Confessions of a Thrift Store Whore

I did own a pair of Eras many years ago, probably around the time Monica Lewinsky approximated an era around Washington. And I can’t say they were my favorite pair of sneakers then. But when I purchased my current pair of Vans, it was a case of love at first fit. That was two years ago, and never thought about replacing that with a brand-new pair. Around Thanksgiving last year, I searched for that particular pair in Vans’ website. But curiously, I could never find any image of this pair on the Vans website or anywhere online. This means my pair of Vans may have been part of that company’s limited edition products years ago. Needless to say, the target consumers for that pair must’ve been skaters, even though it doesn’t have the typical Vans look, the vulcanized look, in which rubber is molded or melted to the side of the shoe. My pair has a thin midsole, and almost look like a pair of jogging sneakers. But more so, it is a pair of Vans that is not manufactured in the US.

But looks aside, I love my current pair of Vans, not because it also understands the form of my feet like my Golas, but of how it reduces the shock between my feet and the ground. My other sneakers are probably effective shock absorbers, too. But I feel my pair of Vans is doing more of that work; its roominess around my toes prevents the joints between my phalanges and metatarsals from being squeezed tight when I walk. Its brand of roominess feels a bit like Los Angeles, as in you can feel continuous sky around you unpunctuated by height of buildings hoping to touch sky. I’m sure I’ve stumbled a few times on sidewalks or a parking lot, for staring at that sky, while in my Vans.

I wear my Vans, during weekend thrift-shop visits, including occasional weekday visits. In fact, I’m slowly leaning towards week-day bargain hunting these days, just to beat crowds, and long lines at the cash register. I think the recession has increased foot traffic in these stores. Indeed, thrift-shops can help you save money. Although I do think that’s one of the minor reasons they breed thrift-shop whores. Thrift-shops are meccas for the nostalgic, or geriatric centers for old things waiting for second-hand owners. And these stores have a number of quiet muezzins: the idea of old as useful and not yet entomb in amnesia, the invasive and aggressive smell of newness at big-mall department stores, the thrill of finding great merchandise with friendly price-tag, or the even bigger thrill of finding merchandise that can be lucrative on Amazon or Ebay. I assume some of the used books I’ve purchased online came from thrift-shops.

Although the notion of cheap merchandise can serve as dominant reason why people patronize their neighborhood thrift-store, some, I think, view these stores as spaces that inspire not necessarily nostalgia but as some sort of resistance against the spirit of the assembly-line, the speedy production of material things that become obsolete the moment they reach the hands of their intended consumers. There are no plots or dreams to implement revolution in this kind of resistance, of course, but just some irresistible rebellion against massive accumulation of factory products. Thrift-shops or used-stores act as repositories for all kinds of things, before their final journey into a trash-bin, or outside realms where they can be reached by the calculating tentacles of desire. Used stores is that space, in which they become objects of desire one last time. There, their ability to attract eyes is re-assessed again, not as brand-new commodity, but as commodity that has been through the caring or abusive hands of previous owners. Used stores are valuable to these things, because they are spaces that reconsider, and underline the durability of a product, of material it is composed of, or the concept that makes that product part of culture.

Curiously though, I think certain used merchandise -especially clothing- achieve a state of -for lack of a better term- new-ness in their being used; they don’t have the new-ness of brand-new, but new-ness attained after being used over space and time. In that sense, the foundation of their attractiveness is their durability and how that durability shaped the particular look of their current condition. Their image may not have the polish, elegance, or freshness of new, but you are drawn in to your perception of their usefulness. This kind of newness is probably the reason I’m persistently drawn to shoes I’ve bought from used stores. For instance, in the case of my Golas and Vans, the general image of these shoes shows that they have been used a lot by their previous owners, and that their owners have determined a reasonable life-span for these shoes, in their hands. But to a different set of eyes -mine, for example- these pairs can still serve a different set of feet. When I first saw these pairs, although their stretched condition suggested they had been used a lot, they didn’t show recognizable signs of disintegration.

My two favorite sneakers, therefore, are not like bodies of experience, but are bodies of experience, or embodiments of experience. They have endured the life of the feet of their previous owners, and, no doubt, will endure mine. At some point, I will deliver them to a trash bin. Fortunately, these bins are not always the last destinations of trashed things. There are those out there who have acquired the habits of certain homeless persons, and go through large trash bins for something useful, especially around apartment building, or corner-malls. Thus, I cannot claim I’m the last owner of my Golas and Vans.

In many ways, thrift-shop bargain hunters consider used merchandise the way archeologists are attracted to fossils. Thrift-shop whores can be viewed as urban archeologists; they see treasure in old and used things, are curious about them, and, to certain extents, how they have endured, over time, as someone’s property. But while archaeologists use their find to expand knowledge about life on earth, most thrift-shop whores use their find not to expand knowledge about life in their home-city, but, for the most part, to expand the life of their savings or thriftiness. In that light, thrift-shop whorishness is the kind of whorishness that gives a positive spin to the terms whorishness or whore. However, it is a spin that is not calculating and dominating enough to abolish the negative attachments associated with these terms. Real whorishness done by real whores do not need the help of verbal spins such as I just mentioned, in order to occlude any defamations to the meanings they inhabit in dictionaries. The terms know that, while they may not be immediate signifiers of elements welcomed in the court of high moral grounds, they understand those grounds have discreet and non-discreet tunnels that lead down to where morality pays some, in whatever convenient and necessary currency, to explore dimensions that may enrich and save the bosoms and bottoms of its heart. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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