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May 7, 2012

New vs. Old

Friends, there are two kinds of people: those who prefer to buy new and those who prefer to buy old.

I was in suburban New Jersey this weekend at Michael's parents, and let me tell you -- as if you didn't already know -- the suburbs are full of people who prefer new.  New cars, new houses, new appliances, new stores -- new, new, new.

I had the privilege of spending time in both a Bed, Bath & Beyond and a Target -- two stores where worshipers of the new congregate.  We were in the former primarily to buy coffee "pods" for Michael's parents' new-fangled Keurig coffee maker -- wait, I'm sorry -- home-brewing system.  Every single serving of coffee you make with it comes from its own pre-ground, pre-packaged, branded plastic pod.  It's sort of fun until you realize that your coffee now costs roughly ten times more than buying a pound of beans and grinding them yourself (though a bit less than Starbucks).

I won't talk about these stores in detail today because you've probably made up your mind about them already.  I'll only say that it saddens me that in areas like much of southern New Jersey, they seem to be the only choice, other than the occasional garage sale.  (Of course, there's also Kohl's, DSW, Macy's, Best Buy, Walmart, etc.)  I think what bothers me most is that whether you're in suburban New York, Ohio, Texas, or California, this is what you see -- it's all the same stores with (mostly) the same merchandise. 


I am about as far from a Target shopper as you can get, and I won't comment on the three sorry Singer sewing machine models for sale there, but then the closest Target to me is a long subway ride away so it's not an issue.  I don't know exactly why I prefer old things to new things -- it's partly budgetary: new things usually cost more unless we're talking true antiques; it partly quality-related: does anybody doubt that a Singer 201 was made to last longer than a Singer 1409 Promise (as in, We promise it works) model?

It's also aesthetic: old things are more attractive to me; I generally prefer the design of the past for everything except computers.  And not to sound new-agey, but it's also a soul thing.  Old things seem alive to me -- they have stories to tell, they've stood the test of time, they've known other people and lived other places.  I've bought old things that didn't last, of course, but this happens rarely, and usually has to do with some damage incurred before I owned them.

Finally, I love the experience of shopping for old things.  It's not advertising or coupon-driven -- it's serendipitous.  I'm not fed piped-in adult contemporary music, or forced to smell Yankee candles (or popcorn and pizza), or traipse up and down endless aisles with gargantuan shopping carts under fluorescent lights.  Most of what you find is one-of-a-kind instead of one of a zillion stacked to the ceiling, with a UPC code and a Made in China label.  There's a reason why vacation areas are usually full of antique stores as opposed to Targets.  Target is what we're trying to take a vacation from.

I get that sometimes you need new towels and the best place to find them is Bed, Bath & Beyond or Target.  As a rule, I don't buy used towels, socks, or (usually) sewing notions -- not that you couldn't.  And I know that time constraints often mean that you have to choose the fastest, easiest option (which increasingly means buying online and not in a big box store at all).

I guess my point is that it's nice to have both options.  A world of nothing but shopping malls selling spanking new merchandise is sterile and boring, but it's nice to know you don't always have to dig among other people's detritus for something as basic as bed sheets.

Anyway, here's what I got for all of $20 (!) at the Chelsea flea market on Saturday morning, which wouldn't have even bought me the Keurig coffee pod Carousel Tower on Amazon. 

Beautiful vintage white gloves for Cathy.  Pristine!

Sixties-era dangly paillette earrings!

Enameled button earrings by none other than Joan Rivers!  (Can we tawk?)

Old rhinestone choker  -- tres chic!

Vintage Pendleton wool plaid stadium blanket.

Used copy of Brides in Vogue by Christina Probert from 1984.  (Don't get excited, nobody's getting married any time soon.)

In closing, friends, how do you feel about new vs. old?  Are there some things you absolutely insist on buying new -- or vice versa?  If so, what?

If you are one of those people who gravitate toward the old, what is it that appeals to you about old things?  (Price, quality, uniqueness, history, etc.)

Finally, what's with that sickeningly sweet smell at Bed, Bath & Beyond?

Jump in!


  1. Big box stores make me feel like my head is going to explode. The deliberately try to confuse you, because confused people buy lots of stuff they don't need. Apparantly, people enjoy this experience.

    Even though I live in the suburbs, I never shop at big box stores, except occasionally Home Depot if my local hardware store does not have what I need. If the kids want to go to Target, they ask Dad to take them.

  2. Big box stores give me the weirds. I live in a big city (Montreal) so thankfully it's not my only option when I need to get stuff. I would say I buy about 80% of things I need secondhand, for all the same reasons you describe. Personally, I think the rampant consumerism of our culture is soul crushing and merciless. If you succumb to it and do not question why this desire for MORE MORE MORE is so strong, it is easy to forget that stuff does not equal happiness. Well, secondhand stuff occasionally equals happiness. Like my 50's kitchenaid mixer or vintage Brazilian made leather boots I get off ebay....

  3. All things considered, most of the time, if I can find quality second hand, that's what I go for. My budget stretches further and I get better stuff that way. And it doesn't escape my attention that it's much more environmentally friendly that way, too.

  4. I live in the suburbs, but fortunately amid the big box monstronsities, we have some awesome thrift stores, and there's Freecycle and Craiglist and flea markets and garage sales on weekends. My thrift/rummage sale finds include my serger and bread machine and a fair amount of my clothing. Our patio set was a Craigslist treasure--we couldn't have afforded it new. Most of our furniture is family hand-me-downs (and not all of it from our family, lol). Happiness doesn't equal stuff, for sure. And my hubby uses a single-serve brewing cone for coffee--much cheaper and less counter space than those Keurig things ;-)

  5. I prefer very old to new; however I love Goodwill so I suppose I do love mostly new too. As much I hate going to the big box stores (Joann fabrics included) I still have too. One of my tots is still in diapers so the best value is always at target and such and one learns quickly diapers are one of those things that you deffinetely get what you pay for.

