Alexa Chung's Thrifting Endeavor Is Problematic

Alexa Chung, It-Girl, is launching this reality show where she goes to different thrift stores. This has left us far more conflicted than anything concerning a reality TV show should.

I've been trying to decide whether "It-Girl" is in itself an epithet. I think it depends on the tone, whether you crow "She's an IT girl!" like someone out of Funny Face or, instead, like me this weekend when a friend asked me what, exactly, the deal was with Alexa Chung, mutter sheepishly: "She's...you know...an It Girl." Because the problem is, sometimes it's the only description that fits, and Chung's is one such case. She was a model. She's big in England. She used to be an MTV Veejay. And now, well, as the New York Times rhapsodized, she's "begun conquering the New York fashion world, one outfit at a time." Basically, she dresses well, and looks coltishly adorable, and dates a dude from the Arctic Monkeys. And even though — or perhaps because — she kind of dresses like a lot of tomboyish hipsterish girls her age, she's also something of a style icon.

None of which really explains her bona-fides as a thrift-shopper. Her thrifting getup — described as "a dark skirt from J. W. Anderson, an Isabel Marant cardigan and Russell & Bromley flats" — invites raised eyebrows from those of us jerks who would see proof of this alleged acumen. Although for all I know she's one of those dynamos who can identify vintage Pucci at 20 paces, this has the same air as the new glamorization of eBay: a sort of attempt to expose and elevate second-hand shopping for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the economy and seem bent on converting the sort of person who'd normally find used clothes icky. Here's how the Times describes the program, which will run on PBS next summer.

On the show, she and Maya Singer, the series creator and the editor of special projects for Style.com, will comb the country's consignment shops, garage sales and flea markets for old clothing, furniture, music equipment and other potential treasures to use in various creative endeavors. A few of the places they plan to visit include Orlando, Detroit, Nashville, Alabama and Brooklyn [Ha! Good luck with that! -ed] (and, on a less populist note, fashion capitals like Paris and London as well). In the first episode, Ms. Chung helps Pamela Love, a gothic jewelry designer, create a pop-up shop in London during Fashion Week.

I briefly justified my self-righteous indignation with the thought that such spot-blowing-up would be detrimental to vendors! Or those families who really need used clothes at good prices; like many people, every year we did our school shopping at the Salvation Army. But let's be real: a show like Alexa Chung's isn't going to be denuding the SalVa's racks of wearable work-clothes or gently-used baby things, any more than eBay's fashion experts have effected the site's supply of Dockers. She's not shopping for essentials. No, the only ones who'd possibly be negatively effected by some hypothetical rush on America's Goodwills are those of us who love to thrift. And maybe there's an element of the ambivalence a lot of us feel: it is strange to poach castoffs for the luxuries of self-expression and fashion and irony when, an aisle away, someone is shopping the same stuff earnestly. It feels wrong to crow over someone else's oversight when you come upon a designer treasure, or buy something you probably won't wear because it's only $5 and, yes, you don't have a crummy 60's Chanel-style jacket and maybe you need one. Programs like this remove that ambivalence, and it would be disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

That said, I'll watch the show with interest. I want to know if she'll talk about removing thrift store stench with dryer sheets, or the reality of baked-on sweat stains, or the fact that trying on used wigs is a really, really bad idea. Because that could be highly educational. And would really justify the moniker of It Girl.

The Making Of Fashion's Latest ‘It' Girl
[NY Times]