Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Am I just a bottom-feeder of conspicuous consumption?

Let’s just reference Wikipedia on the subject:

“Conspicuous consumption is lavish spending on goods and services acquired mainly for the purpose of displaying income or wealth. In the mind of a conspicuous consumer, such display serves as a means of attaining or maintaining social status.”

There is no doubt we could add meta meanings upon meta meanings to further define this social phenomenon. We could sip lattes or a fine Merlot and hyper-intellectualize this subject until we are personally drunk and awe-struck by our magnificent conclusions. For the sake of brevity in a blog post, let’s just keep it short and use the above definition.

There have been times when people challenge that I’m just acting out conspicuous consumption in the reuse market. My answer? No.

Comments have appeared in past posts that I often cite brand names like Banana Republic, Pottery Barn, Tiffanies, Coach, Anthropologie, Nordstrom, etc. Guilty as charged.

Here’s the catch, I don’t reference brand names to snob out. I don’t look down my nose. When I do, I’m cross-eyed and that gives me a headache. Any more, a name brand does not often represent quality, merely a name and – often times - a higher price point.

My point is that while the majority of Americans go to malls and buy such brands, I shop in thrift stores and buy the same, often with tags still dangling, for about 5% of the conventional retail price.

Why can I do this? Many reasons. I’d wager retail therapy is probably the biggest. If retail therapy really worked, I imagine our nations major thrift retailers wouldn’t be so well stocked – at least like they are in Denver.

Still don’t believe that I’m not a conspicuous consumption junkie? Our TV is thrift and it does not have any form of cable. Nor do we have a Wii or any other electronic games. We’re a modest one-car family of four in a 1,800 square foot home, which I consider ample.

I’m not going to keep up with The Jones’. I cannot afford to. Well, my credit limit will let me compete but – as I’ve written before – no lender is going to pull me down into so much debt I need a pressurized submarine. Besides, I don’t even know what The Jones’ have.

Yes, many of the items I purchase were made overseas. But, I’m saving them from a landfill and by extending the life of a sweater; a new one need not be produced to fill my need. I’d love it if more manufacturers came home, like if the idea behind the Locavore movement turned to dry goods. But, that’s going to take time and legislation – a lot of it. But, "There will be retail lobbyists"

I don’t scoff at people in shopping centers, though I am annoyed by how slow they walk, like they’re enjoying the retail sensory overload. I see them as potential converts and quietly wait for them to ask where I found my boots so I can say, “thrift”. I understand that many of these people have never considered thrift as an option. There’s no mass marketing campaign asking them to. We have recycle bins from our cities, we’re told to turn off lights and turn down thermostats, but there are few media outlets that even whisper, “try thrift”.

I love it when a person converts to thrift, finds a Flinch Point, has a little Retail Remorse, and earns a set of Snake Eyes.

If dropping name brands that can be found at thrift stores catch the attention of a few eyes and ears, I think it worth it.

Okay! Okay! Three weaknesses. Children’s books for my Legacy Library. Premium scented candles I buy on sale. I’ve a chronic fear that our home smells of cat litter thanks to our three cats. Vintage coats – but I put a stopper on that one years ago when I figured one for each day of the week was sufficient. Oddly enough, the purchase of all those coats combined doesn’t even compare to the cost of a new quality dress coat.

Truth be told, I’d love to live a home similar to The Burrow of the Weasley family from the Harry Potter series pictured below. Or how about Famer Hogget’s home in the movie Babe? If you like, click here for a brief tour of the Golightly home.

20 comments:

Catherine said...

I completely understand why you bring up brand names. I co-organize seasonal clothing swaps where I work in New York City. We have so many women here, and so many don't even peruse our items even though many are the Anthropolgie's, Ann Taylor's, etc. of the retail world that would cost a lot of money. Some even have the tags on them – and here they are for free! We try and mention brand names in our invites too now.

Anonymous said...

A very thoughtful post. I consider people who shop and idolize labels as mere victims of this consumer-crazy society. They, of course, will never understand the concept of thrifting.
On another point - here in Toronto, Canada where we pay near-NYC prices for housing, an 1800 square foot house is certainly considered more than "ample" - yaay for you!

Shopping Golightly said...

Anon.

I came to Denver marry Mr. Golightly from downtown apartments Boston and Chicago. Being a western town, Denver has a different neighborhood structure. The city proper is not as densely packed as most older Eastern cities. Our 100+ year old neighborhood is a mix of turn-of-the-century homes and bungalows. Get this - we all have YARDS! Both front AND back. But those in the burbs in their 3,500 square foot homes cannot - for the life of them - figure how we manage.

Jean vonB said...

I have a sister and sisters-in-law who are appalled every time I even breathe the words St. Vincent de Paul, Goodwill or any other thrift store but I absolutely love it when they compliment me on some item and insist they have to know where I got it. Its so much fun watching their eyes spin backwards when I tell them! Great blog!

Anonymous said...

Goodwill does adverstise on TV, at least on cable, in Phoenix. Last Tuesday (25% senior discount for those over 55), I was in line behind 2 women who were talking about the commercials and how they both were on their 1st visit to GW because of them.

I will I admit, I felt a pang of envy because their carts were full (and I mean to overflowing) with stuff I wish I'd gotten to 1st.

Serena said...

That Wikipedia definition of "conspicuous consumption" reminds me of the definition for "status": Spending money you don't have on things you don't need/want to impress people you don't even like. It's also the definition of insanity if you ask me!

Jennifer said...

