“Yuck, how can you wear someone else’s old clothing?” – Mum, circa 1996
The second time my mother asked this rhetorical question, I decided to ignore her. I knew that I would never convince her of the merits of purchasing second-hand clothing because she thought of these goods as inferior to those purchased brand new.
I’m certain her distaste of preloved clothing was a direct result of the poverty she had witnessed in the Philippines. She was born there, tertiary-educated there, worked there, met my father there, got married there and lived there prior to them moving our family to Australia. In her mind, only poor people bought and wore preloved clothing. People of means did not. To buy something brand new indicated wealth. To wear something second-hand was publicly admitting that you weren’t rich and couldn’t afford something nicer, newer. A humiliation on par with having kids out of wedlock.
I was a teenager when I started purchasing second-hand fashion. I had very little money and I didn’t care if anyone knew it. I was poor. Flat broke. Povo. So? Second-hand shopping gave me fashion freedom in the sense that I could purchase something that I liked without getting approval from my parents.
My parents were strict but particularly my mother who was, and still is, a conservative Catholic. It was always a tug of war when mum and I went shopping. She vetoed any garment that she felt was too skimpy. She bought me shift dresses instead of backless dresses; knee-length A-line skirts instead of mini-skirts; and blouses instead of tank tops. I even begged for a bikini and I wasn’t allowed one until I was 18! It was ugly too because I wasn’t even allowed a triangle bikini. I had to get a tank bikini, you know, the one that covered all of your boobs. As I had little A-cup ones, the tank bikini was extremely unflattering. It made me look more flat chested than I already was.
So I’d use my pocket money and browse the racks of the op-shops after school so I could purchase what I wanted. I bought suede mini-skirts, tight-fitting ribbed tees and denim everything. As I went to Catholic school, I was required to wear a uniform. I had lived under this regime of oppression for 13 years. The experience of having to conform sucked the creative life out of me.
Since leaving prison, I mean school, and to this very day, fashion continues to be one of the primary ways in which I express myself. I can go from wearing androgynous minimalist pieces through to bohemian paisley playsuits. I can create my identity each day depending on what event I’m attending, how I’m feeling or how much time I have to get my outfit together. My looks continue to evolve. I don’t want to pigeon-hole my sense of style because I don’t believe in limiting my creative potential. As human beings, every item we buy, own or wear expresses our identity in some way, shape or form. This is especially true of me.
Thankfully, I don’t need new clothes to give me an identity. I can make do with other people’s used clothes. Looking wealthy is not the point of fashion anyway, not the way I do fashion. To me, second-hand shopping is just a smart, sustainable way to shop.
Thriftiness is hot. Extravagance is not. Looking eco-stylish for less while reducing financial and fashion waste, I think it’s silly if you don’t shop this way.
Preloved Cue Dress: Gumtree | Heels: My own | Oroton sunglasses + vintage drawstring leather bag: eBay | Photographer: Ben McGuire