I am not a Recessionista: Thrifting is a way of life, not some fad

I am not a Recessionista: Thrifting is a way of life, not some fad

by Diana Deaver

Diana came to me with this well-written piece on recession buzzwords and exactly why they piss her off, and while she thought perhaps it may be too “political” for Painfully Hip, I am stoked to present it to you. Diana’s “rants” are consistently a fun read and I’m hoping beyond hope that this might get a discussion going because, for some reason, comments on this blog have slowed to a drizzle (Did I do something wrong? Is the new layout confusing? Let me know!).
EDIT: Ah! Mystery solved. Spinnerette noticed that my theme was making her comments dissipate into the atmosphere! Sorry about that everyone, it is now fixed). To reward you for your patience (and your comments), I have now installed CommentLuv, so you can promote your favorite blog post in your comment.

Now get dressed up in some ridiculous pastel confection and go eat some eggs!

Like a good portion of the world, I am beginning to find myself having unpleasant physical reactions to phrases such as, “in these difficult times,” and any advice suggesting I give up pretending we’re not in the throes of an economic crisis and “button up” the proverbial purse snaps. It’s only worsened by the fact that more and more frequently these phrases are being uttered by multi-million dollar corporations who have been silently clawing through well-intentioned posts on entirely non-corporate indie fashion blogs, and are starting to realize (oh, say, half a decade too late?) that “diy,” closet “remixing,” and thrifting are the “hip” thing to do right now. God forbid we start a trend that isn’t mass-market friendly.

(And to answer Tricia’s question, yes, it fucking infuriates me that these marketing departments are scouring personal – and usually entirely non-profitable – blogs, and making money off of the creativity and ingenuity found within, by selling it back to us.)

It pisses me off even more that such sources are touting this eco-friendly approach as the “hottest new trend,” as if it actually were such, and not in fact a mind-set, as well as a way of life.

The sickening attempt at the mass-market sell-ability of thrift – with the even grosser title “recessionista” – is about as nauseating as Wal-mart throwing the words “emo” or even – god forbid – “indie” – on a tee-shirt tag. (cue swarms of high-school girls stashing their Miley cd’s and hopping in the family Escalade to buy the newest Deathcab. It is not my intention to judge someone’s worth based on personal taste. I am simply trying to point out the fickle nature of “trend.” Original of me, I know.)

Ask any true music aficionado if pasting “emo” on a tee-shirt makes it so, however, and you’ll be lucky if the least you get is a death-stare. “Emo” (as well as “indie,” “metal,” “country,” “hip-hop” and any other gross generalization of a genre I might have over-looked,) isn’t a style of clothing. It isn’t a floppy haircut with pink tips. It isn’t even really referring to the music category itself. If you somehow get lucky and pose this ridiculous question to a friendly music-lover who happens to have a lot patience that day, you most likely will be graced with an answer along these lines:
“(insert music genre) actually refers to a way of life that said music style results from.”

Art and opinion are both results of our day-to-day experience, and every day (most of us) wear clothes.
It’s not hard to make the connection then, that the style we choose (if we consciously choose it) would reflect back to our personal opinions on what it means to exist in this world. I enjoy thrifting. I think creating a new look with recycled garments is fun. These are the precursors to my dressing myself each day.
They are not the goal I am trying to achieve by layering just the right diy-looking pieces that I recently purchased at the mall.

I grew up poor. I am not saying this to invoke sympathy or to build a soapbox. It’s just a fact. I grew up in an economically depressed corner of the country in an even more economically depressed family.

But here’s the thing – growing up I was taught that thrift stores weren’t something you shamefully ducked into – they were the most magical dress-up box you could imagine. They were the only place where you held the possibility of finding a brand new pair of jeans, a fantastic psychedelic dress and a perfectly broken-in tee shirt from your favorite band, all in one place. For under $10. And somehow, sorting through all the crap just made finding the good stuff even better.

