Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hobo Clothes & an Ego-Crushing Consignment Shop Experience


Consigning clothes seems like such a genius idea - make money by throwing stuff away! It's like eBay with less of the work (& admittedly less of the profit, but hey, less work.) My little New Hampshire town boasted no fewer than five adorable consignment stores in the downtown area alone, & here in New Jersey, I often end my workdays by walking from Starbucks to the chain consignment boutique next door for a quick look at whatever's new. At this point, about a quarter of my wardrobe comes from such stores, so it makes sense that I should also finally try to consign some items of my own.

You can only do this, of course, if your stuff is nice. I happen to think mine is, though it's not particularly high-end - mostly GAP & LOFT, with some better & worse brands on either side. I've recently lost a bit of weight, too, so everything that once fit is now too slightly big (what a terrible problem to have, I know), including a number of pieces I bought just last winter, when I was at my heaviest. It's nice, new stuff, like striped sweaters & crisp button-downs & brightly colored cords, stuff I would wear if it fit me; stuff I would buy again if it fit me, especially if I found it at consignment prices. There's jewelry, too, these pretty statement necklaces, & shoes, like a pair of brown leather boots & green, snakeskin Nine West stilettos I've never worn. I have good taste, I think, certainly good enough to consign at a store that also sells brands like J. Jill & Lands End & stuff you'd find in the section of Macy's reserved for middle-aged moms.

I lug an overstaffed bag into the shop on a Monday afternoon, taking a quick break from my workday. On the walk there, I'm the target of a few "What are you doing?" looks from passersby who surely wonder why a put-together girl in Frye boots & a "BE AMAZING" sweater is lugging what appears to be an oveersized hobo bindle down main street. When I get to the store, I find that the staffer who's doing the consigning isn't particularly friendly, but she isn't rude, either, just kind of overworked & focused on efficiency. Still, as I set my boulder-sized bag on the counter to begin the process, I realize my hands are shaking a little bit & tingling, like they do when I'm really nervous. Because this all feels kind of judgmental, doesn't it? Here's a total stranger, about to tell me exactly why my wardrobe is or isn't good enough to be shared with other shoppers. I don't particularly want to hear her reasoning behind the pieces she rejects, so I wander through the store while she goes through my items, taking to the sweater rack & hoping for the best.

After 10 minutes or so, she calls me back over. "We can take this jacket & these four necklaces," she tells me, gesturing toward five items laid carefully upon a table to her left. In front of her is the discard pile, practically towering, my sweaters & jeans & those fancy heels all in a heap that announces they have no worth, aren't fashionable or well-kept or desirable enough for resale.

The store employee is looking at me expectantly, as though I should know the rest. And I do: Suddenly, I remember that the store's policy is that you must have 10 items to consign.

"So..." I begin.

"So collect some more stuff," she answers flippantly, beginning to stuff my items back into the bag. I stop her, ask if I can take a minute to refold them, & as I ready my reject wardrobe to return home, she pipes up again.

"This Old Navy stuff? No. We don't take that. But maybe try bringing back some of the GAP & Banana Republic stuff in the spring." I keep looking down, don't make eye contact with her judgy face as I neaten my pile & pack it away. Her colleague chimes in: "We'd also be very interested in your Longchamp bag," she says, pointing at the massive tote I'm trying (& failing) to stuff all my clothes back into.

"It's..." I should just tell her I'm not looking part with it, but my brain takes the more honest route. "It's not real." In fact, it has the name of a California synagogue stamped on the side she can't see, a gift from a colleague I once helped & a surefire giveaway that it's a knockoff that's not even trying very hard. Upon my response, both boutique employees look at me with what can only be described as thinly veiled disgust. One of them opens her mouth, as if to speak, & then, thinking better of it, closes her lips with a wet-sounding purse. In coordinate heel-spins, they turn away from me & return to the front desk, leaving me at the back of the store to clean up the mess that is my fashion sense.

I give up on folding. There's not enough room in the bag anymore, because my tingling hands have made me clumsy, so I shove the boots & stilettos into my purse (which is, by the way, an actual Longchamp bag). My eyes are burning now, too. Desperate to leave, I slink behind a rack of dresses & winter coats, but my necklaces, the ones I shoved into the bottom of the bag, are tangled together in a mass that jingles when I walk, & their sound gives me away. I pass the boutique employees on my way out the door & they say nothing; is this better or worse than if they'd chirped, "Thanks for coming in!"? I can't decide. I cross the threshold back onto main street for the long walk of shame back to my car, & as I pass some of the same people who watched me walk into the store, I can't help but feel like I've got a scarlet letter upon my chest - a U for unfashionable maybe, or an R for reject.This is stupid, of course, because no one is paying attention, but try telling that to my wounded pride.

I discard my snubbed clothes into the trunk of my car, where they'll remain in hiding until I drop them off at Goodwill next week. I wish I could hide, too, but the closest I can get is to sequester myself in my home until I'm confident that I don't look like a hobo & feel qualified to reenter the world. In the meantime, for today, there will be no coffeeshops for me as I work from home & nurse my damaged ego in leggings & UGGs & an oversized grey sweater. Because, hey, sometimes looking like a hobo is sort of cathartic.

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