I have a dirty secret to admit. I don’t like op-shopping. I know I should - it’s very ‘Wellington’ and also eco-friendly. But personally, as much as I’ve tried, I just don’t love it. Never have.
Shopping for clothes in general is something I’ve had mixed feelings about for a long time. Why? Well, like most traumas in life, it goes back to being a teenager….*cue wavy screen and strange music*
When I was a teenager, I went shopping almost every weekend. No, not with my friends to Glasson’s (to be honest, I had very few friends from 10-13, and later when I did make some, we never had any money anyway). I’d go clothes shopping with good old Mum. My mum loves shopping and fashion more than anything else. Her wardrobe overflows with the same navy roll-neck jumper and AS Colour tees. People around Wellington at Superette and Glassons know her by her first name. In particular she is a steady patron of twenty-seven names - and I am entirely okay with that because sometimes she decides she isn’t into a piece anymore and then I get it. Everyone wins.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I was a lucky child. It was a blessing that my mum would take me out shopping. Many parents don’t buy their kids anything as their bodies change and it can be embarrassing. Yet as ungrateful as it sounds, over-shopping with Mum as a teenager actually put me off clothes shopping for good because I never got to make ‘fashion mistakes’ or treat it as some crazy game wearing unflattering leopard print and purple pleather; it was always very tasteful and I was heavily influenced by her style (and continue to be). Shopping itself? I just found it so boring. It drew attention to things I didn’t like about my figure and made me wonder why I didn’t look like Mischa Barton circa 2004 The O.C. days. I hated standing in changing rooms as unflattering lights beam down. I hated poking my tummy as I try on yet another pair of jeans that I didn’t fit. I remember leaving stores feeling deflated that I wasn’t a size 6 model because a top that didn’t suit me. I’d get impatient and honestly would rather be doing something - virtually anything - else.
With op-shopping, the things I don’t like about clothes shopping generally feel amplified - and because of my ‘norm-core’ style as a teen with mum, I panic that I don’t have a unique enough perspective to instil into a piece of vintage. You can’t pick a range of sizes. It either fits you or it doesn’t fit you. Something can look cool and ironic on a hanger in store, but often I feel like on me it just looks frumpy. Often the young women who rock op-shop have a brilliant artist vibe. They can mix a dark lip colour, carrot red hair, an 80’s ball-gown and Doc Martins: if I wore it, I’d just look like I’d wandered out of a dress-up box.
I’d describe my body as ‘mid-sized’ which is why lots of true vintage dresses don’t quite suit me. The fact of the matter is 30 years ago, women were slimmer. I need some room to breathe and so the idea of stuffing myself into a polyester blend dress feels like nothing short of torture. My waist will never be described as hour-glass. And that is fine!
The reality is that vintage has its own set of expectations which come with it from a style-perspective. Not everyone fits into that box. Not everyone suits 90’s ironic dressing or 50’s pin-up. And if you do, rock it! That’s amazing.
However, having said this, I do have some excellent vintage pieces that I own. I wear them in a way that suits me and I’ve learnt over time that if you chose well, you’re better off. If you rush yourself, buy into fads and peer pressure, and go with a style which is not your own, you can waste money on second hand clothes just as much as you waste money on fast fashion. So I wanted to share with you my rules for choosing second hand pieces that I actually wear.
1. PICK CLASSICS - They never go out of style!
A few years ago, I had mad imposter syndrome: I was interviewed by Radio New Zealand about op-shopping. It was an absolute honour. But I was so worried I didn’t really count as an op-shopping because only a few pieces I own are vintage. I’d read enough magazines and dabbled in op-shopping enough to be able to speak authoritatively on thrift-stores. But while I know the rules of vintage shopping well that doesn’t mean felt like a pro. Nevertheless, I winged it. At the end of the interview I found a vintage camel coat at Vinnie’s in Aro Street. I decided to buy it on the spot for the princely sum of $50. I was amazed. Why did this piece work?
First, it was high quality. There was one button missing but apart from that it was almost brand new. Better than that, it was made from high quality materials. Choose vintage clothes made from leather, cotton, linen, high-quality synthetic blends or similar. Check for tears, rips or where stitching has come undone. You may say you’ll come back and fix it but beyond sewing a button back on, it’s unlikely. My other fab vintage piece I adore is a high quality coat and dress set I bought from Hunter’s and Collector’s which is pink silk. It was over $300 but it is amazing and truly timeless. I had to pay it off over several months. I regret nothing.
Second, a camel coat is a classic. It comes around and around, season after season. Some staples, like good jeans, a leather jacket, a white shirt, black boots, Doc Martins, and the little black dress will always remain part of a classy girls capsule wardrobe. These are the solid-gold hits that make the perfect wardrobe. Actively seek these out rather than getting a hot pink leotard you will only wear once because it is on trend.
2. WE ARE FAMILY - Shop your relatives.
I might NOT buy lots of things from vintage stores but having a fashion obsessed Mum means I often have been know to ‘shop’ from her wardrobe. Whether it’s your sister, your mother-in-law or even your boyfriend, you can get creative when it comes to borrowing (or stealing) from relatives whose style you admire. I have a similar body shape to my mum which means that her pieces suit me. So I have gone to parties in her dress she wore to my aunts wedding when Mum was pregnant with me in 1989.
If you don’t like the pressure of choosing vintage clothes in a public arena, why not try shopping in a friend or parents wardrobe (with their permission of course). You can also do this with friends and even organise your own clothes swap if you like. You don’t always have to pay for a new outfit.
3. MIX AND MATCH - Why not pair mainstream with Vintage and Designer?
If the top to toe vintage look isn’t for you, do what I do and just choose one vintage piece. A full second-hand look can appear a bit costume-like and is best left to the pro’s and students. Here, I’m wearing the Max Emily Dress with Red High Heel shoes and a Chloe Tess Camera bag. I think that these contemporary pieces make the Vinnie’s coat look fresh and elegant. If I wore it with a floor length frock with ruffled cuffs the effect wouldn’t be the same.
Again, with designer or mainstream stores, look for quality and ethical design wherever possible. If you don’t have any ethically made clothes, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water and think you need to start a whole new wardrobe. Just ensure that going forward you do your research on websites like TEARFUND and check out the ethical fashion guide.
4. KNOW THYSELF - There’s only one you, baby!
While I was studying at uni, op-shopping was very cool. Macklemore had just released ‘Thrift-Shop’. It was what all the hip kids were doing. I could never seem to quite nail it however, especially when it came to 80’s inspired looks and 90’s ironic casual-wear.
Now I know the looks that best suits me are tops and trousers and a well made dress and coat. I don’t suit 50’s but I do suit 70’s long dresses. I’m not going to try and dress like someone I’m not just because it’s the fashion. I’m way too old for that bull-shit. Yes, I can find occasional great buys that are second hand, but I accept that my body isn’t meant to change to suit everything that’s trendy.
My style might be a bit more ‘safe’ but it belongs to me. The ultimate goal of clothes shopping is, after all, to express your personality. Don’t go changing. You’re perfect as you are.
I hope you found this list of things which I now know about second hand shopping useful. I fully support buying vintage but I think the most important thing is to know what you want and that it suits you - otherwise, it will just end up at the back of your wardrobe and then in the landfill.