The other thing my “poor poverty-stricken parents” taught me was that raw materials are cheap, skills are invaluable, and if you have any sort of creative instinct, you’re not likely to find the things you’re dreaming of in a department store anyway. Being passionately interested in fashion, (and – ahem – dressing in “period costumes” from wagon-trail times – I was 9, ok?) it is only logical that I taught myself to sew.

These interests and skills (along with a sense of responsibility towards preserving the planet and our natural resources – thanks mom and dad,) transitioned into adulthood with me and became an integral part of who I am.

I am not a recessionista.
Therefore, I will never stop being a recessionista.
(God, I feel like I just typed, “punk’s not dead…”)
If the world woke up tomorrow morning and this recession was nothing more than an awkward dream, I would still schedule in a quick trip to Saver’s on my way home from class.

Referring to this trend of being more conscientious with our dollars as being a “recessionista” implies that we’re all just sitting here waiting for the big ugly fad to blow over – we’re stoically poking fun, and maybe even wearing it like leggings in a, “These Are Pants – Seriously Guys,” sort of way. We’ll buy in for a season or two for the ironic, eye-rolling humor of it all.

Calling oneself a “recessionista” smacks of that same stale air of self-entitlement, which seems to have brought us into this “troubled” situation to begin with. It implies that – although this monetary shortage (or debt increase?) is actually putting us out quite immensely – and it’s not really fair that this season we can’t buy the entire new wardrobe we deserve – we’ll shrug our shoulders, giggle a bit, coin a new term and call it trend-setting.

Besides, I feel it’s pretty safe to assume the people who genuinely call themselves “recessionista’s” aren’t the ones who are living off of beans and rice at the moment, anyway.

It seems that it all boils down to a desperate attempt to appear (to whom? The rest of the planet, who quite often are living in third-world conditions?) to be a free-spirited martyr of a spoiled hostess – “well, the crudités platter wasn’t at all what I arranged with the caterers, but I managed to show the guests a fantastic time anyway.”
But in reality, this is a gift – we are suddenly given the chance to slow down and think about what exactly it is we are attracted to aesthetically – what is worth spending our dollars on? What do we own that can be re-fashioned? What can you sew when you combine the forces of your creativity and your own two hands?

So I propose this, recessionistas – and everyone else as well (myself included.):
How about we stop focusing on what we don’t have – how about we stop prefacing every success with a “despite everything that was holding me back” – how about we stop listing what we want, what we feel we’re owed, what we think we’re entitled to, and all the ways that we’ve unfairly had to make the best of a “bad situation,” and start narrowing in on all the self-sufficient ways we’re able to gracefully express who we really are?

34 comments to I am not a Recessionista: Thrifting is a way of life, not some fad

  • “..how about we stop listing what we want, what we feel we’re owed, what we think we’re entitled to, and all the ways that we’ve unfairly had to make the best of a “bad situation,” and start narrowing in on all the self-sufficient ways we’re able to gracefully express who we really are?”

    Very well put. I grew up dirt poor, myself, and having coming from that background just puts this recession into perspective. Our financial success and our material goods are not always going to be there for us, and what’s left of us at our core is who we are, and the skills we have to express it.

    It takes a certain attitude to rise beyond financial duress and the shame that may come from having humble roots – it’s the willingness to be the creators and innovators of our own lives (and of our self-expression). This attitude is a risky one to have because it assumes ultimate responsibility for what happens to us and without anyone else to blame. It’s much easier to put faith in a corporation that gives people the “recessionista” label and make them feel fashionable in trying times, and to give the illusion of choice and control over the situation to lessen the sting, I suppose, of shopping at a thrift store.

    I’ll continue to shop at thrift stores almost exclusively and stick to my spinning wheel, yarn and needles with pride that comes from doing it all on my own, thanks.

