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It’s all in your head

Wild Child movie image. She looks at the sweater disgusted.
Emma Roberts in ‘Wild Child’

It was just a regular Saturday, my mom, grandma and I (when I was just 10 years old) went out for a walk in this beautiful October afternoon. We were at my grandma’s neighborhood when we saw a new shop that has just opened. Some Mexican looking brand as it has a sombrero at the top of its logo. We go in the place and look around curiously only to find out it’s a second-hand shop… My mom and I have had this very common look in our eyes when finding out something is second hand, hence we were on our way out. But then we both really liked one long sleeve striped blouse in three nuances of blue, which costed just 6 leva (~3 euro). “If you like it we’ll get it. It’s just 6 leva after all.”– my mom said. So we did.

This was one of my favorite blouses, which I wore for years after, until it was too short and thigh (I might be a shorty, but I still did grow up a bit more…). Reflecting on this, in the beginning I did felt weird that someone else has worn it, but learning more about the processes the clothes go through before appearing to a vintage or second-hand shop helped me see clear that this is their second chance for life. I quickly forgot that the blouse was second hand and anyway it felt like new to me, since my mom had just bought it for me.

Having second-hand clothes has always been something shameful or at least not a thing you would brag about. I believe that things are changing today. Even though, it appears that there is a new wave of the strong disease spreading among human race, doctors call it — “the need of new stuff”. Upon infection the patient appears to be greedy, spending way more money on the virus “stuff I don’t need, but I want”, which leads to certain addiction to posting selfies on the social media.

The result ─ no more reminiscing over pictures of vacations spend with friends and family, but instead a meticulous record of all the coffee/restaurant places he/she went to #lookingfabulous and many pictures of the ground he/she walked on, because #dailyoutfit. Not to worry, the disease is curable (maybe), but doctors recommend not to confiscate the patients’ phones as they could become violent.

In any case, our first step as to any other social contamination, would be to understand the problem we are dealing with. This is why, I would like to introduce to your attention an example from the fifteenth century and I’m sure there are many more, but this I hope would be enough to shine some light on our day-to-day reality in 21-st century.

Thus, one could argue that it all began in the second half of 15-th century with the emergence of the Italian monti di pietà or the first pawnbroker institution supposedly created as a form of charity or means against money lending. Barnabas of Terni is known to be the establisher of the first monti di pietà. Barnabas, friar from the Order of Friars Minor in Umbria, belonged to a noble family and was a Doctor of Medicine and was a devoted promoter of the branch of the order known as the Observance.

The monti di pietà was made to serve the moderately poor people, but as it is hard to put a label on people and there has always been cracks in the doors of institutions and so sometimes people that are wealthy enough would be able to get a deal. What we are interested in are these deals. Looking through the paper work we can see the pawns that were registered and the assessment of the goods among higher and lower classes in society.

Clothes were the most common currency in the local monti─ “Many ornate and expensive garments, when used and consumed or not well conserved, were passed on by their wealthy owners to servants, clients, or second-hand dealers who then sold them to poorer people. As a result, our sources list many formerly costly items that were effectively “declassed” and traded at much reduced values. For the poor, second-hand items of clothing that had once been sumptuous and expensive continued to represent important repositories of value which in case of necessity could be pawned at the monte. This put the clothing back into broader circulation. From the late Middle Ages onwards, second-hand markets flourished and many second-hand dealers bought their wares at the monti auctions.”1

This is the very beginning of second-hand stores, vintage and even the presently flourishing renting business. It might have started as a charity intended to help the poorer to have a better life, but that’s no longer the second-hand retailers’ reality. Today there are different types of second-hand retail like vintage, consignment and thrift shops. All of them operating on different bases. Talking about money and clothes circulation─ we got it right during the Renaissance and never looked back. Today we have many-dimensional retailer reality.

