Monday, October 06, 2008

It's not called Sidewalk Zeitgeist

Lately I've been noticing Australian fashion bloggers (especially Foreva Young Vintage and Fashion Hayley) describing the process of second-hand shopping as "thrifting". This isn't a dig at these blogs - I enjoy reading them - but this "thrifting" bizzo really grates on me, because "thrift stores" are what they call op-shops in the United States. (In the United Kingdom they're mostly called "charity shops".) We are not Americans, so why do we have to use their words?

It might seem like a petty complaint, but it seems to evoke a certain cultural cringe: that Australians inevitably take their fashion cues from overseas. But perhaps I'm just hypersensitive to (and more than a little sick of) the studied curatorship that goes into buying clothes second-hand, given that I've just written a post about the way that the fashion press uses "vintage" as a synonym for "personal creativity", and because I recently wrote up a vintage clothing market for ThreeThousand.

I have the unsettling feeling that when they're op-shopping, some fashionable chicks see themselves as part of a global aesthetic culture of "thrifting" rather than a local affective culture of "op-shopping". There seems to be very little thinking about how garments have histories, often local histories, and how the garment resonates with the buyer's own history. Instead the op-shop is treated as a resource for cheaply acquiring (and even on-selling via eBay) on-trend clothing that is emptied of its previous history so it becomes 'new' to the buyer.

By way of contrast, I've really been enjoying reading the collaborative op-shopping blog I Op, Therefore I Am. I found out about it when I was invited to blog there, but I figured that since I already blog in three regular places, none of which is specifically about op-shopping, I'd be over-committing myself. What I enjoy most about this blog is that it isn't just about the 'vintage' logic that seems to dominate the thinking of the fashion blogosphere.

Instead, the bloggers - and there are heaps of them - visit op-shops around Melbourne and Victoria and report excitedly on their finds - not just clothing. Some things I get excited about too, and some leave me cold. Some I think are embarrassingly daggy. But the striking part is how these purchases go on to enrich the lives of their new owners. These objects have meaning aside from their aesthetic meaning. It's the amateur still life painting that sits in the buyer's bathroom for her to enjoy as she brushes her teeth, wishing she could tell the anonymous painter how much she likes it.

So when I think of "thrifting", I think of the hipster's pursuit of a distinctive look, but when I think of "op-shopping", I think of shopping practices that recognise the ways that an object's history creates affect, or feeling, in the buyer. I know I was recently overjoyed to discover the twin of my favourite coffee mug for $1 in the Don Bosco op shop in Brunswick - it seems so serendipitous that for so little money, you can find something that's already special to you.