Monday, July 13, 2009


I was quite surprised by Colin Beavan’s post today on No Impact Man because I had also been thinking about the same subject lately – product durability/longevity. We have heard for many years about planned obsolescence but, like the negative of a photograph which shows the areas that are usually hidden, the opposite would be things that are proudly made for a longer lifespan.

As one of the millions of packrats out there, I scout sales and freebies for pieces of past eras. One of my favorite items is luggage. I think of the 1960’s airlines stewardesses with carefully coiffed hairstyles and little neckscarves, or someone like Audrey Hepburn with a makeup case. I try to imagine all that was in that case: face powder, mascara, lipstick, hairbrush and comb, curlers, and maybe one of those bonnets to wear over your hair in the shower? Whatever was in there was important because it was a carry-on case. Go to any church rummage sale and you’ll still find these old luggage pieces, sometimes even an old steamer trunk that crossed the ocean on a long voyage. These were made to withstand being tossed and stacked by baggage handlers, unlike the lightweight and easily replaceable cloth suitcases we use today.

A little lighter but still fairly strong are the two items in the next photo; a wig case and a hat box from a clothing store. Not many people keep wigs in their closet for special occasions but when this was the custom, you could get a sturdy case for your “party” hairdo. Since it would be on a shelf in the closet, it could last for many years of light use. The hat box was provided by the clothing store to protect your bonnet and was a great way for them to advertise. Sometimes you can find larger round band boxes at sales. Buy a hat at a department store today, and it will most likely be tossed in a plastic bag that you will use for tomorrow’s trash can liner.

A far cry from the plastic shrink wrap and thin cardboard box that cheap cigars come in would be the wooden box pictured here. I don’t know, nor do I care, if these were good cigars or not, but I found the box at a second hand store and I have made use of it. I’m not a proponent of smoking, but since this container had already been put into the system I have no qualms about owning it. This falls into the category of reusing glass jars for leftovers, metal coffee cans for spools of thread, and plastic peanut butter jars for nuts and screws.

I place a much higher value on these types of products than anything mass-produced today. It all branches out from the topic of buying cheap things that we don’t need and will soon be discarding.

As a side note, take a look at the tag that was still attached to the wig case. The manufacturer’s address was pre-zipcode, and the phone number was alpha–numeric. My family’s original phone number started with Townsend 9, and I remember a commercial advertisement from the NY area where the phone number started with Murray Hill 7. Your phone number included you in your community, but now I'm going off in another direction..... :)

Note added on 7/18: How cool! Take a look at Naughty Secretary Club's post about vintage suitcases.

1 comment:

MyStory of HiStory said...

They sure don't make things like they used to! ... including that pyrex coffee pot you spied at on my blog :)