Wednesday, August 25, 2010

growing up

Becoming (somewhat) grown-up and getting a (somewhat) grown-up jobs means obtaining some semblance of a grown-up wardrobe. And that means doing one of my least-favorite things: shopping.

For several years I've tried to avoid buying new clothes whenever possible. With a few exceptions for hygiene and safety (new underwear and running shoes), I've managed to clothe myself primarily with thrift store finds and the occasional "donation" from my friends' closets. I've chosen to do so for several reasons.
  1. I disagree with the conditions in which most of what's on the shelves is made. I stopped buying new stuff my freshman year of college with a vague sense that the global clothing industry was problematic. Living with garment factory workers in Cambodia did not convince me otherwise.
  2. I disagree with disposability. Following trends means buying new stuff as often as the industry wants me to. If I’m only supposed to wear it for a few months, chances are it's not made to last. Making new clothes is also environmentally costly.
  3. I can't afford new stuff. And as it looks like I'll be either a student or working low-paying non-profit jobs for the foreseeable future, this is unlikely to change.
  4. (This one was a surprise) I like this way better.
Just like I'm lucky that I don't like meat (it makes being a vegetarian so much easier), I'm lucky that I can't stand shopping. I credit this to my childhood. Every other summer my family would return to the US to visit family and friends, gain weight eating American junk food (okay, maybe that was just me), and stock up on what we needed for the following two years. This lent our shopping trips urgency and anxiety. Urgency (because if you don't get what you need from Old Navy now you won't have another chance for 2 years) and anxiety (because how, at age 11, can you be sure that your feet are done growing? and should you buy your jeans expecting that you'll lose the recently-acquired 5 lbs or not?).

But it was more than just the anticipation of long, boring days at the mall and frustrating decisions that made me dread shopping. It was the change I could sense in my spirit, the heaviness of feeling like I needed more and more new stuff that wouldn’t lift until I was back home. Kenya was no non-consumer Eden, but there were fewer options and therefore less anxiety.

In a way, my decision to stop buying new stuff in college was an effort to create a less-choice environment for myself. At first it was scary, and then it became an adventure (a pattern that recurs in my life every now and then). I can appreciate finding my bridesmaid’s dress for a friend’s wedding at a second-hand shop or inheriting a favorite outfit when a roommate moves out as gifts. Getting a pair of jeans I like from a Goodwill is a small miracle.

But. But. I start a new job in a couple of weeks and will need to be dressed professionally. Every day. I don’t often see quality dress shirts or suits in the racks at Salvation Army.

Once again, growing up means getting close enough to what was once black and white to have to taste the gray.


  1. yes. I know this trend too. Although, I don't really have to dress as nicely as most adult-like jobs. I don't know what New York is like, but if it is anything like Chicago -- which at least in scale it seems so...then theyre actually quite a few thrift shops aimed at selling nicer, adult-like clothing with a recycle conscious. Yes, it's undoubtedly harder, but I've been surprised how many thrift stores offer the nice things. Of course, this is not without socio-cultural baggage because thrifting has become another 18-20 something trend. But! it sure beats the GAP. Another thing...try asking adults you know for nice work clothes they no longer use...

  2. How dare you write an entire blog post after you have gotten a job and NOT EVEN TELL US WHAT THAT JOB IS?!?!?! Jerk. Email me and tell me immediately.

    Love you.

  3. tasting the gray.... i like how you express this.