"I'll move to Paris, shoot some heroin, and fuck with the stars." This is typed out in bold black letters next to pictures of a leopard-spotted fur coat, a pale sage green dress, a pretty young thing writhing on a bed in a sheer bra, and the Eiffel tower. Under the bra lady, above some $250 suede sandals, is a tiny photograph of an uncapped syringe, a spoon, and a small packet of beige powder. This is a "set" on Polyvore.com, a site I use to make little fashion collages for my blog about clothes. Every item in a Polyvore set is conveniently labeled, and most are available for purchase. Hover your mouse over the fur coat, and a window pops up: "Tory Burch leopard-print rabbit fur jacket $1,450." Over the dress: "Alexander Wang asymmetric satin-jersey knit dress $895." Over the needle and spoon: "Heroin." There's no price listed, but I know it's cheaper than most of the stuff actually for sale on Polyvore.
I've started noticing syringes and prescription pill bottles in more and more sets lately. Heroin chic is nothing new, but it seems bizarre now that I work in a pharmacy. Everyone knows that drug addiction destroys lives, that it tears families apart, that recovery is long and painful and hard and totally sucks. I'm not even going to get into that, because I wouldn't be telling you anything you don't already know. What you might not know, at least what a whole bunch of Polyvore users don't know, is that heroin ruins fashion.
I have never sold a pack of syringes to a person in a leopard-fur coat, but I have refrained from buying sandals because there are occasionally used needles on my sidewalk. Addiction isn't glamorous. Addiction wears sweatpants for months without washing them. Not "nice" sweatpants -- elastic ankle sweatpants. Addiction makes a man ride the bus in his pajamas to CVS then to RiteAid then to Wal-Mart then back to CVS, just trying to get somebody to fill his Oxycontin script two weeks early. Addiction makes a woman sob on the carpet because the pharmacy is closed. Are you picturing her with mascara streaking down her face? She doesn't bother with make-up. She doesn't even know when the pharmacy closes, and she's in here every damn day.
A ten-pack of syringes costs less than three bucks, but plenty of customers still pay with handfuls of change, and I doubt that it's because they spend the rest on designer clothes.
Most heroin addicts don't look like Kate Moss, or even Courtney Love. Some of the people who come through my line have eyes so puffy they barely open. Some customers are deathly thin, but with hard round bellies, because opiates make you constipated. People have hair so greasy it looks wet. Track marks leave angry red scars lacing around the forearms of men in stained shirts. Fingernails are black with filth, so who cares about the latest nail lacquer shades? Girls wearing flip flops in December loudly proclaim that their diabetic grandmothers are in town. Everyone's diabetic grandmother is in town. Everyone's diabetic grandmother forgot to bring her needles on vacation.
"One CC? Half CC? Long? Short?" I ask as I reach down below the counter without looking. Just once, I wish someone would say, "I need a ten pack of rigs for my grandmother. She's a heroin addict."
It's depressing, and it's ugly, and nobody wears anything cool. Would suede sandals or a statement necklace distract from missing teeth and picked-at skin? What would be the perfect outfit to wear while screaming into your cell phone at your doctor or dealer? What handbag should you bring to detox? What coat should you wear while standing outside in the cold, selling Xanax to middle schoolers? Is that dress available with long sleeves?
I doubt that many of the Polyvore users who make sets with pictures of needles and pills are actual drug addicts. They're mostly talented, clothes-obsessed kids who don't know too much about the substances they fetishize: the syringes are often too big, more likely to be used for steroids. The spoons are too shiny and clean. One bottle of pills is clearly filled with omeprazole, a drug used to treat acid reflux. Another is venlafaxine, an antidepressant. Thyroid pills. Antiepileptics. Antibiotics. It's just a fantasy, like so many things in fashion. Still, I hate that drug use is viewed as something stylish and edgy, when I know the tedious, smelly, sweatpants-wearing truth.
Kate Sullivan-Jones counts pills, takes pictures, makes jewelry, and writes about clothes ( asweetdisorder.wordpress.com ). She lives in Portland, Maine, where she uses her spare bedroom as a closet.