Friday, April 30, 2010

Built to last? Don't think so!

Planned obsolescence. According to Wikipedia: Planned obsolescence (or built-in obsolescence). is the process of a product becoming obsolete or non-functional after a certain period or amount of use in a way that is planned or designed by the manufacturer. Also known as Designed to Fail.

Designed to fail. We are buying products that are designed to fail. Lovely.

Most of us relate this to appliances. A refrigerator cops out after a few years and we’re told it would be cheaper to replace it than to fix it. Are repairmen paid to say that? This makes me untrustworthy of higher-end appliances. Should I fork over fifty percent more that ultimately earns a mere extra year of product life? One extra year? Wow, I’m turning cartwheels. Maybe an Easy-Bake Oven is a better deal.When the Golightly’s lose an appliance, I am instantly zapped back to my grandparent’s basement where a refrigerator from the ‘50’s sits, minding its own business, chugging along like WALL-E (see Pixar). My grandparents use it to hold overflow from the fridge upstairs, replaced many times. This little fridge holds a queue of hams that my grandmother bakes for families in need. She probably bakes over 400 annually. Although she bakes more cake, so the house smells more of cake. Really. There sits the fridge, nearing 60 years old, cranking out the cool air, working as designed. It’s has a likeness to John Henry, though it doesn’t die. I always hate that part in John Henry. If that fridge ever goes down in the line of duty, I believe it will deserve Taps.

We know that planned obsolescence is great for Wall Street but is hard on the planet and our pocket books. Actually, I don’t see how this benefits the consumer in any way. The retail machine probably says it “increases opportunities” for consumers. How many choices of clothing do we really need? Especially when it comes to a greater cost both in money, pollution and waste over time?

Here’s something to think about. The fashion industry has been producing items of planned obsolescence for decades. We just don’t make the connection when we throw out clothes, because they are a lot easier to toss than say - a washing machine. We all know when it comes to fashion what goes around comes around. So acquire a quality pair of pointed-toe and square-toe black dress shoes. Take them to the cobbler for repair. Please tell me you know what a cobbler is, I'm not talking pie.

Cheap clothing may seem wonderful at discount retailers because it’s, ugh, cheap. It hardly lasts. The same thing happens at the higher end, too. Years ago, I bought a darling empire waist t-shirt at a very posh department outlet store for $38. I loved the design and it was very flattering. The original price was over $140 and the t-shirt lasted one summer when it started to wear holes in the fabric. I saved it, in hopes that if I ever take up sewing, the garment is ready for a sturdy reproduction(s).

So what has this to do with thrift? The clothing racks at the thrift store provide a direct comparison of what was produced to fail (whether it be the garment or a supremely trendy style) and what is not. Whether it’s the fabric, the quality of construction or the overall look, the shopper at least has a chance at buying an item that will last.

Many people ask me what brands to buy. I really don’t know. I recommend that shoppers really dig into the bins and racks. If you do, I promise you will learn a lot about clothing – largely because quality is no longer recognized and vendors prefer shoppers keep a blind-eye, ignorant to fabric quality (blends, thread-counts) and construction (adding binding).

A fine example is my famous sturdy black dress, bought for five dollars last spring. It was hand made, nearly reversible to the point that, in my mad dashes to get dressed and downstairs to the morning elixir of coffee, I wore it inside out for months! No one noticed, but many complimented!

Why should we knowingly buy a product that’s designed to fail? Would you enter a marriage knowing it was designed to fail? Buy stock in a company set to fail?

As mentioned in the previous post, I swapped out the fall/winter wardrobe for spring/summer. My annual goal is to have fewer items to donate with each rotation. Fewer items translate to smart shopping. I was really happy to see a lot of my favorite dresses again. They’re timeless. After all was squared away, I realized that I don’t need anything this summer, well maybe a few solid t-shirts. Overall, I am content and love my wardrobe. Even the swimsuit!

I donated: Two dresses, three pants, two skirts, one sweater, two pairs of yoga pants, two long sleeve and three short sleeve blouses and a purse. Whoops, scratch the purse, Petite Poe snatched it. Little Pie’s contribution was more given that she had grown out of many items. Some of those items were hard to part with because of the memories they evoke. But, I’m giving away the garment, the memory will stay with me.

