shopping in america– first in a series


hangers, from “Untitled-Thrift” by Brian UlrichThis amazing photo essay really spoke to me. I hate to admit it because of my crunchy hippie/commie background, but I do an awful lot of my shopping at big chain stores these days. When we were starting out here in NYC I needed to supplement my aging wardrobe to make it work-ready. Also, our current apartment is more than twice as large as our last one, and we lost a lot of little things in our move (mainly because they wouldn’t fit in our car back from MI). Long story short: I had a lot of consuming to do in the past 6 months. For a while at the beginning, I went to Target around once a week, and most of my current shoe collection was collected at the vile DSW.* And even though they are “discount” or “resale” stores, my work-clothes-sources Filene’s Basement and TJ Maxx are definitely way closer to the evil end than the indie/homemade/anarchist end of the shopping spectrum.

*more about which some other time.

I usually justify my shopping choices by declaring that my massive student debt and middling wage forbid me from patronizing the little locally-owned boutiques in Brooklyn. (Another reason I avoid these places, one which i (WE) will doubtless blog about later, is that i feel decidedly unwelcome and unattractive at many of these boutiques because my pant size is well above the maximum hipster-approved 6.) Despite these rationalizations, I have a nagging inner voice of reason that informs me coldly about all the ultimately expensive externalities I am creating by patronizing places that encourage precisely the type of soulless, environmentally-collapsed, worker-unfriendly country I was raised to complain about bitterly.

The original solution to this angst was Craigslist– which worked really well for furniture and household goods and was relatively easy and fun to use. However, the business-casual clothing on CL leaves a lot to be desired; ebay is no better, so my solution of late has been thrift-store shopping. Thus far, I’ve gotten one suit, several sweaters and shirts, and a handful of forks. Is this really a solution? I felt just as wretched wandering the overstuffed and somewhat filthy isles of Beacon’s Closet and Salvation Army as I did trolling the Union Square Filene’s for ecologically disastrous yet obscenely cheap cashmere sweaters. These thrift stores are (as the essay accompanying the photos points out) really just as sickening a product of our time as the Atlantic Mall Target.

What to do? I really really love pretty stuff, though I also really love the ideal of hippie minimalist anti-consumerism and DIY. I am a ball of contradictions! I don’t really need more than 4 suits, but I am a lawyer! And we just had a 5-day trial, which required me to recycle my first suit on the fifth day, so maybe I actually need 5 suits! Not to mention, it takes about 3 shopping days and a lot of luck to find a decent suit at a thrift store, while there are racks and racks of them waiting to be bought in a short 30 minutes at Ann Taylor Loft.

Sigh. I probably would be a morally and environmentally good person if I wasn’t so preoccupied with all these endless internal debates.

Anyway, Brian Ulrich, the photographer, also has a blog. From a moment’s glance, he seems like the type of artist we’d all like to be.

(p.s. appropriately enough, Talking Heads’ awesome “(Nothing But) Flowers” came on the radio as I wrote this. Here’s to a greener post-apocalyptic hunter-gatherer culture!)

One Response to “shopping in america– first in a series”

  1. jeanmeanie Says:

    Phew! You posted this just in time. I need to do a whole bunch of shopping, want to buy a camera before my CA trip and buy some clothes before I start my new job. Now I know what I’ll look like while I’m doing all that shopping!

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