City Paper is not for tourists
Maybe I have some class issues I need to work through, but it seems to me that the beauty of secondhand and underground economies is that they are not obligated to follow the advertising and fashion industries. In her zeal to promote the slim chance of finding a major label among the anonymous threads, Mason overlooks the obvious: Value is subjective. People buy for a million different reasons, from need to kitsch to personal nostalgia to price. Information about how to judge a garment for good workmanship might have been more useful than a list of favorite designers.
Of course, some TRSJ readers will want to purchase name brands. Yet Mason never offers a no-holds-barred discussion about what constitutes a true designer—whether it’s quality and style, or just a label. (Some people use the word “designer” to refer to clothing by Jordache or Guess. Mason, in “a sampling of my personal favorites,” lists Donna Karan, Vivienne Westwood, Fortuny, and Hollywood costume designers Edith Head and Adrian.) Mason also fails to mention “designer sellout.” Since the 1970s, clothing designers have been selling, or licensing, their names to a myriad of products they have nothing to do with. Mason considers the Halston line (1958-1990) highly collectible, but in 1973 Halston became one of the first designers to license his name—to J.C. Penney. And in other cases, a shirt that carries a fashionable label hasn’t necessarily been produced by a famous designer; the brand name may simply have been licensed to some sweat shop in the Philippines where $5 shirts are churned out to be resold at $100 apiece.
Mason eschews such complicated matters in favor of explaining secondhand shopping to the uninitiated (“There is really no difference between a garage sale and a yard sale, except that one is often held in a garage and the other is held in the back or front yard,” she writes). Her “insider” shopping tips are not particularly earth-shattering—arrive early, carry cash, barter for a lower price, try clothing on. TRSJ does provide useful information about selling secondhand goods: Mason offers sensible advice about consigning items, running “professional yard sales,” and getting a vendor’s license.
But the bulk of the book (250 pages) is devoted to listing 3,000 thrift stores in the U.S. and Canada. Mason gives lip service throughout TRSJ to being “green” by recycling clothing, and therefore I was frankly astonished at the tree-slaughter this appendix represents. Allow me to condense: For thrift stores near you or in a town you’re visiting, look in the Yellow Pages under “Thrift Stores.” If there were unique information about each store, Mason’s listing might be a service—but most listings say the same thing—that the store contains “housewares, clothing and furniture” (who knew?). It’s also unclear how Mason researched this list—I spot-checked several cities that I’m intimately thrift-familiar with and found that 1.) the biggest and best thrifts weren’t listed (the enormous Salvation Army on Kenilworth Avenue is absent), and 2.) grubby little stagnant thrift holes made this “best list.” This comprehensive list seems to belie her suggestions about seeking out designer wear—you’re gonna visit that Goodwill in Great Falls, Mont., for a l-o-n-g time before you snap up that adorable Comme des Garçons blazer.
In those same 250 pages, Mason could have discussed designers and value, or given a social history of the fashion industry (complete with comments on the insanity of the fashion business, which makes us throw perfectly good clothing away in the first place!). Ah well…I’m no Marxist. Like Mason, I can’t stop shopping, looking for the high of the next “big score.” But as a secondhand shopper, I have the delicious luxury of assigning my own value system, and Mason’s book misses this point.
Al Hoff is the editor/publisher of Thrift SCORE, a ‘zine about thrifting.