And yes, after I swapped wardrobes, it snowed. Not enough to stick but enough to make it too cold for a sturdy little black dress – for now.


Anonymous said...

Brilliantly and thoughtfully said as usual, Ms. Golightly. I hatehatehate how the "thing to do" in our culture is shopping. I love my nearly 90% thrifted goods home because all my goods are pre-loved, well-built and were built to last. What I could not find in a thrift (since, like Oscar Wilde, I'm satisfied with very little--I want only the best) I go to a real store and buy the very best I can afford. I make a one-time investment and then I never have to nickel-and-dime it with cheap crap that never satisfies except initially. Whenever I have to go shopping for something like underwear, I get an anxiety attack. The stuff is crap, and it won't last. And it seems to be the same experience at NM as it does at Tar-jay.

I was raised in the 60s, when shopping was an event---it was the pre-mall era, when I would get dressed up and go with my mom or my cousins "downtown" and I am talking dresses and gloves and lunch! It was "window shopping" where you would look and dream and then go home and save for that one special purchase or necessity, or fiddle around in your closet to update your clothing combos, or borrow from a girlfriend or trade with a neighbor, especially kids' clothing and dosmetic goods, like bedspreads. If one was really talented, one would go home and, having captured in the mind's eye, the up-to-minute fashion, stitch up an outfit like your fabulous black dress--one that is sturdily made to last for years. A classic beauty.

Shopping Golightly said...


You raise an interesting point to of the dying art of window shopping.

Colleen said...

Lack of leisure time these days all but dictates that I do my “window-shopping” (as Anon. mentioned) by perusing the nifty catalogs and magazines that my mother-in-law passes on to me. She usually sends a stack of Woman’s Day and Family Circle but, this time, the bundle included a huge, thick magazine that emitted a strong perfume odor, like an Avon catalog. Okay. You’ve got my attention. I like a “good” smell just as much as the next woman, so I’ll pick you up first and see what lovelies you’ve got to hock. It was Elle magazine (of which apparently my sweet but naïve 87-year-old MIL was ‘tricked’ into subscribing by a fast-talking, unscrupulous marketer -- That’s a rant for another time, another blog?)

I’ve never read Elle before and I guess I’ve been out of the ‘fashion loop’ for so long that I was horrified when I read the clothing prices! A “V-neck cotton tunic” by some designer name I’ve never heard before, for $2,790 dollars! What??!! Are you kidding me?! And, here’s the best part, silver-colored silk jean-type shorts for, (are you ready for this?) “price upon request, call 866-xxxxxxx” What in the world has happened here? Did I blink and miss the insanity coup? There was barely enough fabric to those shorts to adequately cover the model’s Netherlands and, if I’m interested in purchasing this silk ‘swatch’ of fabric, I have to call for the price??!!

Get REAL!!!

I usually bundle up all my hand-me-down magazines and donate to the local hospital or retirement home. I won’t be including this particular ‘waste of paper it’s printed on’ publication for fear that I’d be insulting the logical good-sense of the REAL folks in my community!

Shopping Golightly said...

Yup. I've flipped through Oprah Magazine, displays items with similar prices. I thought for someone who wishes to reach out the masses that magazine might be different. Not to say that Oprah Magazine always shows super high end stuff. But, I won't even pay $100 for a pair of jeans. Why?

Then there's the make-up! Since when do two black eyes look pretty?

Now let's factor in a large segment of the population who turns to those mags, teen girls.

I'm currently trying to teach my oldest daughter to dress in context. School is not a place for heels and heavy make-up. Those magazines don't help. Hand her American Girl and she rolls her eyes.

There's a good post in their for American's, more than ever, are starting to lead lives out of context. Living on credit they can't pay, protesting items they don't research for fact, buying cars they don't need - like the SUV. Okay we have a Pilot. But we camp a lot and need it to haul the gear to the back country.

Theresa said...

Such a great post. Last year my dryer died. It was a 1981 Maytag that we bought for $40 ten years ago. I had to buy a new washer, which needed to be serviced twice in the first year. When I called the service department at Sears once again, I commented that my 1981 dryer was still chugging along faithfully. She said, "you should hold onto it, they don't make them like that anymore". How very depressing! My "new" washer was a lemon, but the 28 year old dryer was fine and always had been. I think that they put this "saving energy" fear in people, as though these older appliances are sucking huge amounts of hydro, so people go buy new appliances, financed usually, and pay more in interest than they would possibly pay in additional hydro costs from older appliances. It is consumerism gone wild, and it is so very distressing.