    (PS – as I was typing this, the new layout kept refreshing and I would lose all my text. I reverted to copy/pasting it from a word doc, but just something to consider)

  • [...] bookmarks tagged opinion I am not a Recessionista: Thrifting as a way of li… saved by 2 others     PockyLovHer18 bookmarked on 04/12/09 | [...]

  • Spinnerette!
    Thank you SO MUCH for your comment!! Besides the fact that it was an awesome comment, you totally helped me figure out the sudden comments issue! The auto-refresh in my theme is now fixed.

    Thanks again.

  • No problem! Glad to help, I love this blog and you ladies do great work.

  • Patricia D. Dudley

    It is distressing to hear thrifting written about as a trend to be gobbled now and expectorated later. I wintered in 13 button wool sailors’ trousers and found my groove in exquisitely constructed tailored jackets from the 1940′s, as a university student in the late 1960′s-early seventies. My frequent distinction and occasional splender since have come from the same sources, much extended by ebay. I have to mention the distinguished vendor Linda’s Stuff. Viva Linda!

  • [...] I made a comment on the article, it’s the first [...]

  • Oh, this post speaks to me. I grew up poor, too and thrifting was always something you just did without much thought about why. The fact that it’s now green and, given ‘these difficult times;)’, economically savvy as funny to me more than anger-making.

    And the word recessionista is just awful–from a semiotics perspective as well as a cultural one.

    ambika’s last blog post..Sewing Weekend – Vintage Lace DIY & Zippered Pouches

  • Allison Brummet

    This post is wonderful! I hate when someone shrugs off the importance fashion/clothing simply because they don’t understand that it’s not just about clothes; it’s a form of personal expression, something you can’t find at {insert department store here}. You ladies just make me smile. :)

  • pat

    i completely agree with this post!!! i have friends that go (and spoken very quietly) to a thrift store and later say “ahh yes i got this on the local mall” it pisses me off to no end. I see fashion as an articulation of who i am and truth be told i like art although i’m not very good at it therefore i see fashion as a way of expression, as if i’m the canvas an the clothes the paint so way be ashamed of the origin of this or that piece of clothes? plus i think is disrespectful to the store owner that counts on the clients as a marketing resources. GOOO DIANAAA

  • I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



  • I LOVE this! I’ve been going thrifting for years now, before it became a “fade”
    & I always went by myself because my friends couldn’t understand wanting to go to a thrift store,
    & finding awesome things, or pieces to recreate.
    It being “the new thing” upsets me too, because as you said, it is a way you live.
    Not a trend you follow, people will see this soon enough!
    Most wont have the creativity to keep this going.

    brandy bell’s last blog post..Its upsetting me that,

  • I so agree! I too grew up on the poor spectrum, and have never gotten above lower middle class. I have been bargain shopping (thrifting, sales racks, clearance, etc) forever, not just since the economy turned bad. It has been a way of life for me, and I applaud someone for standing up and saying we are here and will continue to shop the way we do after the economy is good again. Thanks so much for this post!

    Danielle’s last blog post..What Im Wearing Easter Sunday

  • Absolutely. Creativity grows strong in poverty and this recession feels no different than last year for those of us that work 12 hour days on minimum wage.

    Brittany’s last blog post..well protected

  • Sooooo incredibly awesome Diana. Thanks for ruling :-)


    Violet Folklore’s last blog post..California Dreamin’

  • It’s so refreshing to read insightful writing like this. I’ll be back. Thank you!

