Clothes as cur­rency


The care­fully-con­structed ma­te­ri­als we use to cover our bod­ies are not just com­modi­ties. This is ev­i­dent in the fact that af­ter months, years or decades of wears, the pos­si­bil­ity re­mains to still get some­thing out of the wellserved item of cloth­ing, and I’m not talk­ing about more wears (or per­haps you’ll get that too if you’re lucky).

While thrift cul­ture has ex­isted for cen­turies, it has not al­ways been most in West­ern so­ci­ety.

In fact, be­fore the 20th cen­tury, the no­tion of wear­ing other peo­ple’s old clothes was frowned upon and re­served for the poor.

Thrift shops around the time of ant-Semitic ide­ol­ogy, were also pre­dom­i­nantly as­so­ci­ated with Jewish-owned pawn shops, fur­ther adding dark spots to the stigma.

This all started to change in the 20th cen­tury, when an in­creased in­ter­est in phi­lan­thropy cou­pled with the loom­ing eco­nomic re­ces­sion lead to an in­crease in the ex­change of sec­ond-hand clothes.

Christian or­gan­i­sa­tions started in­cor­po­rat­ing the sale of sec­ond-hand goods into their outreach projects, and even com­mis­sioned the un­em­ployed to sell these used goods, pro­vid­ing a place for thrift cul­ture inside the eco­nomic sec­tor. The Chris­tians and phi­lan­thropists of the early 1900s also played an im­por­tant role in shift­ing the per­cep­tions of thrift goods as their pres­ence cre­ated a some­what neu­tral stance on thrift cul­ture in re­sponse to the as­so­ci­a­tions re­in­forced by an­tiSemitism.

Thrift stores also started to find a more com­mon place in so­ci­ety dur­ing the First and Sec­ond World War, when ra­tions re­sulted clothes re­cy­cling.

The emer­gence of coun­ter­cul­tures such as the iconic 60s hippy move­ment and 90s grunge and fash­ion trends in­clud­ing vin­tage nos­tal­gia and hipster cul­ture, all made valu­able con­tri­bu­tions to erad­i­cat­ing stig­mas sur­round­ing sec­ond-hand cloth­ing and cre­ated a mar­ket wherein thrift cul­ture con­tin­ues to thrive. Even to­day, thrift shop­ping is founded not only out of ne­ces­sity but feeds a large part of West­ern con­tem­po­rary pop­u­lar cul­ture.

Gra­ham­stown is not im­mune to the cul­tural phe­nom­e­non called thrift­ing, thanks largely to the di­verse pop­u­la­tion the its rich his­tory and new young blood in the ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions ev­ery year.

Stu­dents come with their own set of stereo­types, and among these are the typ­i­cal ‘hip­pies’, ‘punk-rock­ers’ and ‘arty-far­ties’ (aka BFA and Drama stu­dents) who all need a place to shop for clothes be­cause Wool­worths gen­er­ally doesn’t cater for them. En­ter Nearly New and Hospice sec­ond-hand cloth­ing stores, and the mul­ti­ple on­line sec­ond­hand com­mu­nity plat­forms in Gra­ham­stown.

I re­cently took a stroll down High Street, stop­ping at number 118's Nearly New store: The sta­tion for preloved cloth­ing and then con­tin­ued all the way down un­til I reached Fron­tier Ho­tel. Then I turned down Bath­hurst Street and jour­neyed to­wards number 67, home of Gra­ham­stown’s Sun­flower fund Hospice shop. I was on a mis­sion to get the two cents worth on Gra­ham­stown’s thriv­ing thrift cul­ture.

For a town with only three ma­jor streets, Gra­ham­stown boasts an abun­dance of sec­ond-hand out­lets. There’s Nearly New, The Hospice shop, the shop un­der the Dros­dty Arch plus two on­line Face­book groups, and that’s only cov­er­ing the sale of sec­ond-hand cloth­ing. How do these plat­forms thrive, why do they thrive, and who sup­ports them? That’s what I set out to find out.

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