WORDS | Megan Smith
I’m a seasoned op-shopper. I’ve been a convert ever since my days in senior high school when I’d spend countless free periods rifling through the moth bitten boy’s section to find the perfect vintage denim jacket, or break a nail in a box of mismatched shoes to discover a shockingly fashion forward pair of brogues. I used to shop at a rate so freakish and frenzied that my wardrobe has, on multiple occasions, looked like it was shared by Duckie Dale, Daria Morgendorffer and Dame Edna Everage. I think if I was to ever have a confirmation, my chosen saint would be Vincent De Paul. We get the picture, right? I fucking love to op shop.
So when I was given the task by my editor to buy a head-to-toe vintage outfit, I was certain I’d have enough for three chic-as-shit outfits from my local St. Vinnies with enough left over to buy a $7 Mars Bar Cheesecake thickshake from the cafe next door. Because I mean $50, are you serious? Back in my hometown, I stumbled across many amazing finds, all of them incredibly cheap. $4 Bally penny loafers. A 1966 camera bag with the original instructions and receipt perfectly intact at the going rate of $5. A beautiful guild-framed, velvet portrait of the ‘Last Supper’ for twenty bucks that I never actually hung because I’m not religious. There is one thing I neglected to consider when undertaking this challenge though, and that is the fact that all of those things were purchased in some backwater village that I call home. The price range is not quite the same as in the inner-east, where now I live.
I wandered into my local Vinnies armed with $50 and blinding optimism, only to pick up a nearby coat, grimace at the steep price tag, and gingerly place it back on the rack. This wasn’t going to be as easy as I’d assumed. I next went over to the blouses and came face to face with an impeccably kept Alannah Hill top. Get excited. Check the price tag. Twenty dollars. Sigh. Knowing that this was too good a sartorial opportunity to pass up, I loped it over my arm and made the pilgrimage to the bottoms section. I soon came across two adorable pairs of tulip-shaped velvet shorts in black and oxblood for $12 each. This was getting better. Knowing that I was going to buy them regardless of the article, I paired the red shorts with the Alannah Hill and went on my merry way.
After being served by a spritely sales assistant with a confusingly short fringe and an exposed midriff (not the old, bored Catholic women or community service attendees I’m accustomed to), I realized that I only had $18 left for the challenge. Oops. I had to change locations. Next up was a trip to an inner-city St. Vincent De Paul and immediately, I zoned in on a $10 denim jacket. This place was awesome. You got the feeling that its customers were a mixture of the artsy, the artsy posers, and the legitimately impoverished. This spurs me into deep thought.
The Alannah-Hill-stocking-Vinnies closest to my house is frequented by people with Celine purses hanging off their arm, an air of snootiness and flawless hair (how do they do that?!). More of a boutique than a charitable organisation, this is a business that shirks the idea of Vinnies being for the poor in favour of offloading their more luxurious goods onto people who seem to think they’re slumming it by being in the very building. I don’t know how I feel about it. Do I respect them for exploiting their donated goods to people in a higher income bracket who think they’re getting a bargain, or do I feel sad for the people in the area who may genuinely need cheap and accessible wares, but won’t be able to afford it? Confused, I just decide to pay for my new jacket and leave without thinking about it anymore.
It soon strikes me that I have only $8 left over for shoes, and a quick scan of my local op shops informs me that shoes seem to be the most expensive accessories available. Shit. A sign proclaiming ‘NEW SHOES’ at my local Red Cross, previously uncharted waters, draws me in. I picked up a scuff free pair of creepers frothing with anticipation. Affixed to the bottom is a sticker with $40 scrawled on it with thick, black texta. Double shit. The young sales assistant senses my distress, and I blurt out the concept of this article and tell her about the mess I’ve gotten myself in to. She then opens her mouth and out spills the one sentence I’ve always been dying to hear in every op shop I’ve ever frequented;
“Why don’t you come see the stuff out the back and I’ll see what I can give you for cheap?”
So I go on to sort through the newer stock and eventually decide on a beige pair of Fred Perry plimsolls that is rung up for the sum of $8. My outfit is complete, and actually pretty cute. Mission accomplished, thanks Paddington Red Cross!
I guess the moral of this story is, you can lie to sales assistants to get things sold for charity purposes for cheaper. Neat, huh? (Please don’t do this). I don’t actually know what the moral of the story is, I guess sometimes things are cheap and sometimes they are not. Oh, and op shopping is awesome and it goes to a good cause, so you should do it.
So, I eventually did come up with my outfit, albeit in a roundabout way. No, I did not have enough left over for a Mars Bar Cheesecake thickshake, but I do have some quite lovely new-old clothes. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a $15 Jack London button-up calling my name in the local Red Cross and I’d like to go chat to the best sales assistant on the planet.
*An abridged version of this challenge was published in Issue 3, 2014*