Civilization, Whither Art Thou

Commentary on Society and Civilization

Archive of May 2013

May 07

Thrift Shop

When "(h2)Macklemore and Ryan Lewis": released their new hit "Thrift Shop": I'm not sure if he knew just how much press they would get. It is clear from other tracks such as "Same Love" that the group do see music as a method for protesting society. Because of this I feel I am not too crazy for analyzing "Thrift Shop" on a critical level. What makes "Thrift Shop" a unique song is that it promotes buying used clothes from real thrift stores like Goodwill and not trendy and consequently expensive thrift stores where many "(classname)contemporary hipsters(title tooltip)": play. It's clear from his line about his jacket smelling like "piss" that he isn't buying clothing that is an eighty-dollar 'very good' condition jacket; these are 'poor' condition very cheap items. It's clear that when he goes into his riff on people spending fifty-dollars on a T-shirt that "6 other people" in the club are wearing that he feels he can buy cheap clothing, wash it, and then look "incredible." But what are the implications of the message? Initially it could be seen as just another hipster meme in the world of 'I know something the rest of the world doesn't." It seems though to go deeper than that. For instance, the song is clearly playing on the fact that the contemporary hipsters are bringing back styles from previous generations, while claiming screaming their frustration of how they just can't stand how original they are. Macklemore seems to be mocking them as ironic icons of our generation by saying he'll take your granddad's clothes and make them cool again. In this analysis there are two very important themes at work here. First, that people are being "swindled" by corporations into buying "fifty-dollar t-shirts" that are in all likelihood made in a sweat-shop by a child. For instance, the infinitely trendy Apple products have been implicated in having "(classname)child labor(title tooltip)": in their supply chain. This isn't surprising when one considers that 250 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are said be laboring across the globe, the bulk of them (50%) in Asia. For more information on this, see the "(classname)International Labour Organization's(title tooltip)": website. The second theme, which is by no means less important than the first, is that trends, which hipsters try and create, are just revisions or even simple reclamations of past generations trends. This is important for society in that it minimizes the grandeur of the supposed invention of a trend. For instance, today the bow-tie has come back into fashion in the hipster community and has worked its way into stores across the nation, even in stores such as J.C. Penney's and naturally stores such as Nordstrom. But Macklemore seems to be claiming that these trends are nothing special and you don't need to spend all your money on new hip trends when they already exist in the thrift store "down the road." My question is response to this message is this: if we start to shop at thrift stores instead of department stores, what will happen to prices and the supply chain? It seems clear to me that demand has dictated price even at the thrift store level. As someone who has shopped at thrift stores I have seen stores add carousels with "brand name" items. These carousels of clothing are two to three times as expensive as the no-name jeans on the other rack. Even if everyone began to only buy the cheaper jeans, shirts, pants, etc. the supply chain would eventually run out. Clothes rip, get holes, and are eventually worn down -- even high quality clothing with wear out eventually. This means that at some point thrift stores would run out of product. The buying of used clothing would initially hurt the larger new clothing businesses, but individuals would need to start shopping there again once the supply of used clothing ran out or became more expensive than the new clothing. We have seen this already in the music world. Vinyl records have become so trendy that they are more expensive now than CDs in many cases -- in both the used and new category. Whereas 10 years ago I could buy an old Beatles album for a quarter, they are now selling in the double digits when the CD is being sold somewhere for $4.99. My conclusion is that while Macklemore makes great points in his song they are untenable as solutions to the larger global problem. To fix the issues at hand we would need to stop child labor, pay living wages to workers, and as a society support businesses who have good moral business practices. The major issue at hand is price. To do this prices on clothing would go way up. We as a society would not be able to just go out and buy a new outfit whenever we pleased for extremely cheap prices. Perhaps we'd have a different perspective if articles like "(classname)this(title tooltip)": one on the costs of cheap clothing made the news or papers more often. In the end, thrift shops and reuse stores may help in the transition to a world with more ethical business practices, but it is by no means a solution.