Several months ago I bought a pair of fetching high-waisted slacks. The appeal of these clever little pants is such that, when paired with a tweed blazer and a jaunty disposition, they make me feel like a collegiate boatsman from the 40’s. I bought these pants in a second hand super-store in Melbourne. I must very clearly stress it was not a “vintage” store or a “retro” store, or any type of store that purports to be glamorous because it re-sells old shit. Because apparently that’s cool these days.
No, this place was essentially a garishly lit warehouse that featured rack after rack of other people’s unwanted clothing all sold at the same price of $4.99. The clientele was a bewitching mix of students, mothers, hipsters and the likes of me (reluctant adults who still loath spending actual money on things like “work pants.”) There was also, of course, those people who haunt cities around the world: those lost, mulleted souls who seem unwilling to acknowledge the passing of time and still wear David Hasslehoff tee-shirts un-ironically.
It was here I bought the aforementioned pants and several other items of clothing (and a wok obvs.) The reason I kept going back wasn’t that the stuff was cheap, although that played an embarrassingly large part: it was that I genuinely love second hand things. I was often struck by the awareness that every item, every rack of clothing, every book, scarf, chopping board, had belonged to a person who may or may not still share this earth with me. These thousands of items represented someone. Browsing the racks I couldn’t help but wonder: who wore this tee-shirt? When did they wear it? Did they break up with their boyfriend in it? Did they wear it on a day that they remember happily, or a day that makes them sad?
In donating their clothes, the person presumably WANTS someone else to wear them – they aren’t junk (otherwise they would be in a rubbish heap.) To me, donated clothes retain a modicum of importance to the donor and I’m in love with the thought process behind the donation: “Just because I don’t want these shoes any more, doesn’t mean they’re shit or should be thrown out. Someone else might want them.” Furthermore, actually buying second hand clothing means that you share a similar taste and style with at least one other person in the world. Very occasionally, as with an inscription in a book, second hand items will offer a personal glimpse into individuals or relationships.
My love for second hand clothing was compounded on one particular day and took a particularly habitual form. At one point in this store, when trying on a coat, a note fluttered to the floor that had been placed in an inside pocket. It has been washed and was wrinkled but I could still make it out as the previous owner’s shopping list, hastily stuffed into the coat pocket: bread, milk, detergent etc. A shopping list – the composition of which is usually one of the most banal, tedious elements of a weekly routine, became to me for a brief moment; an insight into the private life of a person whom I have never, or will never meet.