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The Vintage Shopping Experience

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In the last few years, we’ve seen significant increase in the popularity of shopping in second hand, vintage and goodwill stores, especially among the young. I support this 100%. Personally, I’m no stranger to wearing second-hand clothing. When I was a teenager, I’d go upstairs to the lady who lived in the apartment above us and borrow her 501 Levi’s perfectly bleached jeans, so I could go out with friends in style. 

My friends and I also swapped and traded clothing regularly and it was all a very spontaneous, natural experience. This is probably why I have no problem shopping at a second-hand or charity store. I mention this because I’ve heard lots of people say they don’t want to buy second hand for all sorts of strange reasons. Some are afraid of communicable illness being carried by clothes, others associate buying second hand clothes with poverty and others still have a superstitious belief that the energy of the previous wearer remains on the clothing. These three groups make up the majority of the population of the city where I live, so we don’t have many second-hand stores. 

I remember one store which opened around ten years ago. It was my first time purchasing second-hand clothes, as opposed to merely swapping or borrowing clothes from friends. Setting foot in it for the first time was like travelling back in time. There were several rooms and it was arranged more like someone’s house than a store, with armoires, tables, chairs and lots of decoration. All of the objects were vintage or antique, without a single modern piece of furniture. On the floor, there was a luxuriant carpet, the kind I remember from the homes of my grandparents. The walls had pictures with retro gilded frames, there was a wire rotary phone, the kind nobody uses anymore, an old chest with cotton and linen cloth peeking through the opening, and in the corner an old mandolin leisurely leaning against the wall. The shopping experience was inspiring and magical. Unlike modern stores with their strong smell of air-fresheners and excessively loud pop music, this store was filled with the subtle sounds of quiet jazz and smelled of an old and comfortable house. Unfortunately, this store was only open for 2 or 3 years before it closed down. There was simply no demand for vintage clothing and such a shopping experience in my city and nothing much has changed today. 

My only opportunities for vintage shopping now come when I travel abroad. Wherever I go, I always research vintage stores on the internet long before I set foot in the country and I make a note of all their addresses. Once I’m there, I go on expeditions to find them and this accords me excellent opportunities to explore the city, because these stores are often outside of the touristy areas.
Vintage stores come in all shapes and sizes. Several that I’ve been to look like the one I described, others still look more like a modern store and some simply look shabby and dingy, but nevertheless, the experience of each one is unique. When I go to vintage stores, I do not have high expectations nor do I set out to buy a specific item. That’d be very difficult to find. Vintage shopping is more something done for fun, where you don’t really know what you’ll find and that’s the beauty of it. You may come out not buying anything and that is fine, but it’s also possible to find something you’d never expect and be pleasantly surprised. All that’s important is to have fun during the experience and you’ll find it fulfilling and inspiring. 

Now, you might wonder what are the more practical reasons for buying in these kinds of stores? 

The first reason has to do with the effects of so-called fast-fashion companies, who produce their clothing at great cost to the environment and in locations outside of Europe and North America, contributing to the deindustrialisation of the West. The less we buy from mainstream stores, the less garbage they’ll produce. Of course, on the personal level, we also manage to wear less garbage, less polyester, less acrylic, less nylon or simply put, less plastics. Quality before quantity. Give a second chance to some piece of clothing that may have never been worn before. 

The second reason is that it’s possible to find high quality pieces for a much lower price. I bought my first two cashmere sweaters in a store such as this one. Buying them new would have cost me 10 times more. It is also possible to find unique pieces which are no longer produced. Now, we need to remember that even though these are all second-hand purchases, it is still possible to overconsume. If something is cheap, it doesn’t mean we have to buy it. We still need to consider whether we will actually wear it, or whether we are only buying out of a momentary desire, as we discussed last week when I wrote about living in style

The third reason: because it’s fun! There’s no risk to spicing up your life with a little bit of fun.
This is why I recommend to everyone that they give these stores a chance. Find them locally, or if like me, you can’t find them locally, find them when you travel. Find a second-hand store and visit it, not necessarily to buy, but initially just to browse and absorb the ambient. Have fun. 

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