Friday, 19 February 2016

Charity Ship ahoy

From my dishevelled, worn out, baggy exterior you probably guess that the majority of my clothing is bought from charity shops and you wouldn't be wrong, you bloody big clever bastard you. Apart from it also represents my vulnerable state of mind, so there.

I love a good rummage in a potential bio hazard that is a charity shop. A charity shop to me, is an enchanted wonder kingdom where you never know what you might find.
Often it's a pair of trousers, that would be just perfect work trousers if only it didn't have that darn cigarette burn and exposed just a little bit too much ankle. As a man who has been threateningly shouted at across the street by hooded youths and my own parents with the bon mot, 'your trousers are short mate'. It's a fashion choice I tend to avoid.

Still, I do love second hand clothes.
It's never bothered me wearing someone else's clobber, I like that something has history and once had relevance to someone. I make up stories, like this floral shirt was purchased for a date, that never arrived, or this bobble hat was knocked off the head of a cyclist. Cheerful stuff to keep my spirits up.

When I was younger I always had my older Brother's cast offs; (saying that, I'm still receiving his cast offs) that were always 2 sizes too big and two years out of style. It didn't matter. For a short time I thought I was pretty cool. In my head my brother was the epitome of cool and by wearing his former garments some of that coolness was vicariously passed onto me. This theory was cruelly knocked out of me by Katie Chapwick in year 8, who said my shirt was too big, and I was a tramp or words to that effect. In hindsight it was probably flirtatious, and I shouldn't have 'accidentally' set fire to her hair with a bunsen burner. (this never happened)

From that moment on I ventured to try and buy my own clothes and be a dedicated follower of fashion. Which, at the time, invariably meant beads, spikey hair and rather a gregarious use of the British flag. I was like a camp National Front member that lived by the sea.

On a paper round wage, I never had the money to quite pull it off with any aplomb. The turning point was when I saved for 4 weeks to purchase a jacket, that I thought would help stake my claim as the most fashionable boy in school only to arrive in school and depressingly see 3 other boys also in the same jacket.

I gave up soon after, deciding that my money and time was better spent on something else. Needing to find some solution to the old nudity problem I thought through my options, which were few. I lived in a small city, there were not many clothes shops and Primarks and vintage stores were yet to be a ubiquitous menace.
Unsure if the annual Christmas supply of wollens would see me through the year at some point I was going to find myself a bit stuck.

It was a chance wandering into a charity shop during one of our weekend town jollies, where we largely just rode the elevators up and down in TJ Hughes, (this was a definite thing at one point in my life) that changed everything.

At the time, there was a fierce stigma attached to entering charity shops, possibly mainly in working class schools, where no one wanted to be branded as poor. Materialism bites hardest on the young. Lord have mercy on the child that wears non-branded trainers in school.

But goaded by youthful curiosity, my friends and I entered together giggling, it was a similar process to the first time I entered a sex shop and just as illuminating.
That rush of old damp coat smell, the shelves of random junk, porcelain figurines of old men with sheep, books, so many books, paintings of dogs playing pool, tape decks in the shape of of submarines; it was wonderful.
What I loved most and still do is the utter randomness, no charity shop is alike. Certainly you have to trawl through 20 racks of striped office shirts to find an orange jump suit with fur shoulder pads, but nothing beats that feeling of finding something truly unique that could only be found at this shop and this fixed moment in time.
Vintage shops will always lack that, because they are a formalised style, I know what I'm getting there, flannel shirts, Hawaian shirts, leather jackets, denim jackets, barbour jackets, and they charge four times as much.

From our first encounter we were hooked and would raid the charity shops for items to decorate our bodies with. This meant a lot of cardigans, colourful floral shirts, velvet smoking jackets, and deer stalker hats.

Essentially we started dressing like flamboyant pensioners, but it was never a conscious choice, just one made from necessity and availability.
Fashion was finally fun. You could buy something ridiculous for a couple of pounds, and laugh off any ridicule because it wasn't like you'd invested so much of yourself in it.

Occasionally it would provoke some people. Once we went to a party, an infrequent event in our lives, and we were hassled by some local punks, who found us at odds with them because we were wearing our 'Grandad's cardigans', which in many ways was far more subversive than their Atticus t-shirts, and more in keeping with a punk ethos.

Eventually most of my friends grew out of this stage, it was only a means to an end. As they got older and had more disposable income they discovered new music, art and films, which shaped their future clothing choices. Some became Mods, some existentialists, some rockabilly and I flirted with all these, but I have remained most content in a charity shop jumper and a bright colourful floral shirt that was once treasured by someone else.

I could say this is because, as I grow older, there is a presiding ethical fair trade concern, or that I like to wear unique items of clothing, or I like supporting charitable organisations but as my friend sagaciously put best it's because you're a tight bastard Stan.

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