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Is there anything more comforting and humiliating than being extremely, correctly typecast by a brand? Ask the travelers coming and going via San Francisco International Airport, which Business Insider reports has been selling $10,000 a month in puffer vests from a Uniqlo vending machine.
When it first rose to the surface on Twitter, the vending machine seemed like a joke: Vests (typically Patagonia fleece but apparently also down) are well known as the uniform of Silicon Valley’s venture capital cohort. To buy one openly in the San Francisco airport (at $50 a pop), either as a memento of one’s time in the most expensive city in the United States or as camouflage upon one’s arrival to it, requires next-level shamelessness. Uniqlo, which historically has struggled to break into the US market, was right to cater to stereotypes, whether it did so intentionally or not.
SFO has a down vest vending machine for visiting VCs. pic.twitter.com/i0mC6e5Jpu— Frank Barbieri (@frankba) July 21, 2018
This whole thing also serves as a reminder of how weird the airport shopping experience is. In the same way that being 36,000 feet in the air inexplicably makes you weep during mediocre romantic comedies, you may find yourself making strange purchasing decisions between security and takeoff. Captive to the terminal’s selection of packaged sandwiches and paperbacks, hypnotized into thinking the inflated prices are perfectly reasonable, bored to bits, you overpay for things you forgot to pack (toothpaste), for things to help you cope (margaritas), and for things you hope will improve your mind even as you lose your wits waiting for the next delay announcement (Psychology Today).
Who can say why a person would buy a down vest from an airport vending machine? Perhaps they’ve always been intrigued and now is as good a time as ever. Maybe they forgot to pack enough layers. Or it could be that this is an airport, and nobody but duty-free luxury cosmetics shoppers can really justify the decisions they make in its sterile confines. We are putty in its hands.