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From Goodwill to Grunge: A History of Secondhand Styles and Alternative Economies (Studies in United States Culture)

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In this surprising new look at how clothing, style, and commerce came together to change American culture, Jennifer Le Zotte examines how secondhand goods sold at thrift stores, flea markets, and garage sales came to be both profitable and culturally influential. Initially, selling used goods in the United States was seen as a questionable enterprise focused largely on the In this surprising new look at how clothing, style, and commerce came together to change American culture, Jennifer Le Zotte examines how secondhand goods sold at thrift stores, flea markets, and garage sales came to be both profitable and culturally influential. Initially, selling used goods in the United States was seen as a questionable enterprise focused largely on the poor. But as the twentieth century progressed, multimillion-dollar businesses like Goodwill Industries developed, catering not only to the needy but increasingly to well-off customers looking to make a statement. Le Zotte traces the origins and meanings of “secondhand style” and explores how buying pre-owned goods went from a signifier of poverty to a declaration of rebellion. Considering buyers and sellers from across the political and economic spectrum, Le Zotte shows how conservative and progressive social activists--from religious and business leaders to anti-Vietnam protesters and drag queens--shrewdly used the exchange of secondhand goods for economic and political ends. At the same time, artists and performers, from Marcel Duchamp and Fanny Brice to Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain, all helped make secondhand style a visual marker for youth in revolt.


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In this surprising new look at how clothing, style, and commerce came together to change American culture, Jennifer Le Zotte examines how secondhand goods sold at thrift stores, flea markets, and garage sales came to be both profitable and culturally influential. Initially, selling used goods in the United States was seen as a questionable enterprise focused largely on the In this surprising new look at how clothing, style, and commerce came together to change American culture, Jennifer Le Zotte examines how secondhand goods sold at thrift stores, flea markets, and garage sales came to be both profitable and culturally influential. Initially, selling used goods in the United States was seen as a questionable enterprise focused largely on the poor. But as the twentieth century progressed, multimillion-dollar businesses like Goodwill Industries developed, catering not only to the needy but increasingly to well-off customers looking to make a statement. Le Zotte traces the origins and meanings of “secondhand style” and explores how buying pre-owned goods went from a signifier of poverty to a declaration of rebellion. Considering buyers and sellers from across the political and economic spectrum, Le Zotte shows how conservative and progressive social activists--from religious and business leaders to anti-Vietnam protesters and drag queens--shrewdly used the exchange of secondhand goods for economic and political ends. At the same time, artists and performers, from Marcel Duchamp and Fanny Brice to Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain, all helped make secondhand style a visual marker for youth in revolt.

40 review for From Goodwill to Grunge: A History of Secondhand Styles and Alternative Economies (Studies in United States Culture)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kes