    I happen to be very lucky in live in the heart of antique country out in the "Bloomfield Antique Mile" and in and around amazing antique co-ops. I really like a 1940s farmhouse look so that's the stuff I try to find. I make mayonnaise in a intake mayo maker. I perk coffee every morning in a 1970s Corning Dutch pattern percolator. My sewing patterns come from a barn sale for $0.10 each (even the really old ones too!). I think I would dread living in a really suburban area. I absolutely love it out here in the Finger Lakes.

    I don't consider myself a stuff person so the thought of buying used or antique isn't really that big of a deal. I know people who won't even use coupons at the grocery store. I don't get it, there must be some stigma attached to old and used that makes some people feel cheap or poor. I think new stuff is built cheaply and the RTW clothes are just ghastly really in their construction and quality. I'll take Goodwill vintage over Macy's anyday.

  6. My dh is a yard sale fan. He won't go far for them but he'll follow the signs locally on his way to Saturday morning shopping. He loves a good yard sale. He used to take our dd when she was home. She is a book lover and her favorite was an estate sale of a professor of lit. What a haul! She has also found Chanel loafers for $5 and a Fendi dress for $10. Seth looks for tools and household items. We've found some great rugs, Polk floor speakers and a paella pan all for bargain prices. He came home last Saturday with a dozen dinner plates.
    You are so right when you say that anywhere you go you find the same stores and mostly the same merchandise. There are exceptions. Downtown Asheville, NC has wonderful independent stores. Not a chain to be found. You have to go out to the mall for that. Biltmore Village has alas succumbed to the chains where there had only been independents before.
    My son was in New Delhi for a conference a few weeks ago held in one of the newer moneyed suburbs and guess what was in the mall near his hotel? The same stores you can find at any high end mall anywhere in the world.

  7. You hit the nail on the head when you pointed out that antique stores and flea markets tend to be found in vacation spots. I think it's a time factor. You can walk into Target (pet peeve: when people pronounce it Tar-ZHEY, like it's French)and find what you want quickly. Second hand options require you to shop with an open mind, and buy the coolest things you happen to find rather than shopping with an objective, or else you have to be REALLY patient and diligent in your search until you find the specific treasure you seek amongst all the trash.

    I can't speak to the Keurig contraption, though. I'm a so severely warped and deranged when it comes to coffee that I have a professional espresso machine hooked up to the plumbing, with a huge burr grinder. My husband jokes that he's going to take out the dining room window and put in a drive through, like Starbucks -- except I only make the coffee the way I like it, so everyone would get an enormous nonfat wet cappuccino whether they liked it or not. At least I'm grinding beans and not paying a premium for pods. I'm grasping at straws...

  8. OLD! You hit all the right notes about why buying old is better than buying new. My VERY favourite things about buying old is that I love to buy things that weren't "sold" to me and things that might otherwise go in landfill. :)

    Whenever I need (almost) anything I first go to I won't even begin to list all my great kijiji scores here, but it is awesome. I also frequent 2nd hand clothing stores but not so much antique stores. I them a bit pricey.

  9. I love mixing the old and the new. I will sew a garment with a combo of my treadle and serger - how cool is that! I will hang my clothes on a clothesline and then step inside to read on the Nook. Big box stores make me cranky most of the time. I can't even go to Costco - the horror! the horror!

    1. Hey, I hand crank and serge. I forgot to mention: NO USED SERGERS (I got burned once).

  10. We live in a small village that lacks all the big box stores (and most anything else) and travel to shop. We do some big box stores but also look around at smaller shops also.

    What I hate about most stores is the pressure to buy; buy what you don't need. What we have learned is to be selective and not suckered. Hard to do but it can be done. We are happy with what we buy and live with them for many years.

    I have bought fabric at Thrift Shops (wool to be exact) and I do buy at the one fabric store where we shop. I always look for vintage buttons. I always pass on men's shirt buttons as the men's shirts I make have to have snaps on them. It seems to be a combination for me.

  11. Excellent topic. Working in a small town hospital auxiliary thrift store, I concure with what Heather Lou said. The consumerism is rampant---if you saw how many items were donated with the tags still attached it would sicken you. I am a thrifter, so I LOVE used. I would say about 90% of what I buy is used. I do buy new underwear and socks, and the kids get new shoes because they are so hard to fit. I am a slave to quality, and a bit of a label whore, so I was first pushed in the direction of thrift by budgetary constraints. Then, the idea of thrifting was pushed by various environmental concerns that I like to read for reasons that were just hard to argue with. Thrifting keeps the money you spend local. The money you spend does not support child labor, environmentally unfriendly textile producers (cotton uses more chemicals to produce than any other crop), and the dreaded big box stores that are ruining the culture of most of our American small towns. I could go on and on, but theses are just a few reasons. Not to mention, Thrifting is also a LOT of fun for all the reasons you pointed out Peter. It's hard not to feel a sense of accomplishment after a particularly successful day of thrifting.

  12. Old, except sheets, underwear, and some furniture. The old stuff that has survived previous owners is often really good; I lived long enough with rickety furniture that barely survived anybody. And I've made wonderful clothes from older fabric that then fell apart, as in shredded! I don't like the selling of everything packaged in plastic, and nothing eccentric like my favorite thrifts and discount discount stores. Amazing how stuff accumulates, even if you're vigilant...wonderful auctions around here (central Ohio), a fun hobby and education.

  13. i totally agree with you.. besides computers, there is another thing i prefer to be new - my mountain climbing equipment.. i once used vintage ice axe and boy was that thing heavy..

    1. Excellent point: pretty much anything sports equipment-related I'd get new.

  14. Another stellar post, Peter.

    Every shopping area is a calculated customer experience. The store mix, the amount of "theater" inside and out, and precisely how validating being there is to one's self-worth. It has all been thought out and built out, ad nauseum.

