When 90 percent of your wardrobe is secondhand — be it vintage, designer, mall brand, or otherwise — shopping can become a no-stone-left unturned ethos that bleeds into a mild form of mania. Once I almost lost my life buying a rare L.L.Bean hunting jacket for $5 from a woman who had set up shop on a chain-link fence by the I-10 on-ramp. (I later sold the jacket on eBay to an Australian who paid $80 just for shipping.) And now even my phone is no respite for this searching eye: I've started bargain-hunting on Instagram.
The network seems designed to encourage window-shopping in other people’s lives — envy animates the relationship between style bloggers and their followers. Comments like want … need … die are peppered with emoji broken hearts, crying faces, and hand gestures suggestive of religious devotion. But are we just exchanging bromides of covetousness, or are we ready to put our money where our mouths are?
Turns out, the answer is yes. Instagram shopping is only a slight outgrowth of the consumerist id that permeates one’s feed anyhow. Not so long ago, a style blogger I follow held what she called a "flash sale" on her feed to help raise cash for a move. She posted pictures of clothes for sale alongside photos of her wearing them on her blog. Her instructions were to comment "SOLD" followed by an email address, and she would send a PayPal invoice. It seemed like a clumsy way to do business, but everything she posted sold within the day, totaling at least a few hundred dollars. For vintage sellers and small businesses, converting Instagram lust into commerce means boosting the bottom line for no cost up front. If it’s currently the dominion of independent businesses and savvy individuals, regulated only by those who use it, the day is probably not far off when SOLD starts popping up on, say, Opening Ceremony’s pictures.
“We used to post a lot of photos on Facebook,” says Beverly Hames of Fox and Fawn, an independent buy-sell-trade boutique with locations in Greenpoint and Bushwick, whose protocol for Instagram selling has become a model for other stores. “Then Facebook became kind of pay-to-play for businesses. It costs money just to make sure your followers can see your photos. Instagram is free … for now, at least.”
The Fox and Fawn rules are as follows: If you’re a first-time buyer, you have to call the store to give your credit-card information, which they keep on file — ironically enough — in a paper Rolodex in a locked safe. Once you’re on file, you can simply comment "Ring me" and your last name on any photo, and like magic, the item arrives on your doorstep a few days later. For a seasoned thrifter like myself, it’s also a particularly terrifying way to shop, as though yet another tributary has been added to the already-rushing river of parties, people, and events that continually refresh, refresh, refresh. The divide between me and the screen is dissolving: The image is reified into a tangible commodity, and so help me, I don’t think I mind.
My favorite dress right now is a recent purchase from Pretty Penny, a Bay Area store I frequented in college and continue to peruse as best I can from the comfort of Southern California. It’s a bold '80s-does-'50s-style backless thing with shoulders that can only be described as wings — very "springtime for Blade Runner." I had just stepped out of my office to relax and get some air, when there it was, in my hand. A twinge of nerves: Every "like" is a potential sale, and there’s no time to think, only to want. I had to have it before someone else thumbed-out the death-knell word SOLD (emoji-face optional).
“It becomes this frenzy,” says Sunny Walker of Painted Bird, a boutique with outposts in San Francisco and Los Angeles that has deliberately modeled their feed after Fox and Fawn's. “There’s a very competitive vibe. It’s crazy. It’s fun.” She admits that even sellers often get addicted to one another’s wares.
Hames agrees. “It’s about keeping your feed curated, so you don’t go totally nuts and spend all of your money.”
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