truth, not many other people would, in most cases, be able to discern whether another individual is wearing found clothing, secondhand clothing, or new clothing, at first glance/without further information from and/or questioning of the wearer.
in the article, lauri apple claims that she only rescues things she needs, or really likes, and that she won’t in fact just take and wear any old thing she wrests from the gutter. she has her own set of rules, things she won’t even bother resucing (severely damaged items, as well as underwear and socks are absolute no-go’s for her, too intimate). designer items in good condition are her favored finds. and when she gets her found items home, she washes them thoroughly using a process that sort of “sanitizes” the items, cleaning them to a level that she feels is sufficient for wear (said process involves a prolonged soak in steaming hot water, for starters).
and then there’s the idea of value: most clothing has a real, but often subjective value. a designer good, something made of a fine fiber, might convince a passer-by to pick up a piece of clothing that has found it’s way into the trash or that has accidentally found a fate that made it fall into the street or on to the sidewalk, but something cheap and ubiquitous might continue to founder where it lie. so much the better if it fits and launders nicely. additionally, value can be applied to what one actually, factually needs: if something is laying there and it has value in that it can clothe a body, keep it warm and protected from the elements, then it may have some real value.
this is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to discussions of the intersection of value and (wearable) product…
question time, feel free to elaborate!:
-how do you feel about “used” clothing? how do you feel about “new” clothing? is “new” preferable to “used”?
-would you, could you, or have you worn clothing or other items you found, items that might be “garbage” in the eyes of others?
-where do you draw the line when it comes to clothing? are there certain categories of used clothing that you cannot bear to buy or wear? things like underwear or shoes? what bothers you about these items, specifically?
-do you know or care where your clothing comes from? does it bother you to know someone has worn something before you, or that your clothing has had another life, or even lives, with other people? or is that a selling point for you, when it comes to clothing?
-are you more likely to pick something up if it seems “expensive”? or if it suits your aesthetic?
–what’s that label? why, it’s a mongo: a 2006 article from the NYT about lauri apple
–look what she found: a wardrobe — if these clothes look familiar, maybe you abandoned them: another article, this one from 2007, about ms. apple and others like her, from the chicago tribune
–foundclothing: a (now) abandoned flickr group started by apple, for others to add photos of their found finds…
–foundclothing.typepad.com: according to it’s author, it is “a web site dedicated to all of the clothing items and accessories originally abandoned to the waste stream, but saved from the landfills by me and other finders”…to which YOU could contribute…
–current TV: haiti’s ‘pepe’ (aka secondhand clothing) market: a post i did a while back about “pepe” in haiti — how secondhand goods are used and percieved in that island nation…