    As for the scent of a store; of course every store has it's own smell. Year in, year out, the fragrance which bespeaks of your destination is unwavering. Sometimes it's merchandise generated (office supply store, candle store), sometimes it happens through cleaning solvent continuity (but it must be a custom formulation, as no two department stores ever smelled the same in my experience), regardless, it's a indisputable marker.

    Wieboldt's was a chain in and around Chicago, and I recognized their smell as a child. Sears smell was entirely different, and Kresge's had the "pet department" note in it's heady aroma of Icee drinks, cotton candy, and undertones of freshly molded plastics. Independent drug stores mixed tobaccos, Necco wafers, comic books and stacks of newspapers for a very comforting nasal montage.

    New retail is sterile, over-processed, and demanding. It insists you come back for more, even more of something you don't necessarily seek. It's sort of along the lines of high stimulation casinos use to hook players. One's ostensible quest for a bargain is slowly morphed into the comfortable routine of seeking first in their emporium, without even thinking about it. Mall junkies, out for a fix. It's the norm, it feels good, and those two things mean that it is good for you. Come again!

    Old and good enough are beyond anathema for many, and updating or upgrading are de riguer/required/expected. Status must constantly be proven and displayed. Disposable income and/or credit, equal happiness. Happiness is "new/now/next", certainly not the "old" castoffs of someone else (ewwwwww!).

    I tell myself, "I want less." I said it when I bought my house (you should have seen the banker's face!), and I say it when I'm making smaller purchases. This is a very powerful mantra, and it is generously serving me well.

  15. I like a good bargin, new or used. I live in a suburb and was just at Target yesterday. I like to buy toothpaste and soap and cat food there. I do look at other stuff because it is fun, but don't buy much. I feel I am keeping up with popular culture by visiting. We have a few thrift shops in the area, but I need a lot of time to really shop there. You can find good stuff, but you have to regularly look and sift through a lot of garbage. My husband and I used to shop garage sales in our neighborhood when we lived closer to the city (Seattle). It was great fun and amazing that the same things would show up at different sales. Right now we have too much stuff, so we are taking a vacation from any shopping (other than food, toothpaste, etc.)new or old. I need to initiate the daily ditch and I think you should resurrect that feature, as well.

  16. I'm going to be the lone Target lover here. And I mean it - I LOVE Target. I work full time and have young children so the fact that there is a store where I can get everything I need is beyond fantastic. I only spend an hour and a half on weekly errands because of Target. And yes, while people do buy far too much 'stuff', it is possible to go to the big box stores and buy only what one needs without being swayed by pretty displays. Go Target!

    I also live in the city where Target's headquarters are located, and something has to be said for big businesses and the amount of people they employ. I love quaint shops as much as the next person, but most of us can't make a living working at them.

  17. Generally i like old (the biggest exception is underwear). I don't want a brand-spanking new fancy coffee machine; i'm very happy with my 9-cup stove top espresso pot with broken handle.

    I did buy a new retro Amsterdam bicycle that was hand built from a company that had been building them since the 1930s and don't regret that purchase, but as an adult i've mostly had pre-loved bikes...the only new modern one i had from a big box store, was severely disappointing; never again.

    We went away last weekend and i needed a bag/case to store my hand sewing projects during travel; i headed straight for my local antique/collectable store and bought a vintage cosmetics case in fabulous condition that does the job perfectly...while i was there i also bought a bone handled graduated-tip awl...all for $40 :)

    Whilst these days, it's not budget that motivates me to shop old rather than new; it's preference and early socialisation. I came from a very modest working class back ground and for as long as i can remember my parents scoured auctions and yard/garage sales and/or made/built everything...including their home. My mother recovered old sofas, chairs, resurfaced dining settings, dressing tables, wardrobes etc I don't remember anything being brand spanking new unless it was made from new timber materials. My dad built all our beds and built-in wardrobes etc. In fact the old guy is 80 in a few months and has just finished building my mum her very first ensuite; all from recycled/preloved materials.

    My daughters are also very happy to have old/ would break my heart if they had turned out as privileged brand conscious young women :/

  18. To be the voice of the other side ... I like the idea of buying old stuff in theory, but it rarely works for me in practice. I can never find used items that I really like that fulfill my needs at the time I need them. Little boutique or specialty stores, antique shops, used clothing stores, and thrift stores tend to be frustrating for me, plus I don't have the time for that kind of shopping.

    HOWEVER, I am very, very picky about what I do buy new, and I tend to keep things a long time. I go for the simple and classic in everything as much as possible (I still have clothes from Old Navy that I bought 15 years ago that are as good as new, really). RE the big box stores, I confess I like them (as long as they are not TOO big -- WalMart is too much) because I can usually find what I need there pretty quickly. I am cognizant of the economic issues of off-shore manufacturing, etc., but there's only so much I can do about that. If I have a choice, I will buy U.S. made, and even better, union made, but that's not always possible.

  19. I agree with Heather, I love Target! I have many friends that work at headquarters, and it's a great place to work. Target is a good corporate citizen, too.

    I HATE shopping. Really. And shopping includes thrift stores, garage sales and Target. I don't mind buying used, but most of the time it takes a lot more time, and I don't enjoy the hunt.

    I've tried thrift stores and consignment stores many times for clothes, and I have found only one quality item. I'd rather purchase new clothes than cheap stuff that is already stretched out, pilled and out of date.

    I am trying to live a simple life with out many possessions (I have a ways to go, lol)and shopping as entertainment doesn't fit that model.

    Currently I'm in transition between jobs, I've had more time to paw through thrift stores and still haven't found much. When I'm working full-time, I don't want to spend that kind of time looking for something special.

