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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Contextual Value: Thrift Stores and Literary Studies

When I was an English major in college, we learned how to do "close readings" of literature, analyzing the intricacies of language and structure. I am soooooo good at this! Little did I know, till I got to graduate school, that my teachers were rather behind the times; percolating away in literary studies was heavy-duty contextualizing, whereby we are to look at a literary work in its various cultural contexts. This so-called New Historicism is no longer new, but still has something of a death grip on early modern studies.

Anyway, close analysis and contextualizing can apply to anything, another lesson of literary studies: everything is a text. Hey, that would include thrift stores, my favorite recreation.

In thrift stores, context matters. I was reminded of this when I ecstatically bought my authentic Longchamp Le Pliage bag, which retails for almost $100.00. When I got home with my treasures, I glanced at my receipt and noticed that Ms. Peaches, the cashier, had charged me only $0.99 for the bag, rather than the $1.99 most bags cost. Oh, that's because to her, it looked like a "cosmetics case."

A few days ago, a pristine and current Carlisle silk jacket and shell made their appearance. Sadly, a size 2. I know that this set would retail for about $700.00. I toyed with the idea (quickly suppressed) of selling the set on Ebay. When I got home, I checked the prices and indeed I could probably make a bit on this item. Interestingly, one Ebay seller of Carlisle items wrote that she bought the clothing at "trunk sales" in her area. These are invitation only sales, usually at the homes of friends or friends-of-friends. She wrote "The pieces are extremely well made, beautiful and extremely overpriced. I swear they pump some type of 'stupid gas' into the air to make usually sane women think they should pay hundreds for a turtleneck...even if it's a great turtleneck!! My recurrent stupidity is your good fortune! I have found stacks of Carlisle, some Worth, St. John and Double D to sell."

I guess I'm lucky that I do not run in the social circles that would snag me an invitation to one of these shopping events. What is interesting is that the set remains at Goodwill, a week later. Out of its original context, no one is interested.

Even though I did not succumb to the Carlisle, I did succumb to an amazing pair of Max Mara beige leather pants. The leather is so soft that it doesn't feel like leather! These would probably fit me (an 8), but, honestly, I would never wear these. Uhoh. I get some well-deserved scorn from Mr. FS when I bring home such items. But I bought these with a plan. I thought I could probably unload them at Buffalo Exchange, which I discovered--belatedly--a few months ago. I figured I could get some credit for Miss Em to use.

Gee, I wonder how much credit I will get. Max Mara leather pants retail for about $1200.00. On Ebay, there are some listed at $299.00 with no takers. Other pairs have sold for $30.00-$40.00. I would guess that the Buf, as Miss Em and I call it, would sell the pants for about the Ebay price, which means we would get maybe $15.00 in credit. OR about $10.00 in cash if she can't find anything.

So what are they worth? In their first context, $1200.00. On Ebay, a lot less. At Goodwill, $3.49, like all the other pants. They didn't even get plucked for the "Special Price" rack which sports all the higher priced stuff--like Ralph Lauren and various army clothing. If you get something really nice, Ms. Peaches, who is the most chatty cashier, will admire the item with great enthusiasm, often displaying it for the rest of the customers on line. Like my Longchamp bag, the Max Maras merited not a second glance from Ms. Peaches.

So, as I ponder the question of value in relation to context, I also wonder: who would buy a pair of $1200.00 pants, not wear them, and donate them to Goodwill?

Any thoughts, Dear Readers?


FB @ said...

1. I ran a whole business when I was a kid, thrifting and re-selling on eBay. Hell of a job though.

2. People who give those items away to charity even though they're v. expensive, do it for the following reasons.

- From deceased family members who had previously had them in their wardrobe

- Because they put on/lost weight and had to clean out their wardrobe

- Did a decluttering exercise on their wardrobe and didn't like them any more, or they didn't fit right

- Had no idea they were worth that much because they forgot, or got it from someone else and didn't bother checking on eBay.

big name brands like Chanel, Prada.. those rarely show up in thrift stores because people recognize those labels.

Meredith@MerchantShips said...

I love this analysis. This is exactly the kind of thing I ponder as I work my way through the racks.

Sadly, whenever I find Carlisle and Worth, it's always size 2. We have a lot of professional Ebay buyers in my town, though, so even those don't last long.

Duchesse said...

While you were busy learning contextual analysis, I was busy drinking vodka and orange juice and getting a D in economics, so I can no longer remember the economic term, but I think it might be 'depreciating asset'. The minute you get the item out of the shop the values falls, unless it is very collectible Prada, Chanel etc (and not all is).

I'm hoping you find a size 8 person who can wear the heck out of those pants. Otherwise, return them to Goodwill to be someone elses' incredible find.

Funny about Money said...

OMG: the New Historicist goes shopping! I love it.

Is there a journal article here? So far what I'm reading is significantly more interesting than most of the feminist lit-crit, soc-crit, and fem-rant our office has to edit. Possibly if you added a little post-postmodern theory?

Could be the former owner put on some weight...or wore them once and thought "next time I show up in this outfit, everyone in Junior League is going to whisper 'doesn't she have anything ELSE to wear?'"

No joke: in my Former Life, a lot of those women would buy some breathtakingly expensive costume to wear ONE TIME. They had no intention of wearing it again. For one thing, by the time the charity event they got it for came around again, the thing would be (ewww!) a year out of date.

Hmh. If you can document that the pants are worth $1,200, I wonder: if you re-donated it could you take a chunk off your income tax? Or do you have to document that you personally paid that much for it? Or can you only deduct the $3.49 the charity gets from its sale?

Frugal Scholar said...

@Funny--You start the journal and we can both write articles. Honestly, this kind of writing is so much fun! I wrote in an earlier post about my department head's and my discussion about blogging. He said "It's not about poetry." If you've noticed, I've mentioned a poem or two of late.