    Alyssa’s last blog post..make you cry

  • Sasha Himsl

    Although I live in one of the only parts of North America where this “recession” nonsense is pretty much imaginary (seriously, I have no idea what economic crisis everybody is rattling on about), I will say that even here the rabid hoards have jumped on the thrift shop band wagon. It pleases me that even though they decimate the Value Mall – wherein can be found the largest and best known second-hand shop in town – nobody really knows where other shops can be found.
    I have a friend who is always impressed by what I come away with, and she always insists that I bring her along with me sometime. I do once in a while, but she never quite seems to Get that thrift shopping isn’t like a store in the mall. You have to patiently comb the racks, sometimes dig under messy overpacked piles and sometimes no matter how hard you look, you just won’t find anything. When you do find something, it’s not always perfect – maybe the skirt used to belong to an 85 yr old woman, so the length is matronly on a 20-something, maybe that dress needs a belt to take it from “meh” to “holy awesome!”.
    Part of the problem with people who normally shop retail is that they are used to clothes being presented to them just the way they are meant to be worn. Often, they are even shown as an outfit. The skills required to pick something up and see some potential with a few key alterations or additions never develop. So the same people who are impressed by the outfits put together by thrifters, always bemoan the fact that all they ever find in thrift stores are ugly sweaters and mom jeans. Thrifting is an entirely different way of shopping, ripe with possiblities, but hardly a lifestyle (fashion style?) that can be taken up successfully on a whim.
    Sorry, this was a little more long winded than I intended.

  • Barrie

    I couldn’t agree more with the post above. The recession hasn’t really affected me, since I’ve pretty much always been consistently broke. But thrifting is not, nor has it ever been, a way of life for me. Partly because, a) I’m a lazy shopper; b) I grew up with two older sisters and grew to loathe hand-me-downs or worn-before-items of any kind; and c) the “thrift stores” in the town I grew up in (in Arkansas) reeked of mothballs and cat piss. I wasn’t in a real city until I was about 25. What I love about this blog is that it has exposed me not just to “a different way of shopping,” but also to the concept of shopping locally and getting inspiration from unusual corridors. Local designers, hand-made Etsy goods, Wardrobe_Remix, Amber ensembles. These are the things I put in my fashion journal and go back to for inspiration anytime I hear the Barney’s in San Francisco calling my name… I can’t help but hope that other people like me will get a new perspective from blogs like Painfully Hip. That has to be a good thing…regardless of why people land here.

  • Annie BoBo

    What and inspirational article. It makes me glad to be me. Fancy though, that in response to your living situations as a child, there are many who grew up the same. We have the same story, pretty much. I grew up without much, though I didn’t ever notice, and progressed to take the little things I did have and make them better. Hence, sewing. My sister gave me my motto when I start wanting things. She said, “Have what you want and want what you have.” Its a great way to look at different aspects of my life in a new light.

  • Heidi

    i totally agree! i hate that people are SUDDENLY money cautious. i havent really been poor but i hate spending 40$ on a sweater. its ridiculous. and i think you can find way better things thrifting anyway.

    im currently watching extra and kim kardashian just came out with a line of shoes and called her self a recessionista.
    :( ugh.

  • thanks so much for all the positive feedback guys! i was kind of nervous that this would come across a “preachy,” which wasn’t my intention at all. the whole “recessionista” title seems so removed from any real-life experience i’ve ever had, and reading all these comments really just set it in stone for me – none of us are really taking this fad thing to heart. it’s almost a joke. like heidi said – “kim kardashian… called herself a recessionista.”
    i’m glad to know that kim’s taking this recession seriously :)

    and brittany – your line, “this recession feels no different than last year for those of us that work 12 hour days on minimum wage,” – is perfect. you summed up in less than one sentence, what took me a thousand words to write.

    you guys are amazing. i feel honored that you took the time to read what i wrote.

    diana’s last blog post..part 2

  • I’m nodding my head here in total agreement! Thanks for the great post, i’m going to link to it from Wardrobe Refashion. :)

  • Ruth H

    So true – loved the article! I think anyone coming from a poor family has the opportunity to be creative and think out of the box. Especially to creatively use what you have.
    I many ways I am glad I grew up poor…it taught me a lot about managing the money and resources you have and learning new skills.

