Thursday, November 17, 2011

Labels vs. thrifting

My last post was about the scavenging possibilities at the flea market in Brussels. Our hunt that day made me ponder the (in)conveniences of thrifting. Thrifting might sometimes have its disadvantages (vintage smell being the most notorious one), but I want to talk about a huge benefit: the abscence of marketing influences.

Imagine you're in your favorite shopping street, mall, whatever. Do you enter every store? Or do some stores draw you in more than others? The mechanisms behind your choices are incredibly diverse and diffuse. Personal taste. Experience. Brand appeal. Price. Image. Target audience. Connotations. These are all things that determine whether you will or will not spend money (or even set foot) in a certain shop. I myself am very susceptible to branding and prejudice. It irritates me to no end, but I can't help it. Two years ago I spotted a black-and-white printed silk shirt Surface To Air in sale on ebay. I had seen the print on a dress before and absolutely adored it. Did I buy the shirt? Uhm, does Donatella Versace's hair colour regularly threaten to sweep out Italy's bleach supply? Duh.

Unless you thinks she gets this colour from using camomille extract?

I still paid about 100$, which I justified by telling myself the dollar was really low and the original price was way higher. Two weeks later I found myself in Zara holding a black-and-white printed silk shirt (I really do have a thing for black and white prints) with 50% off. I remember thinking 40 euros was still an awfully high price for what was, after all, 'just' a Zara shirt. Two shirts, two measures.

Can you guess which is which? And which got the most wears? (The creases aren't intentional. They're just me being lazy.)

This is one of the coolest things about thrifting: there's no double standards. You're not pestered with assumptions and considerations on the brands surrounding you. You're just looking at clothes in their own right. You have to wonder if the garment really does fit your style and if it's worth it's (puny) price. You can't rely on the source of the clothes to tell you whether it's cool or stylish. I'm ashamed to admit that, when it comes to clothing, I find the process pretty exhausting. It takes training and good styling skills to figure out what you do or do not want without the background and directions labels can provide. (More on that in this interesting post from Fashion Pearls on Wisdom.)

For jewelry, however, I find it liberating. For instance, the bracelet I bought two weeks ago. If I had spotted it at H&M, it's not entirely impossible I would have considered it tacky. Or maybe I would have liked it, but not bought it, because it's H&M and everyone will wear it so even if it is special, it won't be that special. If I would have seen it in an expensive jewelry store (which is very unlikely, because I don't think I ever even entered one of those), I might have thought it was a bit pretentious and not worth its money. Jewelry thrifting somehow makes it easier for me to spot the special pieces and like them for what they are, regardless of price. So while I'll rarely go thrifting for clothes because it wears me out, I'm definitely sold on thrifting jewelry. How about you?


  1. Very interesting reflexion. Of course brands influence our choices in clothing. We are used to associate expensive with good quality. Brands' garments usually have a better design and are made of fabrics of better quality.

    Also, like you said, what the brands sell is what's trendy. But there can also be the problem: like you, I try to avoid buying pieces from the H&M collections because I know it's so cheap that everyone will buy them.

    I guess one has to find the right balance between brands, stores like Zara, H&M, Pull and Bear... and thrifting. I love thrifting because it's good quality but cheap. Plus, each piece you buy in a thrift shop is kinda unique and it feels like the piece has a history. Helps creating your own style.
    However, there are only two thrift shops that I really appreacite and where I can find stuff here in Bordeaux. They do change what they have in store regularly but still, means I can't go too often or I'll find the same things.

    Absolute B. of Incognito

  2. Juwelry thrifting can be very exhausting because I can't wear metal unless it's gold or silver. So I'll see lots of lovely pieces, none of them will be gold or silver and I'll go home all sad 'cause I can't buy and wear them.
    Clothes thrifting... I need to consciously make time for that, wear good shoes and have enough time. Also, I really appreciate a good service in stores, and a place to try on things. So my main reasons for not buying H&M or Next are: not good service and really hard to find pieces that fit well. And the music!

  3. I've never considered thrifting as a way to escape marketing pressure from well known labels, but you made an interesting point. Personally I love flea and antique markets mostly for accessories and furniture because, as you pointed out, they offer a wide choice of original and most of the times unique pieces. Bu when it comes to clothes I'm quite picky, first of all because I'm obsessed with natural fabrics, and cotton/wool/silk hunting in thrifting may be a difficult mission...Also (and I know that's me) I don't like the idea of wearing clothes from other people. H&M and Zara are not my favourite places and sometimes they have interesting pieces and then the key (and the funny part of fashion) is mixing. Have a great w-e!

  4. I see that Absolute.B has already written something before me! :P

    Well for I don't particularly like shopping and thrifting. Both are exhausting for me because in each case you need to look for and I hate that. Actually I buy if something immediately catches my attention.
    Speaking about brands I often go to Pull&Bear, Zara and H&M to have a quick look of what I want or not, then for thrifting I'll go on the US Ebay (and some good markets here in Italy), I am a huge fan of vintage clothes. To make something from H&M, Zara etc...look original I often try to pair it with some vintage things I have. I think I have found the right balance between brands and vintage.
    For price I will surely pay much more for a vintage piece because I feel it is more original, personal, and above all it has a history, and I also find it interesting when I first wear it because sometimes I don't think about the inconveniences and I have to learn to walk with it, how to wear it...etc For example I bought a 50's black dress, this is so straight that I can't make large moves with it so I must be extremly careful while walking but in exchange it learned me how to walk well and always having my back straight :D.
    I am not the kind of person who tries everything, I just watch and if it seems to fit I'll just take it (yeah I know it's bad but fortunately I has worked up until now :D) so thrifting is fine for me :D.

    Wooah, reading my comment I don't if I had been clear :P. Thanks a lot for writing this article it was really interesting as it shows how the process for shopping is different if you are speaking about shopping brands or vintage ;).

    Shug'A'Very from Incognito