This is an edition of the newsletter Pulling Weeds With Chris Black, in which the columnist weighs in on hot topics in culture. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Thursday.
After actor and photographer Dennis Hopper passed away in 2010, the home-goods retailer One Kings Lane sold a selection of items from his collection on its website. I was able to purchase a few books, at a great price, that contained his personal library stamp. As a book collector, it felt good to easily buy something from one of my heroes. I happily added them to my collection.
Fast forward to 2023, and every time I scroll my Instagram, I am hit with a barrage of people selling their stuff: clothes, shoes, beat-up furniture, and appliances. This isn’t vintage shopping. It’s helping someone clean out their house or apartment. It’s migrated offline with groups of people linking up and doing these sorts of sales IRL, and, for the sufficiently famous, hundreds of people are lining up. Downtown It girl Chloë Sevigny headlined a sale so large it was written up in the New York Times. (You could’ve waited hours to score a plaid Vivienne Westwood bag or Supreme faux fur coat.) Sonic Youth founder Kim Gordon did one in Los Angeles last weekend. Tom Verlaine from Television had people waiting hours to rummage through his books in Bed Stuy. Kim Kardashian (and her famous sisters) have a dedicated website, Kardashian Kloset (nice), for just this purpose.
Something about this doesn’t sit right. Why can’t we (or the famous) just drop off our stuff at Crossroads, Beacon’s Closet, or the Real Real? You can sell all your new-with-tags-gifted streetwear on StockX. Many libraries would graciously accept all the books—maybe even offer you a tax write-off. Hosting a sale is a lot more work than simply dropping stuff off. For Instagram, you have to photograph the item (with a mirror selfie, if you’re hot), post it, respond to questions about sizing and condition, share payment info, pack, and ship it. In real life, you must find a space for a physical sale, maybe even procure a point-of-sale system to accept payments if you’re more serious than Venmo. Most of the time, you are making pennies on the dollar.
But money doesn’t seem to be the primary motivation of these sellers. Besides making a little scratch (to keep or donate), the desire seems to be telegraphing taste and maybe just a pinch of superiority: saying “My old stuff is so desirable that my devout followers will pay me money for it,” or “brands send me shit for free.” I don’t think anyone is selling vintage Comme des Garçons to make rent, but it makes space for more clothes—consumerism at its best.
The driver for buyers seems to be parasocial, rooted in our longing for connection and community. These sales are just another form of people wanting to feel a part of something. While waiting in line, you discuss what you will get, compare notes, trade stories, and film obnoxious TikToks. If you follow someone you idolize on Instagram, buying their “perfectly aged” Levi’s via direct message allows you to interact with them in a low-pressure way. The door is cracked for future communication. But buying something from your style heroes doesn’t bring you closer to them, or even the look you might be trying to emulate. When I flip through Dennis Hopper’s old copy of Proof: Los Angeles Art and the Photograph 1960-1980, I don’t feel magic running through my fingers or get a flash of brilliant inspiration. When you wear some used Wales Bonner Adidas from your favorite influencer, they are just another pair of shoes.
In its purest form, Instagram was for looking at pleasing images and keeping up with your friends’ comings and goings. Now, it is a Frankenstein hybrid of Craigslist, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace. I just long for the days of siloed social media, when I would make jokes on Twitter, post envy-inducing pictures on Instagram, and spend hours on Craigslist and eBay buying used stuff from anonymous sellers. It took more effort, which feels good—something that’s easy to forget when everything is at our fingertips. Not every consumer choice was attached to a person or an image. Those days are long gone—everywhere online is an opportunity to sell ourselves or our old clothes, and I am not sure we are better for it.