DRESSED BY THE DEAD


June 07, 2016

Delving into ones wardrobe is a deed of personal archaeology. Belle Strahorn unearths why op-shopping could be the key to re-invigorating your life.
If you’ve ever snubbed the thought of charity shops for fear of smelly, shabby seconds you wouldn’t be seen dead in, you're not alone. What are now treasure troves of hidden gems and possibilities to me, were once places chock-full of old stuff; knitted baby booties, retro pictures of a moonlit Jesus mid-blessing, piles of miscellaneous oddments and little old ladies drinking tea. For someone who now supports local op shops so whole-heartedly (I’m pretty sure they are partially floated on the stock market) my inner bowerbird has taken a fair chunk of time to develop.


When I was at school I wouldn't dream of setting foot in Vinnie's except to unearth garish coloured garb for the annual swimming carnival. My friends didn't help the cause either; they too shared a deep-set aversion to thrift. One lassie couldn't enter an op shop without heaving, something to do with a particularly pungent scented shop she and her mum used to visit during her childhood. The 'eeww' factor she called it. Another mate alleged it was a fad she tried to embrace but only ever found an itchy jumper covered in sparkles and a top that had a massive hole in it (rookie error). By the time university rolled around, this lingering mood of mustiness surrounding second-hand shopping slowly started to lift. Life was one big dress up party and the need for electric blue taffeta prom gowns, neon tees and rockabilly quiffs funded by the equally desperate budget of a struggling student, seemed to override my fear of mothballs. I began to appreciate the beauty in finding treasures that no one else wanted. As my own style developed I realised that following trends left me idle about discovering my own fashion philosophy and looking the same as everyone else
required little imagination. And thus it began. A full time love of hunting and collecting had hatched.


These days a good old-fashioned forage is my idea of a Saturday well spent. Standing 
between racks of pre-loved pretties hemmed in by history and engulfed between tales brings me endless joy. I find it delicious to wear garments with stories to tell. It’s the memories pressed into our clothes that are delightfully congenial. After all we are what we wear right? And if it smells like an old lady, it’s only because it’s been loved.


Convinced? Not quite…okay…Meet Aaron. Former sceptic. Been converted. Now an op 
shop tragic. It was a deep love for vinyl that fuelled his leap of faith and now he's a store manager at St Vincent de Paul. “We never went into op shops as kids,” he said taking a sip of coffee from a brown stoneware mug plucked straight from the 70s. “But all that changed when I became obsessed with records,” Aaron smirked, placing his mug on a glorious mahogany table, donated of course, by the grandmother of a volunteer. “We come across the most magnificent things here at Vinnies,” he added as we chatted in the tea room of the newly opened Gungahlin store (looks the bomb mind you). “Without a doubt the best thing about working here is the thrill of uncovering a gem, the enjoyment of the find...it's just fun.” Aaron's roll call of goodies include a fob watch from 1912, so worn you could see how much it was loved. Its owner carried it every day in his pocket until the day he died. A Coalport porcelain dinner set; a turn of the century Singer sewing machine and the smartest 
Aquascutum (home of the iconic London trench) cream coat that you'll ever set eyes on. “And the cutest thing ever, a tooth wrapped in a silk pouch; we found it at the bottom of a handbag,” he concluded.


For those of you who aren’t lifetime op shoppers, pre-loved wonderlands can be puzzling and daunting affairs. And that musty scent, a cross between granny’s lounge room and an old library, yep I smell it to. Fear not, I’ve compiled the guru’s guide to second-hand sourcing for sceptics. And those fusty old clothes smells? They vanish entirely after a soapy wash.  

HOW TO BUILD YOUR OWN SARTORIAL SWAG OF TREASURES

GO OFTEN- In order to strike gold it’s a matter of doing the rounds. Determination separates those who leave the op shop disenchanted after a hasty glimpse, to those who can reel off a list of their best finds faster than a jack russell to a tennis ball.

LOOK FOR QUALITY- Just because you buy pre-loved doesn't mean you have to spare on excellence. Look at the label and feel the fabric. And remember if it looks and feels horrid, it doesn’t matter how well it fits.

CONTROL YOUR FOMO (FEAR OF MISSING OUT)– If you don’t love it, don’t buy it. If it’s chipped, torn, marked, ‘for a friend’ or needs adjusting, have a good think before you part with your pennies. If you've never picked up a needle and thread you’re probably not going to begin now. Trust me that oversized dresses will gather dust at the bottom of your wardrobe giving you grief until you give it back to the op shop. If in doubt leave it, it's probably meant for someone else anyway. 

BRANCH OUT- A good treasure hunt involves looking everywhere. Don’t be afraid to 
venture into the unknown. Have open mind, chances are you’ll go in looking for a good novel and come out with a designer dress.

TRY IT ON- Because vintage silhouettes were a lot smaller than they are today. 

BE PRIMED- You need optimum clarity for op-shop success. Avoid being hungry, emotional or tired. You’ll need both mitts for fossicking so avoid taking extras with you, sunglasses and oversized handbags will only get in the way. And Murphy’s Law is as soon as soon as you find yourself in a rummaging rhythm nature will call. So visit the loo beforehand even if you don’t need too.

WASH IT- If it bugs you to wear something that isn’t new, throw it in the tub. I soak

everything I find. My best advice for op shopping is to take a leap of faith. If you look for loot like this, I guarantee you beautiful bounty.


 BELLE'S BEST OP SHOP FINDS

+ 70s tapestry swing coat. Never been worn. Buyer carked it taking it home I presume.

+ Emilio Pucci, the Prince of prints, kaleidoscope silk scarf.

+ Navajo fringed poncho in geometric print.

+ Art Deco era gold sequined bolero. I hit the fashion jackpot with this one. 

+ Royal marching band jacket embellished with gold buttons, tassels and shoulder tags. Looks the bomb with a white tee and ripped boyfriend jeans.

+ Mason Chippewa Falls cowboy boots. Tan, leather, embossed. Brilliant.

+And my most memorable find occurred a week to the day that I reluctantly donated my all- time favourite, Holy Grail pair of denim jeans. The ridiculous routine of lying down to squeeze into my skinnies was becoming an epic struggle. Believe it or not I stumbled across a pair exactly the same and a size up.


So, before you diss charity shopping remember this. I can’t say that I’ve ever got the guilts following a good op-shopping session, having a blast won’t blow the budget. You’re guaranteed to find a treasure that no one else has. There will always be some daggy 80s chart buster to bop along to and no one in an op shop has ever tried to sell me more to qualify for a free pair of socks!