Interesting post! I shop thrift regularly for several reasons. I have lots of kids and can't fathom paying full price for their clothing. It is ecological. It is FUN (I love perusing the thrift shop but HATE looking in stores at sale time). The pieces are unique. I love giving old things new life. And I fully admit that it is a great feeling to find a very expensive item/brand and get it for a few euros. It's not about status, but it is also hard to be so anticonformist that brands no longer matter and retail therapy doesn't exist. I don't go shopping just to shop and spend money, but I love finding a few new things in the thrift shop and taking them home. I get the same high for a lot cheaper. And the high is higher because their is also the satisfaction of finding the treasures and knowing how little they cost! The other day I was at the thrift store and I spotted some wooden folding chairs that we had decided we needed for when guests come. I asked how much they were and the woman said 5 euros for three. Then another person came as I was taking them and he said 12 euros. They were still a good buy at 12 and so I took them. Then the first woman came back to ticket them and said they were 5, so I told her that the other person said 12. She said NO, no, no!!! They are 5 for three. And she put the tag on. It was pretty funny. And more fun than going in to a retail store and paying full price.

Alex M said...

I buy the best quality I can at thrifts and will admit to being a snob. But I don't always feel comfortable telling people I do. Then I'll meet someone who is splendidly dressed and whom I thought had spent a lot of money and find they got their clothes at the same thrift. It happened at a party at Christmas and the topic came up because the woman's sent her child to a charter school that moved next near to a thrift store I frequent.

I have a camp (OK a trailer) near an outlet mall and people oooh and ahhh over the designer goods and low prices. They're too high for me!

Anonymous said...

I shop thrift relatively regularly (in 2011 I'm not shopping for much at at all), and I admire your mission to convert others to thrifting more. I must say, though, that I find the tone of many of your posts a bit holier-than-though and rather off-putting.

Anonymous said...

One of the most distinctive things about blogs is their wholly personal quality. I find a range of tones in this blog and others --from the author as well as the readers. Ultimately, this is a record of first-hand experience; it can be messy, inconsistent, stylistically ominivorous, annoying, engaging..

geogrrl said...

I've noticed in the last several posts one or more "Anonymouses" who feel the need to point out that they find the tone of the blog "self-righteous", "holier-than-thou", etc. ad nauseum.

All I can say is that this blog is a private space and the writer can write what she/they wish. "Anonymouse" is free to go elsewhere. There are lots of other blogs out there.

Anonymous said...

"Go elsewhere if you don't like it," is a certainly a fair comment. However, it's a stance that also can shut down debate and idea/perspective sharing. We all do best when we focus on identifying the core arguments underpinning the "tone" or "style" of a message and focus on them. For my money, a little friendly bantering ain't at all a bad thang.

Anonymous said...

I would actually contend that a blog that is open to the public and allows comments is not a "private" space. And if the goal is to get more people to stop buying retail and to purchase thrift, it seems counterproductive to tell anyone who puts forth a criticism that they are "free to go elsewhere."

Anonymous said...

Anon penultimate to Anon Last: Fair point! Blogs are new public spaces and publications -- however, they're not juried journals, newspapers claiming to offer "news that's fit to print" or much else. As public places they're unique as well: they make openly personal claims and are, for the most part, ruminating 'works in progress.' For that reason, I've come to understand that they're due a level of civility that's unique as well. Focusing on core arguments (and arguing) seems appropriate. As far as quibbles with tone, well we get what we pay for and just daring to put ideas out in cyberspace (where there are, after all so many alternatives) merits a 'get out of jail free' card from me even when 'tone' sometime rubs me the wrong way.

Kira said...

I'm relatively new to Thrifting, but reading your blog has given me some new insight, so thank you! As far as mentioning name brands goes, I think it would be safe to say that you mention them not because you are bragging or being snobish, but because you are trying to let others know that "Hey, that Name Brand sweater you bought for full price, I just found it at the thrift store for 1.99", I get it, you are trying to educate those that think thrift equals 10 year old sweaters with holes in them. I think those that are reading this and being put off by it, if they were honest with themselves, would come out and say they were just a bit jealous of the fact that with a little extra effort you are able to put together a collection of belongings that are unique and have history, instead of going mainstream and buying what the retail giants tell us we need. Cuddos to you! I would love to have half the thrifting luck you have!

Shopping Golightly said...

Wow! Look at this discussion!

Just got in late last night from a long weekend in the woods in a one-room, historic log cabin with several feet of snow all around. No phone. No TV. No Internet. Just the family playing dominoes, reading, puzzles, sledding and baking. My, the the modern world clutter the mind!

Shopping Golightly said...

I'm quite pleased that there's been some topics bounced about and questions asked. It makes me believe, people are not reading fluff but stuff that evokes something; an emotion or a rational argument or an attempt to define something that has yet to be properly defined. Like what IS a blog's contribution to society?

As long as it's not profane or mean-spirited, I don't mind criticism and will keep it on the board. I do reflect upon it. One thing I do desire is more clarity of criticism - a couple of adjectives don't really help me reflect.

Keep at it! Let's talk thrift, it's ups and downs, why it deserves more national attention,...

On your mark. Go!

thriftomania said...

I really enjoyed this post. I grew up thrifting because I HAD to. Somewhere along the way, I began enjoying it. Now? It's a stable in my life because I love doing it. Brand names get attention, which is good for spreading the word and converting others. To me though, names are just names and don't mean much other than I got a deal!

Anonymous said...

Your blog is awesome and I think I am converted to thirft forever!
I just picked up some gorgeous down decorative pillows at the Salvation Army for 50% off. I think they were $2.50 or $3.00 each. I took them home washed them and they are perfect. I just saw some cheap, ugly, foam pillows at Big Lots for $10.00 EACH! No way!!!!!!

Fashion Suits said...

The Thrifty Chicks? hahaha i've been a top commentators here.. subscribed