October 21, 2015

LEUNG | Popping Tags

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“You go thrift store shopping? That’s so cool. You have to take me!”

I would always hesitate after this exclamation in high school, and it was not from being caught in a lie — I am, indeed, an avid thrifter. The hesitation came from thinking whether or not to respond with, “Yes, of course!” or, “Would you still want to come with me after knowing what it’s really like? Do you enjoy the smell of alcohol that  workers use to cover the stench of wreaking clothes, the traffic jam of women over 65 blocking the aisles and the severed heads of dolls and dirty wigs that hang off the racks? Do you like clothes that your grandpa wore when he was 15 years old then forgot to wash and hid in the back of his closet and finally decided to give to a thrift store, not because he had outgrown them but because he was accused of hoarding — no, you don’t want to anymore? Why ever not?”

Okay, so I exaggerate. If thrift shopping was as horrible and traumatic an experience as I described, I wouldn’t be a 5-year-and-counting thrift shopper. Coming from a high school where almost every girl was decked out in Free People, Urban Outfitters and stores alike, it felt like a rare occurrence when someone would thrift shop. Conformity reigned, and when people found out I enjoyed something other than spending countless hours at the King of Prussia Mall, they were either impressed or repulsed that my eclectic fashion style was — and continues to be — scavenged from the mysterious, unknown, unspeakable depths of a thrift store.

The thrift store is glorified. The more I’ve heard my peers back home talk about it, the more I believe their idea of a thrift store is racks of perfectly distressed denim shorts, oversized plaid shirts and vintage overalls. Young, hip, counter-culture kids frolic through the aisles.  Some “vintage shops” fit these stereotypes, but the majority of genuine thrift shops do not.

Consequently, when people ask to thrift with me, I’m instantly wary. Thrift shops are a compilation of the new, old, pretty and ugly. Racks are replete with clothes and usually divided by color and size. Some are holey, some still have their tags attached. There are sections of books, movies, glassware and home decor. Large paintings and frames line the wall. Young, old, male and female fill the store. There is no specific “type” of person who shops.  And I think that’s why I find thrift shopping so incredible. Although it may not be for everyone, anyone can. There are no limitations, no specific age group or “style” the store caters to. Thrift shops aren’t automatically “hip,” and that’s something people don’t seem to understand. I once brought a friend with me to a thrift store and she automatically started looking for brand name clothing (which I found quite ironic). Another friend of mine found only plain basics to be appealing. I, personally, am obsessed with 80’s-esque sweaters and worn denim.

The reason I thrift is simple: You never know what you’re going to find. And that’s the thrill of it. Sometimes I search the racks and end up with absolutely nothing. Other times I hit the jackpot. When everything is thrown together on the same racks, I’m not influenced by brands or trends. I simply select articles of clothing that fit my own individual style. Other perks include the vibe of 70’s classics or old Katy Perry tunes playing through the speakers, the conversations with random strangers (“Oh, dear, you would look so cute in that little thing! When I was your age…”), and, of course, the cheap prices.

In a culture where corporations unfairly mark up their prices, supporting stores that give back to their communities is becoming increasingly important.

Thrifting has become a way to recycle clothing. With an overabundance of material goods in the world, and a pressure to consume as much as you can as fast as you can, thrift stores create a cycle where clothing can be exchanged from one person to another, without the need for more production (where sweatshops and underpaid workers are usually involved). I find it strangely comforting that clothes that were made decades ago are still being circulated today. I remember a few months ago I bought a striped “Bugle Boy” T-shirt at a thrift shop. When my dad saw the shirt he laughed and said, “I had a pair of Bugle Boy shorts when I was young!” When we got home, he rummaged in his closet until he found them. The logo on his shorts and my T-shirt were identical.

I will always hesitate when a friend exclaims, “You have to take me thrift shopping!” While Macklemore has made thrift shopping more well-known and acceptable, the idea of what a thrift store is like is still skewed for many. And although it may not be for the faint of heart, or the people accustomed to the pristine stores of shopping malls, thrifting is, without a doubt, a modern treasure-hunting experience.

Gaby Leung is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached atgl376@cornell.edu. Serendipitous Musings appears alternate Thursdays this semester.

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