    My one guilty pleasure is to go to estate sales on Thursdays, I love to look at the houses! Here estate sales are inside houses, and not just the garage.

  20. I couldn't agree with you more. I live in a house that was built in 1888 and I'm currently researching the past owners, what they did, when they died (some of them on the premises?!). I love vintage clothing because it saw another time and place that I will never see. It's a way I relate to the past. Interestingly, I've just learned that 2 of the women who lived in the house in the early 1900s, sisters, were in the fur business. One was a finisher and the other worked in the back office. I bet there was a lot of sewing going on there! These 2 women earned $850.00 between them.

  21. I like old and new and I'm with Heather-I love Target. I get all my toiletries there. I live in the suburbs so it's all chain stores. We have some resale shops but not a lot of them. I like looking for patterns and other sewing related things at resale shops but some things I won't buy used-like shoes. The idea of putting my feet where someone else's smelly feet were grosses me out.

  22. I used to work in one of the big box behemoths. It was almost impossible to get out of there with a paycheck intact. I always wanted more more more when I worked there. Since I quit I haven't been back once and my life hasn't been diminished by my absence. I did learn about which brands of kitchen appliances last and last. If you can, buy Cuisinart or Kitchenaid, I prefer Cuisinart. Although I always buy refurbished from outlet stores. Way cheaper and last as long. There is one Italian brand which begins with D ends with I, we used to call them rentals because they always came back. Don't buy this brand, terrible quality.

    About the Keurig, they used to make pod thingys that you could fill yourself with your own coffee. We used to sell out of them within hours of receiving them. I don't know if they still make them, but it could be worth a look.

  23. I have a balance of both in my home, as far as furniture goes. 3/4 of our furniture, that I love, were inherited from my husbands grandparents. I love all of it. It was built to last like you said, and has seen many special occasions and daily wear. We have one piece that my mother in law gave us, that they bought at an auction, that originally came from England. I Love it, and would never part with it.
    As far as the soft furniture, like our couches etc. Those are the only new pieces, and boy was I picky about our main couch. It had to be classic, and built well. It is now 16 years old, and still looks great, I think.

    Out here in my suburb (Bay Area) there are a lot of the stores you mentioned, but in my town, they really try and balance it out, and cater to the mom and pop shop on main street. I think that is why I do like my little neck of the woods, because it is kind of like how I lead my life. A balance of both new and old.

  24. I like a bit of both - my chap bought me a brand new (but tried and recommended by a friend) overlocker, which I love, but I'm all about old, mainly for cost reasons but also reliability.
    When I moved into my flat, I bought a second hand washing machine for £20. 10 years on, it still works fine, and a check of the website tells me they were discontinued in 2001!
    My newest car is from 1997, and it's too modern for me, but needs must. I hate the lack of choice and character in things now, I must sound like an old fart to my mates, but I also hate the way 'vintage' now means trying to dress like Nora Batty lol....

  25. Okay, I admit it: I love Target. One reason I really like that place is that the don't play ANY music. At least this one over here doesn't. They have good, colorful t-shirts that are cheap and fit well. And they don’t fall apart after 3 washings, either. Today I am wearing a very nice, very well-made linen shirt I got at Target for about $25. I can't believe how lovely this fabric is. But I do like a good antique store and flea market. ALL of my glassware and dishware is used along with most of my furniture. They have a lot more character than the new stuff. I HATE HATE HATE Bed Bath & Beyond. First off: the smell. It's like choking on a pomander. It sticks to your clothes, too. And they have so much JUNK -- totally stupid, useless “as seen on TV” products.

  26. I'm a bit of both. I buy new sheets and towels, but old tablecloths. You can't beat a preWWII Japanese or Czech cloth for quality, and I've bought some with the tags still on. I buy old china and earthenware as the new stuff is heavy, thick junk that chips and cracks within months. Ditto old jewellery and especially wood furniture. I hate particle board. It started as a starving student way to buy a table and chairs and turned into a way of life. I still get a thrill buying wonderful old things that someone cherished (or stuck in the back of a drawer) and giving them a new life. Plus, I have things from my grandmothers which are still going strong.
    I go to Walmart and the rest, list in hand, for basic things I need (toothbrushes, mega bottles of body lotion) and am in and out - no browsing the aisles. Then it's coffee and aspirins and a little thank-you that I don't have small children to outfit any more. (PS If you really want to gloat, check the price of the vintage blankets on eBay.)

  27. I have always been more comfortable with the old than the new, from growing up in an older home to my teenage shopping sprees at the local Salvation Army. I am prejudiced against what I perceive as poor quality materials and sloppy manufacture of modern goods. The place I see this at its worst is when old houses or entire neighborhoods are torn down, the materials discarded, and new cheap and crappy homes built in their place. Thank goodness for the people who rescue and recycle old building materials, but wouldn't it be better if we just left the wonderful old buildings and used them?
    I know I sound like a cranky old lady, but the waste just makes me mad and sad.

  28. Interesting that you mention this, because I just found myself at BB&B this weekend! The circumstances were as thus: I had decided to make sangria, and I needed pitchers to put the sangria in. I needed it a) fast and b) now. I find myself gravitating to new stores in situations like this, because at the thrift store there are no guarantees.

  29. I wish I had the eye strength to read all these posts!
    I love to shop for old stuff at garage sales and flea markets. I love old houses, live in a 1920's era duplex. I even buy used sheets and bring them home and bleach and boil them!
    New?...underwear definitely! and shoes, can't wear someone else's broken in shoes.
    I love recycling old clothes into new. I've even given a class in "upcycling."
    Obviously, I'm with you on this one!

  30. I'm with the person who said that the big box stores make her head explode. The sad thing is, when I am in them, I need to drag myself away. I tend to start saying to myself "leave now, leave now" until I finally do. :-)

    Also, who said that Cathy couldn't be a bridesmaid, for example? One can be a bride a few times (at least, one would not like to do it too often), but a bridesmaid until one's closet has at least 27 dresses in it.