Maybe one day people will realize that they are being preyed upon by marketing companies. I am not too hopeful though.

Shopping Golightly said...

And, we are led to think that we drive the market. Maybe that was once the case. But if my clothes washer konks out (again) and I scream to retailers, "I want an appliance that will last me at least 15 years with a big pinky swear." It's not going to happen.

Ah yes, Energy Star. I wonder which has cost the world more resources and which carries the heavier carbon footprint, the one fridge in my grandparent's basement or the combination of the seven to nine that have been pushed through the kitchen upstairs.

Marcie said...

I'll be in the Gunnison/Crested Butte area staying with my parents this July and would love to do some backroad thrifting while I'm there. Can you suggest some of your favorite thrift shopping locations in the surrounding area?

Shopping Golightly said...

First off, DO YOU KNOW HOW INSANELY BEAUTIFUL CRESTED BUTTE IS? It’s one of my favorite spots in CO. Alas, I only know the community thrift off Elk Avenue in Crested Butte where I bought a vintage, plaid mohair wrap from Neiman’s for $3. The store is tiny but packed. We always take Cottonwood pass from Denver, which clips out Gunnison so I’ve not spent much time there. I’m not too familiar with thrift on the Western Slope but can tell you that both Aspen and Telluride have lower level consignment. Sometimes a good deal can be found.

As for dinner, for charm I recommend Soupcon, a little log cabin in grassy alley covered in chamomile. One must have reservations for they have two seatings. I believe one at 6PM followed by 8PM. Its that tiny. If you wish for posh, you cannot go wrong with The Timberline and must order the chocolate soufflé for dessert – it needs twenty minutes to prepare so order it in advance. And then there’s my favorite coffee spot on the planet, Camp 4 Coffee where the slogan is, “Coffee, it makes you poop!” It’s a tiny shack completely covered in rusting auto license plates. You enjoy the coffee on the patio blessed with spectacular views. Elk Avenue is a wonderful place to window shop but it’s hardly cheap.

You’ll be there when the wildflowers in Crested Butte really sock it to the bees. It’s breathtaking.

I can tell you more and offer up spectacular white-knuckle alpine drives on mining roads or stellar camping spots. Write me direct.

Summer said...

Ohhh! Nothing makes me sicker than paying a lot for something that doesn't last. Unfortunately, price, is *not* a guaruntee of quality. There comes a point where thrifting is all you can do. I still get the cheap-fallapart stuff that way, but what the heck, I only paid a buck for it, and I used it up.

Lynne S of Oz said...

I dragged my parents' 1960s fridge from student house to student house after me, until I loaned it to a "friend" who then stored it, unrefrigerated, with food in it! Poor fridge still ran, needed regassing, but I couldn't deal with the horror inside it, so it went to the junkyard in 2005. I still use my Mum's 1970s washing machine.

Marcie said...

Thanks for the suggestions. I couldn't figure out how to email you directly from your blog.

Torey said...

We bought our first house last year and it has an original wall oven from 1960 (the year the house was built). It also has a fridge from the 80s and a neat range with cast iron burners (not sure what year but they don't make them in the US anymore, although they are popular in Europe). Anyway, we will just use these appliances until they die since everyone I know with a new house has had their brand new appliances break within the first 3 years (conveniently just after the warranty has expired). None of our appliances match, but they are sturdy.

Anonymous said...

My high school chemistry teacher had a son who was a mechanical engineer. This was back in 1976. After graduating from college, he went to work for one of the auto manufacturers in Detorit.

He was talking to his Mom, my chem teacher, one day on the phone. His current assignment was to design wheel bearings. This is a part that is expensive to replace. He was task with designing them to last 50,000 miles. He was complaining this was really hard to do. However, designing them to last 100,000 miles was easy.

HMMM!! The Big Three in Detorit wonder why Japan gained market share on them in the 70s and 80s. Maybe Japan designed cars that worked and didn't break.