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.