I exclusively wear Hawaiian shirts. Really, I do. It’s a trend that began earlier this summer when I spontaneously walked into a thrift shop in my home town and bought two oversized, underpriced works of textile artistry. These short-sleeved, floral button-downs are the duct tape of apparel in their universal utility: casual yet formal, unassuming yet expressive, collared yet comfortable. They can make the worst of bad hair days look like a flash of stylistic genius.
Hawaiian shirts were just the gateway find, however. Over the past few months, I’ve strutted into a plethora of thrift stores in search of nothing in particular. My shopping list nonexistent, I sought out the fruits of people’s past spring cleanings to peak my curiosity. Even since returning to Durham this semester, I’ve already found such treasures as the discarded marriage certificate of a clearly successful domestic partnership, a Midnight Breakfast T-shirt from the year “Space Jam”blessed the world with its release (1996),and a“What Would Jesus Do?” neck tie.
Thrift-shopping is not just about “popping tags” as renowned philosopher-poet (and Toby from The Office look-alike) Macklemore might have led you to believe in his 2012 hit single “Thrift Shop.” Instead, this activity allows the buyer to treasure hunt instead of merely consume. With no end-goal in mind, individuals are free to roam and peruse shelves of clutter which may themselves be glimpses into times past or portals into future possibility. If they walk out of a thrift store empty-handed, satisfaction, not disappointment, will be written across their faces due to the absence of expectation. Any knick-knack purchased is just icing on the cake because what they discovered in the aisles will be of just as much value as what they took out of them.
This is not meant to belittle the economic struggles of those who shop at thrift stores out of necessity; my intent is simply to portray thrift stores as a deviation from the norm in order to offer something more for all of us.
We need to go thrift-shopping more often. For our wardrobes, yes, but also for our own well being. Too often do we lack the time in our hectic lives necessary to do something without an agenda in hopes of receiving some unspecified benefit. To illustrate this, I typed “lack of free time” into The Chronicle website search box and discovered over 1,000 articles, editorials and columns that made mention of the search item. The number of times this phrase appeared surprisingly beat out heavily talked about names on campus such as Duke Executive Vice President, Tallman Trask III (950 matches), and Duke basketball’s very own senior Nick Pagliuca (20 matches). Clearly, time usage is on the very forefront of our conscious minds.
It is no secret, then, that most Duke students’schedules are jam-packed from dusk till dawn with every millisecond of every day mentally mapped out. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor, in a 2014 report on American Time Use, found that individuals enrolled at a full-time university spent on average 6.5 hours a day on educational or work related activities, 4.1 on leisure, 1.0 dining, and 1.4 traveling. Of the remaining 11.8 hours, the vast majority is spent sleeping (8.7), with only 2.3 hours of unspecified time (a large percent of which spent on social media or binge-watching a Netflix series) each day. Academic diligence is no sin, nor is leisure, dining nor travel. But when even leisure activities and meals are as meticulously planned out as study schedules, I must ask, when will there be time to explore the world and people around us in search of nothing in particular?
Time spent without intention is not time squandered, rather it is an empty space for serendipity to occupy. Perhaps this day-to-day experiential thrift shop will manifest itself as a late-night conversation with a soon-to-be friend down the hall or as the discovery of a perfect study spot during an aimless walk around campus. We must allow ourselves to be surprised and the time required to do so.
Furthermore, we should try apply this thrifty mentality to our education as well. In the Pratt microcosm, for instance, out of 34 credits required for graduation, 29 are already chiseled into the sacred “four-year plan” stone tablets pre-matriculation. Besides Social Science/Humanities requirements and some departmental electives, students will have very few opportunities to take a class on a whim and (perhaps) fall in love with a subject matter outside their intended major.
I’m not saying that enrolling in Underwater Basket Weaving 101 is a great use of time, but at least once a year, take a class that makes your parents question why they are paying for your college education. There is enough room for personal growth beyond the confines of one’s major. Go in with zero expectations and you might surprise yourself and find something you really enjoy. I commend DSG and members of Duke administration for establishing the new Spring Breakthrough program which offers short seminar-style courses in a risk-free setting. It is my hope that these types of classes beget a paradigm shift in students’ attitudes towards the thrift shop lifestyle.
So, if you want to go thrift-shopping in the literal sense, I can recommend a few. The Durham Rescue Mission and TROSA Thrift Store both have huge selections for the masses while Everything But Grannies Panties requires a bit more of an eccentric taste. However, you need not travel off-campus to explore the unknown and stumble upon something you didn’t think you needed. Give yourself the time and the mindset to go thrift shopping in your daily life. You may even find yourself a Hawaiian shirt of your own.
Grant Besner is a Pratt Sophomore who one day aspires to operate his own alpaca farm. His column, “you said duty,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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