  31. For me its mostly about time. Prekids my husband and I loved wandering the flea market on Saturday morning. Now when we go I spend all my time saying no and don't touch that. I don't love big box stores either and certainly don't want one of those coffee pod things but I do shop at them for basics. Last time I was in need of hangers that my clothes don't fall off of and peanut butter.

  32. I hate to have to go shopping to find something new that I need. Like a particular necklace that will work with what I just made. I usually can't find it and kick myself for wasting the time. I use to love to go to Marshall's because it was on my way home from work. Going to the Mall is out of the question...Big waste of time. I much rather go to vintage stores with nothing in mind but find things that I love. Peter, if I lived there I would be doing just as you are. I agree 100%, a big box store makes me weary just looking at the parking lot! If it is new I need, I'm online at work shopping. :) Leaves more time for sewing!

  33. Totally vintage here, except for bed linens, bath linens, underwear and shoes. It really pays off - all my furniture is wood, I have real silver and I have top-of-the-line appliances, including a Singer Touch-Tronic 2010 in the biggest and best real wood cabinet, a machine I lusted after thirty-five years ago and could not possibly have afforded because it was nearly two grand with the cabinet back then. Farberware cookware, a KitchenAid dishwasher, a Cuisinart and Corning Ware galore are all in the kitchen. The closet is full of Izod, Polo, Countess Mara, Allen Solly and more. And I'm in a small city in Iowa, not a major metro area. Go vintage!

  34. While I like the idea of shopping for older, used items, in practice it doesn't work out so well. Probably because I am in one of the areas mentioned in this post as being a suburban wonderland. It is kinda true. I always marvel at what others can find at flea markets, thrift stores, and garage sales. Whenever I go to these places I end up seeing half-broken plastic toys, badly ripped/torn/stained clothing, and broken furniture. Very few gems that have survived the generations. So by necessity I usually end up buying new things. But I don't think buying new necessarily has to mean buying frivolous things. I try not to buy things I don't need, though it can be hard not to get sucked into the consumerism-ness in the big stores that have everything. If I could buy older/used things of quality I would, but I just have problems finding them where I live.

    And, I have to say, just because I do shop at these places doesn't mean I necessarily like shopping there. Parking and dealing with all the people can be a nightmare, but it is not like there are a lot of other options in the area. And, to be fair, in some cities I have visited, Target has the better grocery options (sad, but true), so I think if you have a good idea of what you need and don't get sidetracked by all the cheap plastic randomness by the front door, it can be a good option for fast shopping when you are out of town for long periods of time because, as you say, their merchandise is quite consistant.

    Anyway, regardless of where I am, there are some things I absolutely would buy new: underwear, socks, makeup, sports equipment, computer/technology stuff.

  35. I live in the suburbs of NJ and I couldn’t agree with you more. Where I live, everything is Big Box Store. There is no butcher, no fish store, no repair shop of any kind, no independent book store, no local hardware store, no independent fabric store (even JoAnn’s – which I don’t like very much -- is a good 10 miles away). When I lived in Brooklyn I used to take all of these for granted.

    It’s all so impersonal. The independent shop owners that I remember used to take pride in being able to tailor your purchase to your needs. Out here, nobody cares what I buy or what I need -- just that I buy, buy, buy and now, now, now.

    I also prefer older/used items for all the reasons you mentioned. I find older things to be beautiful and they are almost without exception of far better quality than anything new. I bought an old watch from the early 1960’s and often wonder about its previous owner, winding the stem and setting the time every day. I look at the vintage suit dress pattern I purchased and wonder about the person who apparently made only the jacket, but not the skirt.

    For some things, though, newer is necessary. I’ve seen a lot of old wiring that frightened me. I held onto a car until it was 18 years old and believe me, I am very thankful for my newer car. Socks, pantyhose, knee-hi’s all must be new.

  36. I don't have a problem with new, but I do take issue with the kind of cheap disposable identikit mass market new that clutters so many stores these days. I'm resigned to the fact that the kind of quality I'm after comes at a price, which is why I'll happily buy second hand where and when possible. When the price of a beautifully crafted mid-century piece of furniture is the same as a throwaway piece from IKEA that'll last 3 or 4 years before falling apart, it seems like an easy decision to make... but it doesn't solve the wider issue.

    I recently read an article about some fabulous silk brocades still being made in Lyon. Although expensive to produce and purchase, they used to be a staple of the company. Nowadays however only a couple of people are left with the skillset and training to work the machines. When they go, so will the brocades... defeated by the cheaper to manufacture, less well-crafted, less durable alternatives from China.

    This is just one example, but it applies to everything today, from Singer sewing machines to clothes, to furniture. Along with quality, so many skills are being lost through the gluttony of cheap consumerism, it is sad.

  37. My mother is basically a worshipper of the old and antique---stepping into her house is rather like stepping back in time fifty or eighty years. Growing up with that, antiquing, thrifting, and second-hand-scrounging feels natural to me, to the point where I couldn't even tell you if it's my personal inclination or something learned. My husband is a child of the suburban newer-bigger-better mentality, so needless to say there is a bit of a culture clash between us.

    Hunting for treasures at thrift stores, flea markets, or garage sales is definitely *way* more fun than shopping new, however.

  38. Peter,

    I even do not know why I am writting here, since I can say, I agree completely with your point of view! I am attracted by the way old things look and can not understand why one of my SILs keep buying the latest coffee brewing system on the market. It is a collection of coffee machines systems, but since I have also many sewing machines, I should be the last one that to criticise, right? :)

  39. VINTAGE: china, silver, glassware, push lawn mower, hats, purses, jewelry, scarves, linens, hankies (yes, carry a couple all the time), Singer 201 with it's Queen Ann cabinet, newly refinished from it's black paint job,
    NEW: shoes, towels, appliances... I confess, i have a downstairs Keurig and an upstairs one... undies, computer stuff.

