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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Second-Hand Shopping, Eileen Fisher: Thoughts on Virtue

I'm still in a daze from the end-of-semester stress. Usually I emerge into a period of lesser stress, but this year we are emerging into closing on Frugal Son's house, a major stress-event unto itself. One de-stressing event: the return home of recent grad Miss Em. Miss Em and I celebrated her arrival with a visit to the TWO Goodwills in our area. What a treat! Also, having Miss Em comb the racks with me is like having a clone.

And the frugal gods were with us. As we walked in, I said to Miss Em, "Find me something from Eileen Fisher." We didn't, but we got a few nice things. This was the seldom-visited-because-farther-away outpost that is opposite the entrance to an upscale gated community.

We were sated, but decided to stop at the lower-level shop on the way home. Miss Em came charging up after a few minutes: she had found THREE Eileen Fisher pieces. They were all together on the rack (same donor--thanks!). I investigated and found TWO more. Now we are even more sated. We divvied up the EF and decided to swap after a year. And now we have to donate even more excess to make some space. Miss Em--unlike me--is good at that.

We were feeling pretty good. I've been reading (can't remember sources--sorry) that second-hand shopping is the most virtuous--in terms of environmental impact and--post-Bengladash building collapse--in exploitation. So we were not only frugal but virtuous: can't beat that!

But how virtuous are we? After all, the fact that there were FIVE Eileen Fisher pieces donated at once--all very nice, in good shape--meant that the donor has even more. Also, we noted that many of the EF pieces were made in China of Italian yarn. Does EF supervise the factories? Are the savings in labor reflected in the prices? EF has a section on her website outlining various virtuous categories: made in USA, eco, Fair Trade, and so on. Does any item fall into all the categories? I'm not criticizing--just wondering. After all, the clothing is expensive for me, even on sale. And I wonder if my purchases make a difference or if it would better to buy something cheaper and donate the difference in cash to Doctors Without Borders.

And as for second-hand shopping: is it all that virtuous or am I just trying to justify my cheeepitude? If the item was made in China in bad conditions, does its virtue component go up as it cycles through the secondhand market? I keep thinking of an interesting moment in Paradise Lost. When Adam is thinking about falling in Book 9, he wonders if his act will be less guilty (it won't--spoiler) because the the fruit is "foretasted." He's wondering if--and hoping that--the sin will be diluted by the fact that it was already tasted. Second-hand sin, anyone?


Une petite Indienne said...

I think thrift store shopping helps generate money for the charity and at the same time saves my dollars. Finding much-loved labels is the icing:). Like my Chico long cover up find from their travelers collection last week. I paid a fraction for what it sells for in the store. The wonderful lady who works at our local thrift store was happy to make a sale. And I was elated to find a wrinkle-free jacket for long flights!
Your question about how it helps the skilled under paid garment makers is another point altogether. Maybe buying donated clothes is another way of honoring their contribution? I wish there was a way one could donate directly to a fund for garment workers. At least the Bangladesh factory collapse has made Zara, H& M among others, think about setting up and enforcing safety standards.

Frugal Scholar said...

@une petite indienne--Thanks for the comment! I do like buying from the food bank thrift for exactly that reason. i can't tell whether Goodwill is really a charity these days--it seems very corporate and I'm not exactly sure what their charity component is.

Great on the chico's! Enjoy your trip.

Duchesse said...

Buying secondhand is only virtuous if it replaces what you would buy. If it is in addition, it's just greed lite- for all of us.

I read an interview with Germaine Greer who says she buys mainly Missoni because she knows the workers are decently paid, and shops their end of season sales when possible. (And Missoni is very high quality.)

Buying cheap clothes and donating the difference seems to me a false economy as you'll have to replace soon and thus have even less to donate.

Was recently in an EF boutique in NYC. A lot of it looked flat, kind of nunnish; guess I enjoy a bit more detail, which can easily be added via scarf or jewelry.

Shelley said...

I must admit I've been fairly sated for a while now. I can't honestly say I need any more casual clothes. There is a christening coming up that I need for plan what to wear (to avoid last minute panic shopping which I always regret). I'm not expecting to find anything in the usual second hand shops, but will keep an eye out. I just bought a £1 book, Shades of Green by Paul Waddington. I can't claim to be an environmentalist, but green choices are often thrifty choices as well and I was looking out for new ideas. He talks mainly about specific textiles and I'm certain I've never met any clothes made of bamboo in the charity shops. Like others, I go to charity shops to save my own pocketbook, to donate to a charity and to avoid directly encouraging fast fashion outlets. Beyond that (as Waddington's book points out), it all gets a bit complicated.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Duchesse--Thanks for you--as always--thoughtful comments. A lot of "cheap" clothing isn't made any worse than the $$ stuff. Sad, but true. As for EF: her clothing commands ridiculous prices (given that much is synthetic, much is made in China, and much does not involve complex construction) because it accommodates a tummy. Sad but true, once more.

Greed lite--that's probably me,

Frugal Scholar said...

@shelley--Thanks for the book rec. As for sated--somehow, I think I am, but then I'm not. Working on it.

Deft Home said...

Just discovered your blog, thanks to searching for the right way to spell "Diana Phipps". Susan Strasser, the historian of American housekeeping, has a long section in "Waste and Want" that discusses the symbiosis of consumer culture and charity thrift outlets.

Deft Home

Frugal Scholar said...

@Deft--Thanks. The book sounds great and I never would have heard of it.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Deft--Oh, and I am happy to know about another Diana Phipps fan.