Haul Videos: Postcards From the End of the World?

| 7/9/2013 2:39:00 PM

Suitcase Postcard From the End of the World
Katie Haegele on haul videos, thrift shop scores, and the pleasure of honoring personal style. 

So, haul videos are a thing. If you’re interested in secondhand clothing and/or you spend much time on YouTube, you may already know this. I didn’t know about haul videos for a long time, though, despite the fact that I qualify in both categories. I first saw one last year when I had a research job that required me to transcribe an incredible number of media posted to the internet. We were allowed to work with user-uploaded videos on any topic, so since clothing is kind of my thing I looked for videos about that. My searches turned up many thousands of Outfit ofthe Day videos (save yourself some trouble and just type OOTD), which was another neat discovery. So many young women—and the occasional older woman, and the occasional man—standing in their bedrooms, modeling, maybe, the new jeans they matched with a tunic top and describing how they planned to wear the outfit to school, or work, or on a picnic that is also a first date. I’ve also seen a surprising number of instructional videos in which a woman shows the different ways to fold a scarf: into turbans that collect loose hair on the top of the head, hijab to cover the hair and sometimes face, shawls for the shoulders, or that jaunty, fluffy sort of cravate that I’ve never been able to pull off without looking like my own grandmom.

I can’t truthfully say that there was a single one of these videos that I didn’t enjoy looking at. Besides the fact that I find other people’s outfit choices to be a good source of ideas for my own ever-shifting “look,” there’s something really beautiful about the existence of these videos. Actually I find all of YouTube touching that way. Something about the simple, I don’t know, faith that goes into believing that the nice little things you do are not only worth doing, but are also worth talking about or even helping other people learn to do. It’s amazing the things we can come together over: skateboarding down railings, blowing up bottles of soda with Mentos, performing that rude Cee Lo Green song in American Sign Language. There’s just so much to do.

But there is this other category of videos about clothing, and it’s called “hauls.” In a haul video, a person sits in front of her camera and holds up every piece of clothing she bought that day and describes where she got each item and how much she paid. Some of the hauls are collected on a day of shopping at regular stores—places where the stuff is new—and I tend to find those less interesting and actually a little distressing, considering how much new clothing can cost. It’s the hauls from a day of thrift store shopping (nope, still not using the word thrift as a verb) that get me excited.

Maria Bamford, a comedian I admire and whose low-fi web series “The Maria Bamford Show” causes me to bark out inelegant laugh-noises, made a sort of unkind spoof of these videos. She uses books instead of clothes to highlight, I suppose, how stupid she thinks haul videos are. Sorry Maria, but I do not find them stupid. I enjoy watching them, in part because I get a vicarious thrill out of someone else’s big score, but also for the oddball sort of community pride it gives me. We’re in this thing together, like. You found an early-'90s romper thingie with suspenders on it at the Goodwill, on sale for $3.99? Good eye. I would’ve bought that too.


I’ll grant you, it is a weird, late-capitalist phenomenon. We don’t get to see the purchased thing being used, even, we just learn about the purchasing itself. If shopping—spending—has become a hobby, then haul videos are ... what? Digital fanzines? Skill-sharing workshops? Postcards from the end of the world? Nah, I don’t know. I think it’s just human. Telling someone what you did today is important, and if you don’t have enough people in your life then tumblr and Twitter and YouTube are there for you, and while it might be easy to denigrate that kind of internet behavior as socially stunted I think it’s pretty lucky that we have those ways of reaching out. My high school best friend was an eccentric girl named Sara, and she’s the one who taught me how to dress cool for cheap. One day after a few hours at the nearby Salvation Army stores (and Hole in her tape deck, and some awkward attempts at smoking cigarettes in her car) we went back to my house. I sort of blasted through the front door like the jerk that I was but coming in behind me, Sara said quietly, “Do you want to show your mom the stuff we got?” Sara’s mom died young, when she and I were still teenagers. I wasn’t in the habit of showing my mother the clothing I’d found—she doesn’t care about that stuff, not the way Sara’s mom did—and I remember not especially wanting to, at first, but after a moment thinking it was a really good idea. 

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