Posts Tagged ‘Newbury Street’
I finished Ishmael Beah’s ‘A Long Way Gone’ the Saturday morning I went to buy a pair of shorts. A friend of mine handed it to me the previous Tuesday saying ‘You must read this’. I wasn’t keen, although it was a book I had heard of. My heart sank at the thought of 300 pages of orphaned, drug-addicted child-soldier suffering in Sierra Leone in the late 1990s. But when I started the book I couldn’t stop and that Saturday morning I couldn’t bear to do anything until I’d finished it. So it was lunchtime by the time we reached Newbury Street and the trail of SUVs coming up the one way street from the Common was entrenched.
My goal was a shop that had just opened. On the spur of the moment I bought a pair of shorts from another of their stores last summer and lived in them until they fell apart during our condo move in the early fall. I knew what I had in mind. I’d done my research on-line and the style number was written on a sticky in my hand.
For the amount of people who were in the shop it was small. They were young people – younger than me by ten years. There was one woman who appeared to be the mother of one of the girls and I found myself glancing at her in the hope of a look of common understanding. Including the staff, she and I were the only people over twenty. On some level I felt a fool. Shopping online I could have bought the shorts in oblivion. But here I was, the girls around me eyeing me with thinly disguised scorn.
Still, I persevered. I liked the shorts, I needed a new pair and given how much I hated shopping this was going to be my one and only chance. I asked an attendant to help me, gave him the number and eyed him nervously while he said ‘Okay, okay, I’ll go and check’ and went off. I next saw him serving someone else. When I asked him about the shorts he said ‘Look, just give me a break. I’ve got someone else looking.’ Eventually someone shoved two pairs into my hands. I thought about buying them and leaving but needing to come back again was not a prospect that appealed. I joined the queue for the changing room.
The line moved but slowly. I stood beside the other girls in the queue feeling tall, out of place, and, at thirty, old. I found myself thinking again of Ishmael, the narrator of ‘A Long Way Gone’. He would have been about the age of these girls when he eventually got out of Sierra Leone. He too loved looking trendy, loved music, loved dancing, loved hanging out with his friends. But war – the causes of which, in the book, go very deliberately unexplained – took all that away and brought instead murder, starvation and death. He got out, eventually, to New York. He was one of the lucky ones.
Outside, in the traffic, people were yelling at each other. The girls around about started to complain about the wait and about the music and about the number of items those further up the queue had in their hands. I wanted to complain about the wait, about the music, about the number of items those further up the queue had in their hands. It was starting to get unbearably hot under the lights.
Suddenly a girl with a ponytail and a headset appeared. ‘The men’s changing rooms are like totally free. Go down there.’ She pulled four girls out of the back of the queue. They looked at each other nervously and tried to shuffle away. ‘Just go downstairs! Just go down there! They’re totally free.’ The girl with the ponytail shrieked. The girls at the front of the queue protested. They appealed to the girl in charge. This girl, her face tired and stressed, shrugged.
Ishmael Beah was pulled out of a line. Unlike his friend Jumah, it saved his life. His squad had come to a village (to collect ammunition) where his friend Jumah was stationed. He hasn’t seen Jumah for a while. Jumah no longer has an AK47 but a semiautomatic. He tells Ishmael he got the gun by killing the man who owned it. They spend the night catching up and in the morning four men wearing white UNICEF t-shirts arrive in a truck. Ishmael’s lieutenant orders his boys into a line. He orders the boys at whom he points into the truck. Ishmael is picked but doesn’t want to leave the line. He feels he’s being made to leave the only family he now has. He doesn’t know it but he is being taken to a newly established rehabilitation centre for child soldiers in Freetown. Even if he did know he wouldn’t want to go.
One of the girls at the front of the line pushes into a vacant room and slams the door. One of the girls behind me says ‘Wow, is she on drugs?’ I think about the book again, about the fact that in the war zone Ishmael Beah becomes addicted to cocaine and marijuana. Not that he knows it. He doesn’t know what the white pills are that he is given, the pills that he comes to depend on more than food.
Eventually I get my turn. I find the shorts are too small and then I’m irritated and in despair – not only am I old but I’m fat. And then in my head there’s an image of Ishmael Beah, age thirteen, walking through the jungle to find his family, wearing trousers so big he has to hold them up with rope. And a thought that has been at the back of my mind since I started reading the book comes forward – how easy it is to forget the things that actually matter. I buy the bigger shorts thinking I lucked out in life I won’t need the rope.
What’s the real price of second-hand clothing? Not from an environmental point of view in terms of re-using clothes. I mean what you can pay for it? What you can sell it for? The question is a reasonable one especially if you shop (have to shop) as much as I do. I shop in consignment, thrift stores, and on ebay. And I consign, donate and sell also. And I have discovered that what you can get for, and what you can pay for, second-hand clothing vs what you actually paid for it, can pay for it, or feel it’s worth, is like following Alice down the rabbit hole.
Consignment stores were a revelation to me when I first moved to the States six years ago. They don’t exist in the UK. My first results of selling things at consignment stores however were depressing. I took in a designer dress, NWT, to a consignment store on Newbury St. It’s original price was $350. It made $48. After the 60% cut that the store took, I myself was left with very little of what any reasonable person would pay for the garment, i.e. what I thought it was worth. Yet the store and the person who bought it had told me what it was worth. Hadn’t they? Or was I just unlucky? So what was it worth exactly? $350? The $150 I paid for it when I bought it? The $80 it sold for that day? Or $120 if I’d taken it somewhere else?
My first venture into ebay selling revealed to me that the clothing I was offering for sale (in $.99 auctions) was worth nothing. In fact, it was costing me money – to list it. There are stories that circulate about friends of friends who make a living buying camera lenses on ebay and reselling them, this time with better quality photos. I have seen this effect. Take a photo on a rainy day and no one will bid. Re-take the photo on a sunny day and it sells. The dream, though, surely is to make money on clothing and this I have only come close to once. I bought a 1960s vintage ivory silk wedding dress for $80 in a consignment store. I sold it on ebay for $98. But as I was packing it up to send it, I noticed that the zip had started to come undone at the back, so I had to get it tailored and then dry-cleaned. In the end I made back only what I’d paid. So much for that.
One trick I learned from buying on ebay was that people were selling no-name boutique garments with a pair of Anthropologie earrings, so as to get into the Anthropologie ‘searched for’ list, (Anthropologie clothing being an extremely popular women’s brand). When I myself started selling Anthro’s earrings (themselves bought on ebay), clothing that I had lost money on, suddenly became worth something. But I was often not making on it much more than I had paid for the earrings. It was as if the clothing itself, paired with the earrings, was bringing down the value of the jewelery. I’d like to hear from anyone who’s making a killing in the second hand clothing market. Is it possible? But perhaps you don’t want to let your secret out… .