I would like to introduce two of the second-hand businesses. First, the vintage shops with their main appeal to 20/30-year-olds, because of their uniqueness and precious value and as a plus buying from them would be counted as ecological consumption. Now, being a vintage shop owner would have to be very laborious as you would have to go through the trouble of collecting items from garage sales, private sellers, antique fairs and others, but being a vintage shop customer can be quite fun. You get special treatment and experiences like parties, fashion-shows, playing a fashion-show model, while getting feelings of nostalgia, uniqueness and treasure hunting.2

Emma Roberts in 'Wild Child' at a thrift shop
Emma Roberts in ‘Wild Child’ at a thrift store

Second, are the consignment stores or “locations where consigners give their gently used items —less than three years and in good conditions —, and other parties purchase those consigned items. If the items are sold within 90 days, some percentage of sales profits are taken by the store, and the rest of money go to consigners. If the items are not sold during the period, items are returned to consigners or marked down.” 2

Now, consignment stores appeal to college students, entire families, seniors and young mothers from economic point of view as well as social. You receive high quality while spending less money as the items being sold should be less than 3 years old and without any tears, stains, missing button or broken zippers and brand quality. The requirements for becoming a consigner are high, hence the high quality of the items and so the quick inventory turnover. ‘They also provide quality services to community, consigners, and customers, offering entertainment and esthetic experiences.’

I will give you an example of my last purchase, you can judge or support, I’m interested in what you have to say. I moved to Rome like five months ago for my Masters and as you might assume that involved a lot of decision making about what clothes I would take and what leave behind. Since, I needed to take summer and winter ones, like coat, that made my suitcase look even smaller…

Anyway, as winter was coming and I packed during the summer, hence not giving so much though about the cold weather, it turns out I was short on warmer clothes and freezing most of the time. Fortunately, in my university they inform us about many upcoming fashion related events. That is how I learned about an event organized by Violette Sauvage at Palazzo Colonna for a weekend right before Christmas.

You could go to this beautiful palace and choose between the used brands items or some pieces of new Italian designers at special discount price. The main philosophy of the event was giving longer life to clothes, extending their economic value and preserving the environment through giving new life to otherwise neglected glamour pieces.

The most important question suppliers had to answer for themselves was “Would you wear it?”, if “Yes” then their items are good to go. The French company’s philosophy is creating social bonds around a favorite topic of ours ─ fashion, but people’s experience is above all. Their events are always much more than exchange place. They are usually held at historical places and in this case there was a catering area. They were also raising awareness about Save the Children or how to bring food, medical care and education to children in Italy and in the world.

To sum up, Violette Sauvage brings a whole new level of experiences into second-hand or vintage markets. Their approach is innovative and brings a fresh air into the fashion sphere. To continue my story, I went there with a friend of mine, basically in the last second ─ Sunday afternoon.

Nonetheless, there was enough time to go through all the floors and reach the top, where I spotted my new furry coat. It is 100% Polyester… Yes, and from a fast fashion Italian brand, something I would not buy usually. But on the bright side, it has already been bought by someone and I’m just prolonging its life, it keeps me warm, it’s a faux fur coat length just above the knee that cost me 10 euro and it’s in perfect condition. I would call that my best find so far ─ saving money and keeping the coat out of the trash landfills!

my faux fur coat
my faux fur coat

This was my second-hand, but new to me item. I would love to know what you think on the matter! Is it all in our head? Can we pass by the established norms? Do you like Violette Sauvage philosophy?

Yours sincerely,

MK ❤

P.S. If you want to dive more into the topic─ these are my sources and pieces of inspiration. I recommend them as interesting and exhausting the theme scientific reads:

1 M.G.MUZZARELLI, From the Closet to the Wallet: Pawning Clothes in Renaissance Italy, «RENAISSANCE AND REFORMATION», 2012, 35, pp. 23 – 38 [Scientific article] jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/renref/article/download/19521/16179

2 Han, Jinhee, “Understanding second-hand retailing: A resource based perspective of best practices leading to business success” (2013). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 13636. http://lib.dr.iastate.edu/etd/13636

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