Fashion vs. Style: A Rant

[Okay, this post is gonna be a little out of character. A rant, yes, which is in character, but I feel compelled to write about fashion — on non-fashion. Mostly I’m avoiding posting a miserable rant about a bunch of personal shit that I’m processing. So…this. Until…that.]

I love thrift shops: Buffalo Exchange, Beacon’s Closet, or any of the fun stores on Haight Street in San Francisco. The fact that there aren’t two of the same things is one reason. Price, obviously, is another. But the idea that I’m not being subjected to the whims of an industry that only exists to keep us madly, mindlessly buying new shit is the main reason. However, even though there isn’t someone dictating what will and won’t be available — the “buyer” for department stores and the like — doesn’t mean that decisions aren’t being made. And that makes me mad. Because along with purchasing in these places, there’s selling. And I’d like to sell. But every time I take clothing in, I get turned away. “This isn’t in style,” the snotty 20-something says to me. “No one’s wearing these anymore,” the gay FIT student sniffs. Well isn’t that the point?

I’m sure what they’re thinking is, “This old broad couldn’t possibly own anything fashionable.” Which is, in fact, true. Because I don’t believe in fashion. I hate it. I refuse to even open a fashion magazine because they’re designed to make you feel like you’re not enough: not rich enough, young enough, thin enough, FASHIONABLE enough. They depress the hell out of me. It’s all such a scam. The fashion industry wants you to BUY BUY BUY! THIS season’s colors! THIS season’s handbags! THIS season’s skirt length or sleeve poof or fucking eyeshadow shade. It’s arbitrary, dreamt up CRAP!

The whole purpose of shopping at a thrift store — or second-hand store, or consignment store or any OTHER store that isn’t selling you brand new clothing Fashion Avenue is trying to sell you — is that you aren’t buying fashion. You’re buying style. A store opened up downstairs from me. They have a huge poster in their window: “Fashion is forever.” No, fashion is fleeting. STYLE is forever. What was in fashion last year is now, well, last year. You’re supposed to feel out of fashion, toss that shit in the trash and buy this year’s whateverthefuck. Or give it away. So that it winds up at Goodwill, where “vintage” clothing store people shop, buy and resell to you at a marked up price! 

So back to these damn re-sale shops. Since I don’t have a lot of money, they are my main resource for “new” clothes. Though even if I won the lottery, I’d still shop in them because I enjoy the hunt. I love finding some random, incredible piece. I’m not looking for a skirt length or “line” (read: shape) because I’m not even aware of what line I should be looking for. I’m just browsing for something that strikes my fancy. Something unusual. Something ME!

Once upon a time when you went shopping all you could BUY was what was in fashion. If the line didn’t look good on you, too bad. You were stuck with skinny jeans or pencil skirts. And don’t even get me started on sizes. If you weren’t a size 12 you were stuck in the mumu department. When thrift stores became “fashionable” that changed the whole dynamic. Everything was in fashion. Anything was cool to wear. Peasant skirts your thing? Groovy! Here’s a dozen! Striving to look like a 50’s housewife? Not just poofy dresses with crinolines to wear underneath but aprons! Who even wears aprons anymore? Beaded cardigans? Here ya go. Of course, now you can buy brand new beaded cardigans but in 1979, the only ones available were from the 50s. In thrift stores.

Women too young to remember the days before don’t know how lucky they are to shop for shoes and have, literally, hundreds of choices. Flats, wedges, platforms, point toes, Mary Janes, all of it. Pants come with and without pleats, boyfriend cut and boot cut and skinny tight. Hip-hugger or high-waisted. Stretchy and spandex and magical fabrics that weren’t even around in the 70s. There are so many choices that you can actually have a style all your very own.

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Which leads me back to, how can anyone in these stores say, “We aren’t buying that. It’s not in fashion.”? I was sent away with a pair of sequined “hostess” pants. It was around Thanksgiving. Hostess pants are flowy pants that women once wore to “hostess” in. They’re sold every holiday season to, yes, hostess in! They aren’t ever out of fashion because they’re perpetually in fashion. The fact that they were sequined makes them even more desirable. And that they’re long on me — probably about a 36″ inseam — would make them exponentially more desirable in fucking CHELSEA where drag queens might be more inclined to shop. Which was where I was turned away. Sheesh! I almost guffawed in the idiot’s face. But there’s no arguing with someone who’s no doubt sketching the next decade’s “fashion” in his Design Illustration class at FIT. Which will only be a recycling of shit I’ve already worn anyway. (See current styles. WHO would’ve imagined we’d be wearing shoulder pads again? Hammer pants? Holy shit! What next? Hostess pants?!)

A strict eye on what’s au courant makes more sense in the structured consignment shops like Knimble or the off-shoots of Goodwill like Georgi & Willow or GW, both higher end, more curated “boutiques,” where part of what they’re selling is the fashionable shopping experience. But in a place that prides itself on “different” why would they want their stock to be so “same?” An establishment touting itself as selling “vintage” shouldn’t be concerned about what’s in — or out — of fashion. If I want what’s current I can shop at Old Navy. And buy a new t-shirt for less than the pit-stained one in the thrift shop! 

The children who are working in these stores love to dismiss things they deem as “not in fashion.” I’ve had them say the most condescending things to me. So I decided to get specific. I recently asked a guy, “Why aren’t you interested in this [skirt]? Everyone loves this label.” (A label, by the way, that I’d bought in a tiny Brooklyn market stall long before the label became a crazy national brand.} “They do,” he replied, “but this line isn’t in style,” ARGH! EXACTLY! If it WERE you could go into any fucking store and buy it! THIS skirt is for people who don’t like — or look good in — what’s currently “fashionable!” Oy. I guess I’m destined to only buy at these stores and not sell. Email me if you’d like an awesome pair of sequined hostess pants…

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5 responses to “Fashion vs. Style: A Rant

  1. I know less than nothing about fashion (yes, it is possible to know less than nothing about a topic) but why don’t you just offer this stuff for sale on ebay? Yes, it is a bit more effort, but with the possibility of more money and no more dealing with these people.

    • I recently sold something on eBay. It went for 99¢. Once I paid for for shipping I was losing money. I know less than nothing about eBay. Blerg. I should just throw it all away.

  2. If you bother selling items for 99 cents on ebay then yes, you know less than nothing about ebay. So next time, get an ebay for dummies book, study it, and give it another shot. You can set price minimums for stuff so no more 99 cents for anything.

  3. Abby,
    I once knew a lady who sold outfits to strippers. She would go to the local strip clubs and had a decent business. Maybe, instead of going to these stores who keep turning you away go to where the people who would buy your things are. If you have stuff that would be perfect for drag queens-go to the drag queens. Just a thought.

  4. Sheryl Shoshana

    I’m unsure what to believe regarding if Goodwill is a true charity or a self-serving institution but I do choose to donate lots of material items fairly often to various charities…with the hopes that the donation helps someone someday.

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