Many years ago, I heard the noted psychoanalyst Erich Fromm interviewed on the radio. One of the things he said that struck home was that “consumption reduced anxiety” and he predicted that if the department stores ever shut down, there would be mass nervous breakdowns. I thought the remark facetious at first, but then, as I began to think about it, I realized it was true. Shut down Lord & Taylor’s or the Mall, and the thousands of shopping addicts in our society, mostly women, would fall apart.
I have to confess: I am a thrift shop addict, getting my needed “fix” for under $5, sometimes less. But I’ve got it under control (I swear). Once a week, I go to the Congregational Church Thrift Shop in Stamford, (fortunately open only on Thursdays from 10 to 3.) I don’t know that I have a particular need to buy new things as much as to see new things (the artist in me.) I require lots of visual stimulation and a visit to the thrift shop is, if nothing else, is a cheap thrill for the eyes.
Decades ago, when my office was located in an old shingle-style house on Main Street (we did historic preservation research), I used to call nearby Columbus Park “Thrift Shop Square.” Within a two block radius was the Hadassah Thrift Shop, St. Joseph’s Thrift Shop, Aid for the Retarded, Stamford Hospital Thrift Shop, along with a place whose name I don’t remember in the old Hotel Davenport. Whenever things got tense in the office, I would announce: “time for some Thrift Shop Therapy” and we would all head out to explore the treasures that surrounded us. Within an hour, everyone was back at work, purring like kittens over their $3 find: a pair of almost new chinos, a cup and saucer for the shelf and so on and so forth. No therapist could have accomplished so much for so little. Unfortunately, none of these places exist any more; the women who once manned them have died off or have careers and no time to sift through bags of “schmattas.”
I remember one occasion many years ago, when I went to the Greenwich Hospital Thrift Shop (still around but in a less convenient location) and was browsing through the racks of men’s clothing looking for an impossible to find size 46 L men’s jacket. The young and dapper man standing next to me had scored; he had found a rack full of stylish and expensive suits, mostly brand new, his size. “She must have taken them here the minute he walked out the door,” he muttered, sympathetically.
A while ago, I decided to create Renee Kahn’s Thriftee Shoppe with 3/4 life-size clothes cut out of brown wrapping paper. From a lifetime of thrift shop meandering came dozens of outfits, everything slightly out of style. I put shoulder tabs on the clothes (like paper dolls), cut them out and hung them on wire hangars. Some, I nailed up on a large wall outside my studio, others, (half-price) were hung on a metal clothes rack. I had an absolute blast re-creating the kind of dated clothing you see in thrift shops: jackets with peplums, mink stoles, harem pants, hippie vests, boleros (remember them?) My creations were a cross between high-art and low fashion. Although nobody bought anything (despite my bag for a dollar sale,) I thought they were a hoot (and a real bargain.) They’re still hanging in my studio; price on request.