Keeping up with the Joneses vs. Keeping up Appearances

Posted on 19.09.2011

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Today I had the pleasure of speaking with two of my older students about the stigma surrounding second-hand shopping here. They offered pretty much the same information that my younger friends have given, but also made sure to mention that there are some exceptions.

Baby and Maternity clothes: 
Thankfully, the Germans also understand that these two industries are rackets, and are therefore totally ok with getting this suff used.

Furniture, cars, etc:
Also on the ‘ok list’.

Larger cities, not in the south:
My students brought up a good point: we live in the richest state in Germany. We also live in a small city. So apparently, if you remove those two factors and go to somewhere like Köln, Berlin or Hamburg, thrifting is bound to be more acceptable, possibly even fashionable.

That’s what outlets are for:
They mentioned that there are loads of outlets (and they’re right), and that a lot of people like to shop at the outlets. This argument only makes half-sense to me, since obviously the clothing at the outlets is never that much cheaper than it is in the stores, although here in Germany they do do a better job of making the prices more attractive or offering better specials in the outlets (unlike the USA).

When I asked them WHY thrifting was seen as such a negative, ‘no no’ type of thing, I was met with two reasons. The first reason is that up until a decade or so ago, you literally needed your H4 id card to shop at the places. Therefore, the idea that these shops are ONLY for the poor became the mindset, since they quite literally were.

Second, my students mentioned that because of this and the ‘way that Germans are’ in general, no one ‘wants to look like they are poor’. This is verbatim what one of them said to me. So I told them about the phrase ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’, and explained what it meant. They were quick to say that it’s not really about keeping up with the neighbors, but rather, ‘Keeping up Appearances’, or ‘not looking poor’.

This idea makes a ton of sense to me, and I think it’s easy to see how this has, in turn, continued the negative cycle and ideas about the second-hand shops. People think in their heads ‘second hand shops are only for poor people’, and associate the poor people’s clothing choices with said shops. This process repeats, and since no one bothers to go into the shops to look at the clothing (save for parents and pregnant ladies), they continue to assume that they only carry crap.

It’s kind of like thinking McDonald’s is healthy for you, but never bothering to read the wrappers (or compare to other things). So if it’s all you know, why would you change your mind?

Ok, got it.

So now I’m planning to change my plan of action in regards to second-hand shops. I’m going to make them cool, ala Billy Madison peeing his pants. All the kids are doing it, check out this badass 3-Euro blazer I got at Brauchbar!

I doubt it will change anything or take away the bounty I find at the shops, but I’m just hoping to remove the stigma and maybe change some minds. It’s silly to me that one of the greenest countries in the world doesn’t do second-hand clothing. And I’m making a mental note to check out the thrifting offerings in the bigger cities whenever I go.

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Posted in: fashion, shopping