Alexandra Lange | Essays

Vicarious Thrifting, via Twitter

Vera Neumann, Spice Jars dishtowel (via Ship + Key)

In many halls of design, it seems like an uphappy time for the object. ICFF is same old, same old. Or same old and sustainable. The Museum of Modern Art has to be careful its design galleries don't look too much like the store, which means more molecules, less Memphis. When I went to graduate school ten years ago the Institute of Fine Arts was one of the last art history programs to emphasize connoisseurship. Yet if the powers that be had known my dissertation would include an appreciation of the Selectric, they might not have accepted me.

But I got into this field because I love objects. And I like to buy them, not just study them in books. When I visit my family in Vermont in the summer we spend the weekends at flea markets, rummage sales and auctions. While the antique dealers are looking at pie safes and weathervanes, we snap up the Dansk and the Finel, the Wright and the circus posters. But this interest in seasonal (though sometimes I turn to EBay for a fix). I never bother with the New York fleas: someone with a similar eye has already been though, and priced accordingly.

But for the past few months, I have found another outlet, and other eyes on Twitter. There a lively thrifting community lives, states and a continent away, Twitpicking and Flickring each other images of glasses and scarves, posters and tea kettles for instant reads. Zeisel or junk? Rand or dog-eared summer house paperback? I don't know any of these people, but they seem to be the new connoisseurs, picking through the Goodwills and estate sales, collecting for themselves, for each other (everyone has a particular designer passion) and for their Etsy stores.

The apparent ringleader of the thrifters I follow is @SllabStudios, who also runs a blog about his finds called Ars Longa, and an Etsy shop of graphic design. I found out more on his blog about lovelies like Catherineholm enamelware, designed by the recently deceased Grete Prytz Kittlesen, than I have read in many design books. He seems to always be on Twitter for a quick ID, and tweets his #ThriftBreaks (a.k.a. lunch hour at the local thrift shops) in almost real time. Design:related recently set up a separate Twitter list of thrifters if you are interested.

I treat the pictures as a sort of perpetual slide exam: Do I know who made this? But also as an alternative to design blogs of the new new new. Here is the old stuff, good stuff that has literally stood the test of time and use. The speed and friendliness and casual expertise of the community also suggests a rejoinder to those who think Twitter makes you stupid. Or lonely. Or that 140 characters isn't enough for a discussion. Sometimes Twitter isn't about words but pictures. There is nothing more real than a thrift store, and it takes a certain personality to paw through the underwear bins (as @SllabStudios recently did) in search of Vera Neumann scarves. Vera was an acquaitance of my grandmother's, who always had Vera towels and tablelinens. It makes me happy someone still knows what a flash of peach silk or a brushy daffodil on linen might mean.

Posted in: Arts + Culture, Product Design, Technology

Comments [2]

Brilliant article! I love the twitter thrifting community!
Bit of Butter / Morgan le Fake

trying to buy up the past and showing it off is part of the new same old same old.

Jobs | July 19