Of Secondhand Stores & Vintage Bags: What is the Significance of the Fabric in our Lives?

I spend a lot of time thinking about clothing. I think about what I wore yesterday, how it made me feel, what accessories went with the outfit. I ask myself: “How does this outfit fit? Does it flatter my body or point out parts of myself I want to hide? Is my skirt too short? Too long? Should I wear heels to encourage myself to have a better posture? Do other people notice my outfits or realize the time and attention I give to them?” I wonder, “which clothes are out of date and which are in style? Are the clothes too worn for the secondhand store where I work? Do they have any issues – staining, holes, runs, rips?” I also think about the history behind garments – “Who wore it, what memories are stored in each little blend of fibers? How did this skirt, dress, or shoe make its former owner feel? Where did they walk or travel in it? Who made it? What inspired the designer to create it? Why did they choose to use blue and purple fabric as opposed to black and white materials?”

Because I work at a secondhand clothing store a few odd days a week, I’ve grown attuned to things like “pilly-ness” and I notice details like jammed zippers and missing belts, and the occasional stains in unusual places. But more importantly, I’ve also learned that clothing serves unique purposes for different people. Some customers come in multiple times per day – every few hours to see what new items we’ve gotten in stock (we buy all day, every day), for them the clothing hunt is a hobby for their restless hands. They collect clothes and accessories like other people collect coins or rocks, always attempting to perfect their singular ‘look.’ Others come in once a week or so and stock up, they buy an armful of skirts, dresses, and shoes, perhaps to get them through the week. Others collect clothing for their children then return in a day or two to exchange the items their kids rejected. I witness people who shop for comfort, people who shop for style, those who shop for prestige, and others who shop for practicality and functionality.

Whatever the reason, whatever the day, whatever the purchase, it doesn’t entirely matter. What matters is the fact that everyone wears clothing – we are all required by law to dress ourselves each day and because dressing, like eating food, is something everyone must do, it is important to everyone in some way or another.  The way that we dress makes us feel a certain way and signifies certain things about us to those around us. Whether you spent two minutes or three hours dressing yourself today, the way you’ve dressed indicates something about your attitude, your gender identification, your class, your history, your work, and your personality.

Although fashion indicates a certain class designation and can cue any number of judgements about another person, I try really hard to put those judgements aside and approach my passion for fashion as a hobby. For me clothing makes me feel good and can help me feel like myself. I am a huge bargain hunter. I am always looking at thrift shops, consignment stores, vintage boutiques for unique, good quality, and versatile goods that can continue to help me dress for success and dress the way I feel – vibrant, creative, unique, and also polished.  For me clothing is a way I channel my need for artistic expression.

While I realize that the ability to express myself through style is a luxury, I am passionate about helping others find great brands and quality items for affordable prices, that’s a huge reason I started working at a secondhand clothing boutique. Not only do stores like these help recycle quality garments, but stores like these also provide low cost clothing solutions for everyone. I truly believe that everyone deserves the chance to look and feel pretty, confident, and comfortable in their clothing. For me clothing is a narrative, throughout the fabric is woven the story of the owner. Each garment and accessory has a history, has influenced at least one memory for its owner, and many garments are passed down within family or shared between friends. What we wear helps us express who we are, where we’ve been, and what we are yet to do.

Because I think so much about clothing, I also read a good deal about clothing. I follow blogs (mostly vintage-y bargain hunter blogs), read my People: StyeWatch Mag each month, follow Vogue on all social media, catch the occasional Refinery 29 article, and most importantly I’ve discovered a few books I really love about clothing and fashion.

Here are a few articles and books about style that have recently caught my attention:

  1. 2013 NY Times article begs the question, “Are clothes synonymous with character?” when discussing clothing choices on Girls and the comparison between HBO’s Girls more down-to-earth, up and comer style and Sex and the City’s style risks.
  2. Worn Stories – both a book and website, Worn Stories is a platform for sharing stories and memories about significant clothing items
  3. Vanessa Friedman discusses her confusion and then her “A-HA” moment when contemplating Michelle Obama’s clothing choices on a trip to Japan to promote her education campaign, “Let the Girls Learn” in another NYT article. Here’s a quick quote: “In choosing to meet young women in clothes that, perhaps, make her look like them — or how they may want to look if they didn’t have to wear school uniforms — Mrs. Obama was implying: You can dress like a girl and dream about getting a Ph.D. (or a law degree, if we are being picayune), too”

These articles and others reveal deeper dimensions of style and fashion by analyzing the messages clothing choices send, disclosing the memories bound up in clothing items, and exploring the intersection of character and fashion.

I would love to read some of your fondest clothing memories! Feel free to share.

Thanks for reading this little piece of me and my passion for fashion!




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