I like to think of myself as a repurposer, and to some extent I certainly am, in that I sit at the computer this afternoon wearing shirt, shorts, and shoes that some discerning shopper bought brand new. I won’t go into the labels I’m sporting today, but, please, assume my repurposing hits the top of the line in every area of apparel.
It happens that the clothing I am wearing today belong in the category, “like new”; I can only imagine some star-crossed shopper arriving home with parcels, looking at the crisp new clothing in bright boxes tied with ribbons and immediately snipping the labels and dropping everything off at a local charity, swept away by pangs of remorse in buying articles of such high quality when former teachers, say, walk the streets without impressively logo-ed sportswear.
Actually, when it comes to men’s clothing, there are two significant factors that allow me particularly enviable choice in almost any thrift store of quality. The first is obvious; women live longer than men, and in some cases, marry an older spouse, whose elegant wardrobe is packed up regretfully by a widow wanting someone else to “have nice things.” Thank you very much. The second turns an unappreciated condition into an advantage; I am short and relatively small, thereby not competing with the larger and extra-larger thrifters. There are lots of extra-large thrifters.
There are some complications,however, that arise from a peculiarity in the physique of the average American male, as described by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The average man is about 5′ 9″ tall, weighs 195 pounds, and has a circumference of almost 40 inches at the waist. So, you would think that average man buys trousers with a 40 inch waist, or, perhaps hoping for sudden girth reduction or simply out of vanity, perhaps a size 38. Well, they don’t; 55% of them buy trousers with a 34 inch waist. Some brands do run a bit large, but in most instances some of those 40 inches of midriff hang over the belt. In this observation, I cite the findings of a company that checks the sizes and body types of a sample made up of 400,000 men. When questioned, men admitted that they continued to buy the size they thought of as their size (oh, memory is sweet!) because they could not admit that time has taken its toll.
Inevitably, as it must to all men, the realization of time’s cruel ravage sinks in, once beloved trousers now flare disturbingly, and another bundle arrives at the Hospice Thrift Shop, dry cleaned and “like new”. The same phenomenon affects other articles of clothing as well; only hats seem to be immune to the general widening of a fella over the years. Shirts end up in my grasp, in every hue and texture, and sweaters knit from the fleece of lambs fed only clover. Overcoats, denim jackets, t-shirts heavy with the thickest cotton, foul-weather gear, stadium parkas, team jerseys – the bounty of the world thoughtfully displayed for my shopping pleasure.
I also confess to certain prejudices about clothing and other articles that end up in my repurposful sights. Quality is eternal. I often seek vintage clothing of quality because the materials are superior and because the crafting of the article is exquisite. I travel with a small suitcase, green canvas and leather, because I love the heft of the thing and the soft play of handcrafted leather as I reach for the artfully designed handles. I lather each morning with a shaving brush that was made in Germany and likely belonged to a Prussian Junker who delicately, but firmly, coaxed the badger into giving up its bristle. I sleep at night under a striped woolen blanket, a blanket with a few moth holes, to be sure, but an authentic blanket from the Hudson Bay Company, a striking artifact in full daylight, each stripe still vivid – green stripe, red stripe, yellow stripe, and indigo against a background made of sunshine and snow.
I am not alone in my appreciation of quality. Readers will recall the moment at which the mercurial Daisy is swept into unanticipated depths of feeling about Jay Gatsby. He has shown her his shirts; she weeps. “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such beautiful shirts before.”
We know how Gatsby ends. It’s not a happy ending. But those shirts… don’t we think they were stuffed in a bag and left in a drop-off bin somewhere on the North Shore of Long Island? Gatsby’s shirts, Amory Blaine’s white flannel trousers, Bertie Wooster’s Banjolele, Babar King of the Elephant’s green suit – these are the Holy Grail of
Pawn shops, storage units, unclaimed baggage, each can provide the occasional whiff of discovery, but the thrift stores that operates to support a cause worth supporting have brought me countless hours of delight and more curios than a single home can hold.
And, to complete the cycle, I make room for the next purchases by donating something from the last. Symbiotic partners, my Hospice Unique Boutique and I, living examples of give and take, each the more complete for the gift of the other.
Well, it’s Wednesday, 20% off day. The game is afoot!