‘They are suspiciously young and stylish, with designer outfits that seem to have sprung from bank balances far beyond their years and pay packets. Just how do these young, uber-cool fashion icons afford all that finery? It’s vintage, darling’ (Edwards 2005).

Final 1

ONCE considered musty places where down-and-outers riffled through boxes, op shops have defied the doom and gloom in the retail sector and experienced a surge in sales. Rather than shopping on the high street, fashionistas are realising that they can unearth unique and immaculate designer frocks for a mere pittance when shopping secondhand. But more than that, designer labels frequently – but briefly – grace the hangers, so many stylish young ones are taking pre-loved items and re-purposing, upstyling and transforming them to create entirely new, head-turning outfits. T-shirts that once had sleeves, now adorn seams that are barely tacked together and an eclectic choice of patterns and materials are collectively sewn to create vintage masterpieces; looks to be a reinvention of fashion!

Final 2

However, history tells us otherwise. This kind of recycling and deconstruction of secondhand clothing is not unlike Japanese Avant-Garde designers of the 1980s, who were inspired by self-reflexive references to dress-making processes. Exposed finishes, misplaces collars, ripped and mismatched fabrics; imperfection was ‘a measure of perfection within creativity’ (Berry 2015). Martin Margiela, one particular designer who comes to mind, embraced this wabi-sabi style (referring to the beauty of imperfection, transitory and unfinished things) and greatly challenged haute couture with his use of torn apart and reassembled or fashionably recycled clothing. He inspired worldwide trends, and his cutting technique became legendary with his deconstruction of a number of denim garments leading to ‘the popularity of shredded jeans as a fashion item’ (English 2011).

‘Margiela is fascinated not only by the structure of the garments, but also their history. His extensive use of “recovered” items…challenges the authenticity of the creation…He restructures the form of the piece with cut-outs or darts, and dyes them to change colours and patterns. He gives the old, rejected and condemned clothes a new life’ (Derycke and Van de Veire in English 2011)

Just like today’s fashion-savvy youngsters, Margiela recreated vintage-store “finds” into new garments, giving a second life to old and rejected items. But more than this, Margiela infused meaning into his garments, reminiscent of past times or previous owners. The stigma that previously surrounded secondhand clothing is replaced with a nostalgia that transforms the value of the garment from a superficial novelty to a ‘vestige of historical resonance’ (English 2011). Old clothes were witnesses of the past and of life itself.

While some are bothered by this pre-owned aspect of secondhand shopping, others are enthralled with the kind of poetic sentiment that Margiela touches on, one that continues to evolve as the garments do. They become a desirable entity – something to be cherished and admired.

‘The fact that the “new” old clothes are not always finished (an unsewn hem or a frayed seem) is intentional, because what is unfinished can continue to evolve’ (Derycke and Van de Veire in English 2011).

Perhaps this is something to think about the next time you op shop hop…

Berry, J 2015, ‘Contemporary Fashion: Avant-Garde Fashion & Anti-Fashion, retrieved from Griffith University, Queensland College of Art, Learning@Griffith website, <www.bblearn.griffith.edu.au/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_45372_1>.

Edwards, L 2005, ‘Secret to chic the op shop hop’, The Age, viewed 6 August 2015, <www.theage.com.au/news/fashion/secret-to-chic-the-op-shop-hop/2005/10/21/1129775962079.html>.

English, B 2011, ‘Martin Margiela – The Rag-Picker’, Japanese Fashion Designers: The work and influence of Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo, Oxford, New York, pp. 131-141.