Emily Spivack’s Internet-based project "Sentimental Value" has been converted into an exhibition at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, with 23 garments and their original eBay descriptions on display until August 23rd.

In 2007, she began mining eBay for pieces of clothing with interesting stories attached. She posted them on her website, sentimental-value.com, along with the original descriptions.

On eBay, user danbar28 said of this dress, “It belonged to my Great Aunt who was very colorful. We have saved it ‘as is’ because of its history … She could sing and dance. She also had a notorious boyfriend. They were out with friends and a killing took place. This dress got some blood splatter on it …"

"… She was a beautiful slender bleached blond who loved life and played hard… You can see where a spot near the knee had been attempted to be wiped off but her friend had told her to leave it as the dress would be her proof if she needed it. Not sure what that meant but that is how the story was told to me. One relative had tried some CSI research and was told it looked possible.”

"In 1987, I (Jeff Nelson, Minor Threat/Dischord) was so mad at the Reagan administration during the Iran-Contra scandal, and especially at Attorney General Edwin Meese for doing nothing about it, that I put together a big poster campaign around Washington, D.C. There were about 60 people from within the D.C. punk scene helping to silkscreen big posters, which said 'Meese Is A Pig’ and had an essay written by my friend Kurt, laying out all the reasons why. Some of us got caught putting them up, but that did not deter us from printing a second batch months later. For this second version, I added "Experts Agree!" at the top in place of the text at the bottom. I printed up a handful of T-shirts for those who helped me … I am not sure we can take credit for his departure, but the swine did eventually resign. The shirt has not been printed since 1988." --hommedegomme

"We carry so many stories around what we wear," says Spivack. "It’s universal--all of us wear clothing every day." Well, almost all of us. One story on Sentimental Value involved a woman who sold all of her clothes on eBay to join a nudist camp.

"Interesting story, I actually brought this shirt for Snoop Dogg when I met him but never got a chance to give it to him." --eBay user gavanshir

Spivack says she designed the exhibition space in a way that would allow viewers to fill in their own narratives: "I didn’t want to put the garments on mannequins, because that would immediately give a specific body shape. I also didn’t want to put them on hangers or in a domestic space. Everything is totally flat, against the wall, presenting them like art objects."

The seller of this item wrote, "If this old, hand-sewn, civil war era shirt could talk, there would be an interesting story to tell … There is what appears to me to be blood stains to the front and back. There is a patch of blue color on the back suggesting that some migration of color from a Union uniform during a wash has transpired onto the back which might indicate it was mended and worn again in active duty, if this was worn by a soldier during the Civil War."

User hempskool said: "RARE! Vintage NIRVANA baseball cap.. TRIBUTE TO KURT (November 29, 2007) I got this at a memorial service at the park beside Kurts’ house in Seattle days after his death in April of 1994. This cap has tremendous sentimental value for me, should only be worn by a die hard Nirvana fan!"

The show includes a video of Spivack reading eBay descriptions of garments.

User eluxeauctions sold these "VERSACE HOT Pink Pants Jeans Sz 24 NEW NWT Couture XS: I am a real estate agent in the Minneapolis area and one of my clients was a back up dance for Jessica Simpson when she 1st started her career. She gave me these pants for helping her find a house and she told me they were Jessica’s. She said that whatever clothes Jessica didn’t want she gave to her."

"People connect clothing to fashion," says Spivack. "I happen to see it as a storytelling tool instead."

Eviebird11 sold these: "Adidas Sunglasses Unisex Michael Jackson:
On September 4, 2001, I attended the Michael Jackson Concert at Madison Square Gardens. The show was awesome!! At the end of the concert, I was hanging around the back of the building hoping to get Michael’s autograph. After what seemed like an eternity, Michael actually came out to sign autographs. When he signed my tee shirt, he playfully grabbed my Adidas glasses (which I was wearing), and exclaimed "Wow … Kool" as he tried them on himself. He, then returned them to me. Needless, to say, I have never worn or touched these sunglasses ever since!"

"I’m always interested in a seller’s impetus for putting an item up for auction on eBay," says Spivack. "Is it cathartic? Is it a marketing tool? Is it because they’re lonely? I have seen stories attached to the most basic of garments. A white Hanes undershirt can have as rich a story as something going for thousands of dollars."


An Exhibition Tells The Sentimental Stories Behind Ebay Items

An Internet project-turned-exhibition tells the deeply personal tales behind pieces of clothing pawned on eBay.

In 2007, while shopping on eBay for a pair of vintage heels, New York-based writer Emily Spivack stumbled on a 1967 Playboy Bunny costume for sale. It came with the ID badge of its original owner. "There was a very mundane black-and-white photo of her," Spivack tells Co.Design. She started imagining who this puff-tailed woman could be. "I always knew there were stories connected to pieces of clothing. This made me wonder what I could find."

Spivack began mining eBay for more pieces instilled with personal histories and posting them to her website, sentimental-value.com, along with users’ original descriptions—public confessions that range from the hilarious to the heartbreaking. One seller wrote of her outgrown ruby-sequined gown, "I hate to let it go … I was once levitated in it in a magic act." What did you wear the first time you levitated?

In 2010, Spivack began actually bidding on the objects, amassing a collection of 60 storied pieces. Now her Internet-based project has been converted into an exhibition at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, with 23 items of clothing and their original tales on display until August 23.

"The garments have become art objects," Spivack says. "Viewers are provided with a stripped-down set of details, which they use to construct their own narratives." Favorites of hers include a green chiffon dress splattered with the blood of a murdered mobster; sunglasses blessed by Michael Jackson’s holy hands; Nikes with slashed air bubbles, courtesy of an angry ex-girlfriend; and a black minidress unintentionally purchased during a bout of drugged "sleep shopping."

"The beat-up T-shirts often tend to have richer stories than the fancier, designer-centric pieces," says Spivack. "The project runs counter to the consumer impulse to buy, buy, buy. It asks viewers to reconfigure the value of an object, to look in their closets, pause, and see the stories attached to what they already have." It’s an antidote to the culture of mass-manufactured attire, where fashion labels tend to define and divide. (Think of the creepy Abercrombie CEO saying "I don’t want our core customers seeing people who aren’t as hot as them wearing our clothing.")

Considering the sentimental value of short sartorial memoirs brings to mind Ernest Hemingway’s famous six-word story: "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn." Spivack is also collecting essays for a book titled Worn Stories, to be published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2014.

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