Last week, I did the environment a favour, in addition to rewarding my wardrobe and my conscience. From my local Salvos, I purchased denim cut-off shorts, a pair of ankle socks and a stack of black, ceramic soup bowls for under $25 in total.
I did spend an absurdly long time hunting through the racks and shelves to select my purchases, but that’s the joy of op shops – the hunt. I really missed it during the lockdowns.
The humble op shop, where you may find a Gucci handbag hanging alongside a Taylor Swift tour T-shirt, was established in the 1890s in Britain. They initially suffered from the stigma of bargain hunting, an admission of being “down on your luck”.
In the 1940s though, the economic devastation of war meant that migrants and war widows sought clothing and homewares from the only place they could afford to shop. Op shops were also an anomaly in the capitalist system, training and employing the same people who shopped in them.
As the fashion industry confronts its sustainability and the ethics of mass production, here’s a reminder that op shops are a treasure trove of very affordable, often very good quality clothes and homewares. With our post-JobKeeper budgets, post-pandemic waistlines and the impact of our purchases on the environment, there’s no better place to shop and donate than the local charity vintage shop.
If the true essence of style is authenticity, individuality and customisation, then the op shop is sacred fashion ground. With time, commitment, a sharp eye and fast hand, you can nab that limited edition Rolling Stones tour shirt before another keen-witted op shopper. It will look great with the $6 denim cut-offs you bought last week.
Up to 100 billion new garments are produced annually, most of which are churned out by workers paid paltry amounts in insecure factory conditions. Billions of microplastics from polyester and other cheap synthetic materials end up in the ocean, a problem the UNDP claims could be even more damaging than plastic waste from food and packaging. Op shops are a vote against fast fashion, they are a protest against the “buy more” marketing mantra. The US-based, global Buy Nothing Project might seem impossible to many of us, but purchasing your clothes from op shops for a month, or six months, results in less waste.
As we emerge from pandemic conditions, needing to discard clothes that no longer fit and purchase new ones, I encourage you to join me in trawling the racks of vintage wear at your local op shop. The sense of satisfaction and success when you find exactly the right denim cut-offs is unbeatable.