I have a mild obsession with old clothes. The way they have kinks and holes. Their fraying and discolouration. It’s like each item has a story to tell. I blame my parents partly for this.
When you’re growing up like I did, there were more important things to worry about than name brands. I have a dad who has a tendency to hold onto things. There are dark corners in his wardrobe where gems from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s are waiting to be rediscovered.
Fashion works in cycles – so what was cool long ago inevitably becomes hip again. A huge part of travelling is shopping. Ask anyone who has been to Asia and they will tell you that they spent a big chunk of their holiday shopping. Most clothes are made there.
It wasn’t even a surprise when a dashiki I was given as a gift from Zanzibar said “made in Thailand” on the label. My latest thing is to visit thrift stores when I travel, as it’s a great way to see a different part of the place you’re visiting.
Vintage or second-hand places tend to be in the most obscure parts of big cities. You often have to spend hours digging through crap. It’s the thrill of finding something you didn’t know you were looking for in the first place. Then the added bonus of getting it for next-to-nothing.
When I moved to South Korea, I got to know the second-hand area of the city well. I picked up a pair of Doc Martens for a pittance. Looking back, I still kick myself for not having spent the money on the vintage leather jacket I was after. Instead I a bought a pleather version that has now fallen to pieces.
Vietnam is somewhat grimier when it comes to the vintage scene. I regularly visited an open market far removed from the tourist scene. I would spend hours going from place to place, negotiating prices. The Vietnamese have made good business from selling clothes sent by their rich Asian counterparts (mostly Japan).
It was in Vietnam that I honed in on vintage T-shirts. I have a taste for the most obscure pop culture references in the world. I found slices of pop culture emblazoned on those T-shirts that only I found relevant or amusing.
In Hong Kong, instead of going to the regular shops like any sane tourist, I actively sought out the vintage ones. Friends laughed when I left for hours and returned triumphantly with a “Michael Bolton World Tour” T-shirt from 1994, complete with his cheesy face on it.
On a short stay in Thailand I thought I would do the same. I’ve visited countless markets that stretch for kilometres with everything from fake shoes to fake speakers – even fake booze. When I found a stall that a guy had carefully curated with T-shirts from the ’70s, I thought I hit gold. I quickly lapped up the ones with old rock bands ready to purchase – until he told me the price. Needless to say I left empty-handed.
I wondered why these T-shirts had inflated in price. But when I saw newly made T-shirts of the same kind made to look old for sale at H&M I knew the reason: it’s fashion now. Thanks, freaking Kanye West, for making them popular!