    This was a well-researched book, but unfortunately the writing style was terribly academic. The author never uses a five-cent word when a dime would suffice (e.g. using the phrase "novitiate designers" instead of "novice designers"), and there are numerous adjectives littering the sentences that come off as superfluous. That being said, I did learn quite a bit from reading it. The first chapter deals with the history of secondhand items and the creation of the secondhand economy. Basically, people This was a well-researched book, but unfortunately the writing style was terribly academic. The author never uses a five-cent word when a dime would suffice (e.g. using the phrase "novitiate designers" instead of "novice designers"), and there are numerous adjectives littering the sentences that come off as superfluous. That being said, I did learn quite a bit from reading it. The first chapter deals with the history of secondhand items and the creation of the secondhand economy. Basically, people weren't into secondhand items because of the belief that "physical objects are imprinted with previous owners' attributes, giving secondhand objects an eerie agency." At the same time, however, "the large-scale commercial production of items previously made at home changed people's relationship with material goods; the easier it was to purchase something, the more people thought of it as a temporary acquisition". Residential living quarters also shrank at the same time, meaning that people had less space to store their goods. As such, there was an increasing supply of secondhand goods. Into that gap stepped the Salvation Army and Goodwill. While both started off as charitable enterprises, they grew increasingly corporatised. For the wealthier consumers, giving was a virtuous act. It allowed the remaking of the poor of society - when Goodwill/Salvation Army hired the poor, it remade them by giving them a purpose. By dressing them appropriately, it also "remade" them to appear pass as "American". The second chapter deals with the continued growth of secondhand clothes and the rise of secondhand clothes as a fashion statement - i.e. "the people I know don't wear clothes - that is - not what you would call clothes.... They wear ideas." We start with pushcart and flea markets selling secondhand clothes - the uniqueness of each store and the negotiability of price (as opposed to a department store: mass produced and no room for negotiation) "fueled a... nostalgia for preindustrial life". In short, these are people modern day parlance calls "hipsters". There was some pushback against these secondhand exchanges - usually due to xenophobia and racism (i.e. the main consumers of the secondhand markets were immigrants, Jews, or blacks). At the same time, these exchanges spurred trade: "In 1925, over one hundred retailers and landlords in Brooklyn sought an order to compel pushcart vendors to sell in front of their shops. The businesses across the street, where merchants were permitted to park, were doing much better as the result of a general stimulation of trade." The third chapter deals with the middle class folks getting in on the secondhand economy, primarily through garage sales. A garage sale allowed shoppers to view the personal items of near-strangers (human curiosity), and the purchase of these items could be a shorthand for personalised style and creativity - distinct from the modish mass manufactured goods. This "collective rebellion" allowed "growing numbers of Americans [to express] their discontent with presumably middle-class conformity through the adoption of various modes of secondhand style." Chapter four and five deal with vintage clothing and secondhand clothes as a fashion statement, primarily in the 1950s. Some used secondhand clothing as a political statement - rejecting the 9-to-5 and a commitment to antiestablishment lifestyles. At the same time, the wealthy donned secondhand attire as, variously, a form of elective poverty and class indifference. Tom Wolf describes two ways, often used in tandem, newcomers to high society had of "certifying their superiority over the hated 'middle class' ": they might take the high road and mimic aristocracy with lofty architecture, numerous servants, and extreme formality - or, "they can indulge in the gauche thrill of taking on certain styles of the lower orders." The French long ago dubbed the latter impulse nostalgie de la boue, literally translated as nostalgia for the mud. Chapter six and seven focus on secondhand clothing in music and other art. Six deals with genderfuck especially - i.e. those who dressed across gender lines (not necessarily because they were trans). However, it deals a lot with the LGBT community. Men crossing the gender line was seen as a greater transgression; in contrast, women crossing genderlines were co-opted into the boyfriend look. We also deal with musicians crossing gender line - Kurt Cobain and his dress, for example. Patti Smith's androgynous look is mentioned. I enjoyed her quote from 'dream of rimbaud': "he who hesitates is mine. we're on the bed. I have a knife to his throat." Then we end on with a quick epilogue on the twenty-first century. This book limited itself to clothes and fashion - I felt that it would have been fascinating if it could have touched on e.g. secondhand cars, antiques (most paintings are secondhand, for example, or even statues), or other furniture. More focus could also have been put to the modern day secondhand economy; I wonder how things like Craigslist (peer to peer selling) would have changed the calculus, for example. I vacillated between three stars and four stars for this book - it is well-researched, but I can't say it's well-written, and due to its writing style, its audience would be probably limited to the academic community. And, to be fair, I'm not interested in American fashion during the second half of the twentieth century.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Gertie

    boring academic style. skipped beginning and moved on to vintage in the 60's and 70s and enjoyed that through grunge boring academic style. skipped beginning and moved on to vintage in the 60's and 70s and enjoyed that through grunge

  3. 4 out of 5

    Andrea Avery

  4. 5 out of 5

    Colleen

  5. 4 out of 5

    Zuri Bennett-paden

  6. 5 out of 5

    irfan

  7. 4 out of 5

    Vicki Trerotola

  8. 5 out of 5

    Denice

  9. 5 out of 5

    Scissor Stockings

  10. 5 out of 5

    Amy Kooij

  11. 5 out of 5

    Snooks McDermott

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kumoshi

  13. 5 out of 5

    Christy

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ilona Westfall

  15. 5 out of 5

    Naomi Toftness

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay

  17. 5 out of 5

    Emma Weisman

  18. 4 out of 5

    Leigh Anne

  19. 4 out of 5

    Su

  20. 5 out of 5

    Stu

  21. 5 out of 5

    Karyn

  22. 5 out of 5

    Frank

  23. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

  24. 5 out of 5

    Samantha Chapnick

  25. 5 out of 5

    Billie Cotterman

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lotte Brewer

  27. 4 out of 5

    Amy

  28. 4 out of 5

    Hue

  29. 5 out of 5

    Denise

  30. 5 out of 5

    Heather

  31. 5 out of 5

    Melissa White

  32. 5 out of 5

    Carling Shirley

  33. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Petrie

  34. 4 out of 5

    Rolf

  35. 4 out of 5

    Megan Howarth

  36. 4 out of 5

    Marisa

  37. 5 out of 5

    Chrissi Burnett

  38. 4 out of 5

    Catie

  39. 4 out of 5

    Costumegal

  40. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn

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