Thrift stores are one of those impulsive places to visit; at least for me. It takes a certain frame of mind for “Let’s rummage through other people’s used stuff!” to come up on the list of activities that would seem fun, and the fact that I manage to attain that state of mind as often as I do without the assistance of alcohol or drugs kind of worries me.

Not that I’m saying thrift stores have nothing to offer. On the contrary, for one seeking the right items, they can be an excellent way to save money or locate rarer items. I’m never actually looking for anything in particular, though. My approach is more that of a museum patron, looking at relics of yesteryear and even seeking the bizarre and grotesque (a compulsion I share with others).

Today I browsed through the books, meditated on how VHS tapes are now yet another part of my childhood sinking beneath the surface of obsolescence and, in a departure, took a good, long look at the racks of T-shirts.

Thrift store T-shirts are a paradox of fashion, having this attractive, one-of-a-kind quality about them yet still seen as repulsive enough through their stereotype that many people would rather go to Old Navy or American Eagle to plunk down 10 times the price for a mass produced, pre-faded facsimile —some of which eventually end up on the thrift store racks, anyway, posing next to their real-life originators.

What makes such shirts so fascinating is that they’re not just shirts, but identities; personas others once adopted and have grown tired with, discarding them and all they entail to whomever wants to pony up $1.99. Want people to think you ran a 5k in support of cancer research? $1.99. That you worked crew for the 2002 production of Into the Woods at Random High School? $1.99. That you attended a concert of No-named Indie Band? $2.99 — I guess because they signed it.

I slid shirt after shirt along the racks, briefly envisioning myself as the individual it implied. I work for this company. I attended this college. I support keeping pregnant women from drinking.

But the game stopped at a purple shirt: “Pine Valley Cadet Band.”

I really did attend Pine Valley. I really was in the Cadet Band. I wore the exact same style shirt when I made a lot of real memories. Was someone else just going to pick this shirt up off the rack and laugh at all the ironic assumptions people could make if he or she wore it?

I looked back down at the rack I just took a joyride through and put the band shirt back, trying to conceal it within a patch of purple cloth. Low blow, thrift shop; low blow.

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