  40. I was raised in a family that not only loved secondhand sources but never threw anything out, so I was raised without the whole concept of conventional shopping. Everything was produced triumphantly for me. Why go shopping for a raincoat? This one of your gram's will fit just fine. I hated it then, but was never able to make the switch to big-box stores when I was older. They do feel sterile and boring, and the ticky-tacky quality of the merchandise distresses me.
    Still, I must make a couple of confessions. First, that I am a sucker for category-killer big box stores, like Office Depot or Lowes. I get some kind of weird thrill out of just seeing twenty-five different varieties of ball-point pen or an aisle of different types of nails. I have no explanation for this.
    Second, I have begun to ponder the question of whether I am guilty of fetishizing the past and imbuing everything old with all sorts of magical and aesthetic qualities I would never see in some of it if it were new and I was seeing it more objectively. I surreptiously bought some IKEA plates at a rummage sale the other day and brought them home and I had to admit, I actually authentically got more joy out of them than some of the mid-century china I show off.

  41. I like to buy old stuff for my home, as well as accessories like jewelry and scarves. I like the quality and uniqueness. I would also buy anything used to get a better deal on something that would cost me more otherwise, like properly working tools, appliances, cars. Most other things like clothes, shoes, towels, sheets, I would definitely want to buy new.

  42. What an intriguing posting. I have to admit, I have a lot of "stuff" from the box stores. A big reason for this is definitely the fact that I live in suburbia, so the most convenient place to get "stuff" is Wal-Mart. I have 3 little ones and work 40 hours a week. Sometimes I do have to buy things that can't be put off, diapers, cat food, jean top-stiching thread, or socks--lots and lots of socks when kids are growing.
    That being said, I do enjoy some old/vintage items, and the thrill of the hunt for them when I'm in the mood. I'm noticing the fabric selections I can find now when thrifting are much improved over what they were 15 years ago. I'm actually finding cotton and rayon fabrics instead of stacks of double-knit polyester.

    I think my favorite shopping and favorite items are things that could be new or old, but someone has either hand-made them or upcycled them. I do this myself when I make an item of clothing from a vintage (or vintage-style) pattern, when my shoes look "retro", or if my jewelry was found at the Saturday Market, a wine festival that just happens to have craft booths, or an Etsy shop. The other thing I really love is when I have access to "imported" items. I don't mean "made in China", but the things that might be commonplace in Mexico, but that I don't see up here, and that my Mother-in-Law brings back after she visits family, or the Amazon clothing items that are "fulfilled by Amazon" but end up coming from some little shop in the UK.
    There are some quirky things available out there that one will never find in Target. My "blender" is my favorite one one. I bought it at some mall store or other, but burned the motor out in it. It didn't seem right to throw it away, but it certainly wasn't doing me any good. I guiltily put it in a back cabinet in the kitchen and forgot about it for a while, stumbling upon it later in a cleaning frenzy. I gave it to my dad to do his thing with. He gave it back to me about a week later, and now when I hit the on-buttons, it turns a lamp.

  43. New serger...old everything else including DH! Lol. I love the history of old stuff.

  44. Target sells some very pretty tops but every time I go in a big box store I walk out with at least $100. worth of stuff I didn't know I wanted until I got in the front door.

    I like vintage clothes because other people don't have the same thing. Not to mention that at the vintage shop you can get 3 things for the price of one at Macys.

    Sheets and towels and such I get at TJ Maxx which is near me. The last time I was in a Bed Bath & Beyond was in December I need a new shower caddy and a few other things. Me being me nothing really grabbed me in there but the leggings!

  45. I'm with you, Peter. I shop every Sunday morning at my local flea market here in Napoli. I do buy some things new -- socks, underwear, fabric (gulp). But that feels like doing chores (okay, not the fabric) . . . whereas hunting for what I need secondhand/vintage/flea (both sewing machine and serger are secondhand) or, even better, finding it for free on the side of the road, that's a memorable moment, an exhilarating coup. I do most of my "new" shopping online. I've been to the big mall here three times in as many years. Not my scene. I also do love the relationships I've established with the flea market vendors . . . we chat and negotiate and enjoy our mutual appreciations. Happy hunting!

  46. Im of both schools. I love old, buy old, collect and use my old, and at times some of the convinces of new are just more feasible.

    I go into target about once every 8 weeks, and I keep thinking Im gonna find something great and surmise that is the whole reason I went in the first place. But I always just leave with mouthwash and 3M hook stickies (because I run out). It's shockingly underwhelming.

    Most big chain stores are. There is nothing to find because its like shopping in a dental office. Everything is accounted for. Cataloged, inventoried. There are no real treasures to be discovered when they already know its all there.

    Though, the same can be said for vintage shopping as well. I went to an expo that happens twice a year. Total love fest with great items and booths. This year it seemed prices were 20% more than last year, and it seemed that just because it was 'old' it was easy to price it high.

    I tend to spend most of my time online looking for stuff that needs a bit of love. I find its personal, and I can generally get it for a good deal.

  47. I agree with you peter but for one point. Manufacturing has largely moved to countries such as China due to the fact that items can be produced according to the specifications and quality levels dictated by the largely western corporations. That is, if crap is being produced in an asian country to be sold in a western one (largely generalising here) then its mostly because we as western consumers are used to the low price point, free shipping, coupons etc.

    I buy used or vintage mostly because I recognise that there is greater quality in used now than new. That and my father had wonderful taste in things so I have been trained to recognise it myself.

    I too have been burnt by a used overlocker experience.

    Melissa (Audreychrysalis)

  48. I won't buy used underwear, but pretty much everything else? Sure. I started thrifting when I was young and broke, and have never got out of the habit. Once I learned to sew, thrift stores also became a source of raw materials to work with--both yardage as well as clothing to be re-made.

