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Dear Matthew Alice:

While wandering through department stores this weekend, I saw hundreds of ugly articles of clothing on sale that no one would ever buy at any price, no matter how low. With all the concern about recycling these days, what happens to all these clothes?

-- Sonny G., downtown

If you'd look around, Sonny, you'd realize that most of those vicious garments will be snatched off the rack and perhaps even worn in public. Fashion scientists call the phenomenon shopper's coma-- a momentary taste blackout caused by the sight of a "Reduced for Clearance!"sign. It's like a lost-time experience. One minute you're idly strolling into a department store, next thing you know, you're at home removing from your shopping bag a half-price orange spandex jumpsuit with a large black eagle embroidered on the back, though you have no memory of actually having bought it.

Fashion designers and retailers aren't in the business of offering us things they're sure we won't buy. Little of what you see on those racks will go unsold. But if it can't be moved by the department store, the clothing will be bought by a jobber, who will resell it to smaller discount stores, which then offer it to us again at even more delightful prices. Remember, a weed is just a flower in the wrong place; a $100 orange spandex jumpsuit might look like crabgrass in a fancy department store, but when we find it at a discount house, marked down to $9.95, it's suddenly a rose.

If the jumpsuit has no good Halloween potential, it will next end up hanging from a bush in our front yard at a garage sale. And here we'll proudly point out to browsers that it has never been worn! See? The price tag's still on it!" Who could possibly pass up a $100 orange Spandex jumpsuit for only 75 cents? But in case they do, we then donate the thing to Goodwill or the Salvation Army, where someone will buy it, later try to sell it at a yard sale, then donate it back to Goodwill. This yard sale/Goodwill cycle is a vortex from which the jumpsuit may never be rescued. But just think of all the people who've made a living off the ugly thing in the meantime.

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