  • Long time lurker, first time poster. I just had to say thanks to Diana for this awesome post, and thanks to everyone who left such great comments, because I’m now more inspired than ever to rely on my creative/crafty abilities to spice up my wardrobe. It’s definitely time for me to stop equating my lack of funds with a lack of personal style. I’ve got knitting needles, and I know how to use ‘em. Now to learn to sew…

  • Oh, I agree with everything you mentioned. This is a powerful post.

  • Ada

    Amen, sister.

  • Wow! So articulate and great discussion of class and fashion! Thank you so much Diana for putting some strong well informed and knowledgeable opinions out there- it’s really hard to do and intimidating to rock the boat, but I’m sure everyone is so glad you provided some fantastic analysis!

  • Abby

    I know what you’re saying, I’ve always loved thrifting and always will. However, I work at a department store and where I work, I haven’t seen any ads denoting “recession chic” or any other catch phrases that have mostly been coined by journalists. I think it’s simple, people want to spend less money, so stores need to cater to their customer.
    Don’t get me wrong though, it’s not my favorite place to shop, the quality of the fabrics are always lacking and a lot of their “sales” are not really sales at all, such as signs that say “originally $80, marked down to $23.99″. I don’t understand how people fall for it. It was never sold for $80. In fact, it’s always been $23.99 since the day it arrived at the store.
    But there is a certain joy that I get when shopping there (comparable to thrift stores) in the clearance racks. There’s nothing like getting a new skirt for $1.97, or a dress for $3.99, even if it’s a winter sweater in the middle of July. A lot of thrift stores don’t even sell clothes that cheap.
    What I’m saying is, department stores and mass merchandising aren’t the antithesis of personal style. If you are creative with your style, you can make a department store find look just as unique as a vintage find.
    That probably didn’t flow very well but I think you know what I mean.

  • Great article. I just got done ranting with my hubby about how people that have never been on budgets but are suddenly forced to be on them now are trying to make these times trendy & cool. Hey, I just thought of something, maybe that’s how they are coping. They are even giving advice – PA-LEASE stop the insanity. We’ve been here for years.
    I just found you via Wardrobe Refashion. I didn’t grow up poor, I would say the low end of middle class but I somehow got the frugal gene from my grandmother that skipped my mother:) I started hitting thrift stores in college because you could find unique quality articles. I also enjoy sewing and believe it is a creative expression no matter how you do it. Keep up the good work. Can’t wait to read more.

    Edris’s last blog post..New Additions to My Sewing Library

  • Gwen

    I found your post via Wardrobe refashion.

    My parents arn’t poor in any sense, but our whole family is frugal (for example, most of my aunts own outright their homes in an upscale suburb of seattle, but have been thrift shopping for the vast majority of their clothes for years). I have tons of great clothes (vast majority 2nd hand) and get compliments almost every day (if I try at all in the morning, I get at least 3 a day).

    I live on the east coast these days and am amazed daily
    a) how new most people’s clothes are
    b) how lame most peoples clothes are

    Growing up in Seattle having put together somthing totally unique that really suits you was respected like crazy (the coolest of cool), while having something generic and easily purchasable was consdiered bland, and paying a lot for something because of the brand was down right contemptible. Given increasing sustainabilty arguments, I wish this viewpoint could catch on more widely.

    Bottom line: “slumming it” with the bohemian starving artists, etc becomes more “trendy” when the middle class/rich can’t afford anything else. In a way, I feel like there is a chance for real change in attitudes if life-time thrifters can step up and appropriate the current media buzz. We can do “recessionista” better than Kim Kardashian/Hollywood: we’ve been researching it for years. We should be giving advice. Own your expertise!

  • I’m not really a thrifter, nor a “recessionista” whatever that means. But your last paragraph here is really inspiring. =)
    .-= Bonnie´s last blog ..Field trip Fridays: the beach =-.

  • Rada

    I only would like to say Thank you to Diana for this great post, because I’m now more inspired than ever to rely on my creative abilities to spice up my wardrobe.
    Read also – kid friendly resorts guide.

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  • I can relate thifting is a way of life, nice posts

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