    Last week's big score was a complete set of pink paisley Ralph Lauren sheets (Queen size) for $12. They're in excellent condition and I felt really happy putting them on my bed yesterday. I also scored two more colorful ceramic pots for my cactus and succulent collection for ~$3 each.

    And books! I'm always finding great books, and I end up overrun with them if I'm not careful.

    I also enjoy refinishing furniture, and I've bought pieces at Goodwill that just needed some TLC. Even in their scuffed and battered condition, they were of better quality than new furniture in my price range, made of solid wood instead of particle board. A little bit of elbow grease, and maybe some creativity, and now I've got furniture nobody else has.

    And that last bit is a key, I think. I like having and wearing things nobody else has, that can't just be bought anywhere. In a thrift store, I'm more likely to find something really unusual, or something that can be altered to suit my idiosyncratic taste. The stuff is cheap, so if I make mistakes or an experiment fails I'm not out very much money; I feel free to take it apart in a way I don't even with the cheapest new things (which, frankly, aren't even worth the bother).

    I do shop at Target occasionally--maybe twice a year at most. I buy a few cheap, colorful t-shirts there every summer, underwear, hair clips and other accessories, and sometimes housewares (if what I want hasn't turned up at Goodwill). I don't mind it, but I wouldn't want to be stuck with that as my main option because the quality is pretty low and I often want styles or colors that aren't currently available in stores.

    I hate Bed Bath & Beyond, though. So much wretched, useless junk, and the prices aren't very good.

  49. You scared me when I read about your $20 loot but I associated it with the picture *above* the text! ... I would like to ask you something about the treadle, if possible ... Do you mind writing me at fulvialucianoATyahooDOTCOM directly? Thanks, Peter.

  50. Pre-loved? Everything is fair game. I've made my own underpants from t-shirts. Easily 70% of my wardrobe came from a thrift store. It's a BIG wardrobe.

    These days, without my student allowance, I only buy new if it's really inexpensive/on-sale, or a surprisingly well-made and interesting article.

  51. I prefer to buy old in everything except maybe fabrics. Perhaps when I get more experienced I brave unknown vintage materials, but until then I make do with new ones where I know what it is. I am careful though with labels such as 'antique' or 'vintage'. I have seen 'vintage' clothing that was made from one of the rereleased vintage butterick patterns (I have the same at home) in a fabric available in the local fabric chain store (I happen to buy some of it for a friend) with badly matched stripes, but they claimed it was 'circa 1950's vintage dress, custom tailored collectors item, price tag 150.00' and it had a 'sold' sign on it.

  52. For thirifting newbies, I always set a time limit, 1 hour and under. And that's it. I adore thrifting, as does Hubster. I find there is a bigger bang for the buck, and the shopping is almost always a fun experience. I am talking about actual charity shops, on South Shore of Montreal. These are small, cozy stores, and well organized. I adore my fabrics, patterns, and notions we buy there. Prices are rock bottom. Hubster found the Colette Wolfe book for 5 cents. Some people criticize me (family, not artist son, Gabriel, who is proud). I love vintage, and real wooden furniture. Also, having a sense of design is a big help, and a sense of whimsey. I think of it as rescue too, and creating order, as Peter said of late. Also very green. Of late one thing I did was up-cycle a 70's skirt of violet wool jersey. Came out gorgeous. Cathie and Robert, in Quebec.

  53. I have to say, I am green with envy when I see flea market posts in blogland. Everyone is like "Look at this sweet 1930's hoosier I scored for four dollars!" Ugh. In my town, we have two very picked-over thrift stores that smell awful and are full of worn out crap. We tried to buy a used sofa years ago, but everything smelled like pee or dogs. If I found something really fab for a great price, I might be willing to put some work into it, but that is non-existent around here! Anything that is not completely useless is priced prohibitively - I'm not willing to pay $50 for a chipboard bookshelf from 1984, or $800 for someone's 10 year old sectional.

    Once, I went to find some old, cheap, cut-glass stuff for a party, thinking surely that is the kind of item that ends up in the thrift store, and I was so disappointed. the few pieces they had (that were actually glass and not plastic, hurk) were way over-priced. If I can get a new, un-chipped glass cake stand for 15 bucks, why would I pay $20 for somebody's old one? And yeeaaah, I can get that plastic stuff in a pack of 5 at the dollar store.

    Once you posted a pic of a sewing machine table, and behind it were a sea of other small wooden tables, waiting for a home. I about fell off my chair. There is nothing like that here. Yard sales consist of a lone stinky plaid sofa, some broken chipboard kids' dressers, and about 500 square feet of old childrens clothing (only worn by 3 or 4 children) laid out on ratty old blankets on the lawn. I. Love. Target.

    1. This pretty much sums up affordable shopping in Australia. (Big cities and small alike).

      The quality of the thrift store items you can manage to find is atrocious, and usually more expensive than what you'd buy new. And proper 'old' things (read: older than the 80s) are called vintage and marked up 300%.

  54. I agree with Peter's comments about old vs new. I'm coming north and one of my first stops will be thhe mentions a lot.

    AS So Car

  55. ....the flea market....

    AS So Car

  56. I forgot to answer Peter's final question about the purpose of the sicky-sweet smell at Bed, Bath and Be Damned -

    It's to cover the stench of cheaply-made imported merchandise that sucks jobs out of America and is an illusory bargain at best, because most of it is sold as credit-card purchases at 21 percent interest. That REALLY stinks.

  57. I love me some Target - sometimes. Unfortunately, live in an area of NEW, NEW, NEW! and hate it. The more I realize how consumeristic & wasteful we are [as a(n) individual, family, neighborhood, society] the more I dislike it. Kind of like, the less we eat out & more we cook, the less we enjoy eating out.

