An Excursion into Value, Subtitle: Did that guy just leave wearing 8 coats?

So I got all of your attention, and then I didn’t write anything for a week. I do tend to be a girl with a penchant for making grand plans and an aversion to timeliness and action. However, in this case, I have a GOOD REASON. More on that in the near future.

This week, I went to Value Village. Value Village is sort of horrible and wonderful at once. First of all, there’s the smell. Upon first sniff, the entire Value Village collection, sitting limp and nearly sizzling  under unrelenting fluorescent lighting, assaults your nostrils with a noxious, soapy smell. It screams, “Clean! Clean! Clean! Nothing to smell here, folks.” It is maybe floral, but also unlike any flower you have ever smelled.

If this first wall of scent does not send you running through the gaping automatic doors, you are confronted by an even stranger second layer. Underneath the best efforts of modern detergent, every whiff of old sweater, turtleneck dress, and potentially-ironic early-2000s band t-shirt is chock full of the lingering odour of other people’s lives. If you were ever to meet the previous owner of those corduroy overalls, you would already know intimately what the back of their cupboard smelled like. The pasty legs of somebody’s over-sunscreened dad practically materialise in those Bermuda shorts. The longer you contemplate the comedic possibilities of that t-shirt, the further you are possessed by the ghost of the pimply kid who thought that N Sync was actually singing about every emotion he had ever had. And as much as you may want to see the artistic possibility in these olfactory glimpses into worlds unknown, the truth of the matter is that other people’s lives smell weird.

Everyone’s own smell is made up of all the tiny pieces of what they do every day. It is comprised of the things we come across so often that we have forgotten that to smell them is, indeed, a sensation. It is a teeming microcosm. To learn about someone else’s life story is pathetic and uplifting. To know what they usually eat for breakfast, how many pets they have, how many kids, whether their job makes them nervous, what the first recipe their mother taught them was, if their pants are usually too short or too long for them, whether they wear socks, how frequently they get drunk, how many buttons of their shirt they wear open, if they stand with their hands in their pockets, whether they cry often, how much they bathe and what position they like to sleep in:    this is too much. This is overwhelming to the point of revulsion. This is why so many people enjoy movies, and so few enjoy wearing clothes that other people have worn before them. (This is also why I marvel at functioning long-term relationships.)

This brings me to my second anthropological observation. The clientele of Value Village is very distinct. There are often a lot of very normal-looking people in Value Village, roaming the aisles at a foraging pace somewhere in between cow and hyena. There are moms with orbiting younguns, trying to save money on soon-to-be-outgrown-anyways outfits. There are tweens with nothing to do and not enough money for the mall. There are practical grey-haired ladies. There are hip twenty-somethings who have confused vintage with just old, and there are less hip twenty-somethings who are simply too poor for new clothes.  Among all these exists a kind of community; a community born, like so many, from scarcity of natural resources. So rare are unquestionably attractive/useful things in the badlands of Value Village, that even should an item clearly have zero chance of fitting you/ever being used by anyone you know, you feel a terrible sense of hysteria at the idea of replacing it on the rack. The easiest remedy to this irrational panic is to turn to the person shopping nearest to you and foist the unwanted item on them with a cheery, “I think this is your size! And so cute.” In this way, a strong sense of camaraderie is born between the shoppers of Value Village.

Of course, certain apparently innocuous shoppers carry this spirit of impromptu fellowship too far, threatening the boundaries of peaceful co-existence with such unprovoked questions as,

“Are you seriously going to buy that N Sync t-shirt?”

Or “If I wear this halter top can you tell that my boobs are two different sizes?”

And then, there is always that one guy who is yelling to himself, weaving through the aisles erratically, and wearing eight jackets. (Is he going to buy all those jackets? Is he stealing all those jackets? Are they going to let him just walk through the door with all those jackets?! He just made off with at least sixteen dollars’ worth of merchandise!)

Finally, there are the clothes themselves. The dresses that cannot possibly have looked good on anyone, ever. The arresting pantsuits that force you to stop and contemplate everything you ever thought you knew about fashion. The sweaters that make it okay that you have given up on every knitting project you ever started. Once in a blue moon, you will find something that you will wear and love forever and that will look better on you than anything else you own, or a retro kitchen appliance that will, to your astonished joy, work. But this demands extreme dedication – and what you will find will never be what you were looking for in the first place.

On this week’s excursion, I set out to hunt for a pair of jeans. I ended up going to Urban Outfitters later the same day (ugh, I’m a consumerist faux-vintage-wearing sleaze ball like everyone else) and instead buying jeans that made my butt look – well, like I had a butt. BUT I did end up with a straight-out-of-the-80s Value Village party dress. I went home and put it on and stood in front of the mirror. The new jeans I’d just bought made me think of the weekends ahead, the fun to be had, and they made me feel cool. The old dress looked funny and outdated against the backdrop of my room. It looked like it would still be twirling in someone else’s memories if it had not been consumed faster than it had been used. Tentatively, I put on some goofy 80s pop and danced around a bit to a song that was good because it had not died.

I think that if I hem the dress, it might look like it belongs. I think that even if it never does fit in, if I wear it enough times it will start to smell like me.


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