shopping...appeared in Paper Mag summer 2005
I am a child of the Molly Ringwald generation: a segment of society that came of age in the mid-'80s and refused to spend more than three bucks on their wardrobe. We were the demographic that went to Salvation Army and purchased gas station pants, bowling shirts and '70s button-fronts with wide collars and wild prints. We would wear these musty purchases without alterations in their ill-fitting, baggy-assed glory, listening to mix tapes, peroxiding our hair.
Then, in the fall of 2003, I started work at the Condé Nast Building as the fashion writer for Cargo, the men's shopping magazine. Though I didn't have much experience with fashion, the editors hired me with the faith that I would catch up. That first month was difficult. I would leave my apartment in my frayed, second-hand get-ups, feeling comfortable until I stepped into the sleek elevator at 4 Times Square with all the other editors from all the other magazines who were dressed in up-to-the-second metallic skirts, trompe l'oeil tops and tailored Thomas Pinks. Then I would feel like a piece of ignorable lint. I had so much to learn.
And slowly, during my year there, I did. Like a street urchin in a burlap sack outside of a monastery, the fashion department took me in, and taught me their Sufi ways. The editors and assistants were generous and lovingly open once they trusted me. Fashion, with all its delicate yet definitive verdicts, was injected into my brain like Botox. I was taught to scrutinize knit blends, what body type looks best in an Yves St. Laurent double-breasted suit, how to layer a V-neck, the marvels of Miuccia and much, much more. I was thankful when my co-workers kindly gave me sweaters, shoes and jeans from the endless piles of swag they received. They encouraged me to update my look little by little, applauding my haircut, using supportive adjectives to describe my style like "granola" and "vintage." For example: "This zip sweater is sort of granola and vintage. Here."
I left a year later with a strangely acute eye for quality, fit and subtlety that I hadn't had before. In other words, my taste became expensive. Which was well timed, because everything has become expensive to match it. Now, when I go out to shop, I can't shake this refined eye. I find my hands reaching for a James Perse V-neck sweater and my eyes focusing on a pair of taupe suede Varvatos Chelsea boots. Even worse, my retro clothes have been co-opted by high fashion and re-made in better-fitting, finer fabrics. The annoying thing is that they actually do look and feel better than their scratchy, lumpy predecessors.
I'm not unique. Just look at this decade's all-purpose store of cotton basics, American Apparel, and compare their fitted, indie-cool clothes with the shapeless '90s GAP-wear we habitually wore just a few short years ago. Tell me we haven't changed as a people. We have been infected with a lust for luxury that is emblematic of our contained, sharply polished Romanesque empire. It's a new age: We don't darn our socks anymore or learn to make smart slacks from patterns we buy at Stretch & Sew. Instead, our idea of saving money is to get one $400 pair of really good leather lace-ups.
Let's look at the bright side. In about five years, there are going to be some really, really good, perfectly worn-in clothes at the Salvation Army, if you can stand the musty smell.
« Previous: First Love