  58. For those of us that live in the sticks or that part of the country where flea markets are few and far between (west of the Mississippi and east of the West Coast perhaps?), there's eBay, thank god. I would love a decent used-merchandise shopping mecca of the kind you post about (love those posts by the way!)

    In the meantime I try to avoid the box stores simply because I feel them suck away my soul every time I enter one. If I can't make what I need and I need it new, I go to amazon.

  59. SeamsterEast@aol.comMay 7, 2012 at 8:32 PM

    There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who divide everything into two groups, and those who don't. *grin*

  60. I just got a 1930s vanity FREE from a freecycler and spent part of yesterday sifting out the good in a pile of dorm room resident cast offs. So I'm going to say old and used are A-OK with me.

    The last 5 things I bought (for myself) from Target, I ended up taking back when I realized I didn't need it or I could go to the thrift store and get something better, and previously much more expensive, that I would like better.

  61. Cathy NEEDS a wedding dress and also a "going away" ensemble for when she leaves the reception for her honeymoon. But please don't suggest she look to 1984 for her inspiration. Also, probably best to wait until after the baby comes, when she regains her girlish figure. The "going away" outfit ought to be quite fitted - for flirting; after all, the honeymoon starts as soon as you leave the reception.

    (I prefer the old. I'm tired of every single box store selling the same craptastic plastic items.)

  62. I Lean towards old and second hand for most things, or handmade, and enjoy the convenience of new, especially for house hold items
    We have a huge ikea wall unit that is for us because we are renting and will easily transfer to another place. We needed a massive amount of storage space and this way we can also add to it or break it into smaller units later. We are decorating it with vintage door knobs and old photos though - so I guess that sums up how I like to combine the two to meet my needs.
    It's upsetting how people just throw stuff out that other people could use/treasure (how many times have I heard about old patterns getting thrown out?).

  63. The experience of shopping has changed drastically over the last 40 years. I love to shop old because it connects me to the past when our connections to objects were simpler, less extreme, less plentiful, and retailers and manufacturers were less manipulative.
    Also, if you are older, items from the past connect you to memory, to give you a framework and sense of stability to the drastically changing world.

  64. I love mom & pop stores, thrift stores and boot sales, and prefer to do my shopping with them. Unfortunately our best fabric store is located within a giant mall. After a visit to them I'm totally exhausted, and say never more.
    But then reality strikes and I have to bite the apple and get back...

  65. I love both. I don't buy anything unless I can use it and it has to serve the purpose I need it for.
    I love vintage fabric for display, but not for sewing. Textiles do not last forever. Well, not the ones I use to buy. I prefer todays fabrics.

    When I look around at old stuff I am drawn to things that where I can feel an energy. I bought a really really old mixing bowl. It is huge. I use it all the time, it is heavy. However, it is chipping and chunks are coming off of it. It is like old pottery.
    It really is not practical to use anymore, but I just have it on display. For all the reasons mentioned I love old stuff, but I don't really invest too much money into it unless I have a use for it, or on rare occasions I just like the look of it.


  66. I don't usually post (love your blog though!) but this one gave me a chuckle. I'm a 50/50 split on old vs. new. I totally agree that the retail chain stores carry the SAME thing in every state. No individuality at all!! I use these stores for my staple items (toilet paper, dog food, etc.). BUT! Sometimes I can go to their clearance section and find leftovers that I can re-purpose into new or unique items. Spray paint and hot glue are some of my favorite tools after my sewing machine!!

    I do enjoy second hand stores though. Books and kitchen gadgets are high on my list and I enjoy home goods too. I'm not personally into vintage clothes to wear, but I'm fascinated by their construction and details.

  67. So well said! I too prefer buying old over new whenever possible. The only time I venture to Target is when I need socks or tank tops or something. And I do admit to sometimes getting carried away in Target :) But generally an estate sale or vintage store or cragislist will find me the perfect item. And I'm lucky to live in a city (Austin TX) where big box stores are generally congregated to the edges of town and there are plenty of mom and pop and secondhand stores to choose from.

  68. Something that I don't see mentioned:
    People who love new and name brands generally grew up in poverty. Food stamps, project housing, welfare- when they grow up and get a job theyare obsessed with new, brand name, and bling. That's where all this materialism is coming from.

    Tell one of these types that you got something at the thrift store, you will be met with a look of horror and shame.

    I love both WalMart and the thrift store. You can do creative shopping anywhere. The question is, will you use your own style, or worry about impressing your peers?

    1. I think that's part of it, but I'm not sure that holds as much today as it did in the past. Even my mother, who grew up during the Great Depression, enjoys thrift stores today, for example. I think it depends on the person. Also, the stigma attached to used things is much less than it was in the past -- maybe due to the popularity of Craigslist and eBay.

  69. 28, 2012 at 12:27 PM

    i've always been a 2nd hand shopper (even loved hand-me-downs as a kid). people used to think i was cheap (might be some truth there) to buy used, but now it seems to be the fashion-c'est la vie. anywho, don't know where you were in nj, but here in monmouth county there's an incredible number of fleas and thrifts (nearly every day of the week), as well as big boxes. lots of estate and barn sales on the weekends too. i love the randomness of the flea market shopping experience and enjoy looking at interesting objects even if i don't wanna buy them. my finds this past weekend included an old wrought iron doll's bed that i will make into an herb planter and a wooden hay cart for $5. ask if you ever want advice on fleas in central jersey.

  70. I cook on a 1953 Chambers Gas Range. My Refrigerator is a 1948 Crosley Shelvadore. My Toaster is a 1950 Sunbeam. And my favorite sewing machine is my grandmother's 1938 SINGER 201. I clearly prefer the old. Not only because in my opinion old things are more beautiful and well made, but also because of the nostalgic feelings I get through using the same appliances in the same ways as my mother and grandmother.......


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