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A Second Life of Things

Mieszkańcy kraju nad Wisłą należą do najoryginalniej ubranych nacji na świecie i bezapelacyjnie przodują w łączeniu przyjemnego - modnego z pożytecznym - ekonomicznym (© Abbey Hambright -
Still a short while ago they were disparagingly called “hand-me-down shops” or “poor man’s paradise”. Today they are referred to in Anglo-Saxon newspeak as second-hand shops – sesames crammed with rarity clothing and considered sources of fashion inspirations.

Clothes from second-hand shops are gladly bought by students wolfing down Chinese soup bought at “Biedronka’s”, but also by the brightest film or music stars, tucking into sturgeon caviar. For everyone is equal in hand-me-down shops, at least theoretically. In practice, however, the “most equal” is the one who has a discerning eye, large muscles and strong nerves, as fights for the best items of clothing are sometimes very fierce there: dead bodies are piling up everywhere, and the hair of the “blouse, dress or panties hunters”, treated with violet bleached hair conditioners, gets ripped out in handfuls. And that’s by the other feisty rivals, of course, who fight for the same blouses, dresses and panties to the last (wo)man standing.


Like a hobo


Second-hand shops have become inherent parts of Polish towns and villages. Almost all areas of metropolises are dotted with small shops and massive discount shops with second-hand clothes.Well, the inhabitants of the Vistula country are no rich folk. They are, however, one of the best and most originally dressed nations in the world and they are the unquestioned leaders in combining the nice (fashionable) with the useful (economical). However, it is not in Poland that we should expect to find the origins of hand-me-down shops, understood both as second-hand shops for the poor and as treasure chests with items for trendsetters kowtowing to the” Vogue” and the “Prêt-à-Porter”.  Because second-hand shops first appeared far away from here, in the West, in the period of the turbulent sixties, when after-war social class differences were becoming more and more pronounced and the number of poor people was growing, of people for whom buying brand-new, pristine clothing was tantamount to compulsory starvation. It is then that items of clothing from army surplus stores – cheap, slightly worn, but hellishly useful – were delivered to specially designated discount shops. At that time another war broke out – this time in Vietnam. Riding the wave of pacifist demonstrations and hippie movements, those army surplus clothes acquired a second youth and a new life. And if the primary buyers of second-hand clothes wore uniforms and combat clothes exactly in the way that they were meant to be worn, flower-wearing women and long-haired men proclaiming “Make love, not war” started to don second-hand clothes as a sign of protest, cynically ridiculing the war ethos.


Anarchy in the second hand


It was then, at least in the broadly understood West, that the era of discount shops for the poor was over and the era of second-hand shop hegemony set in – of shops for genuine outsiders and fierce rebels. The hunger for second-hand shops was fuelled with subcultures becoming strong at the turn of the seventies and eighties and the trend of buying clothes in second-hand shops was finally strengthened by British anarchists. It is in those second-hand shops that it was extremely easy to find leather jackets (cult items today) or narrow jeans ideal for punk alterations. It is also in second-hand shops that today’s famous grunge fashion designers took their first steps – headed by the catwalk granny – Vivienne Westwood. Second-hand shops set new styles and trends. Elites started coming to second-hand shops. And – in the end – hand-me-down shops came to Poland.


Being like…


The evolution of Polish second-hand shops has followed the same path as the evolution of western second-hand shops. At the very beginning they were called “hand-me-downs” and associated with discount shops with clothes of moderate quality where the riff-raff had their meals. Everything started to change when second-hand shops were hijacked by subcultures and our countrymen –migrants in the UK. It is those Poles on the Isles, who saw a business opportunity in Polish trading in English clothes, are responsible for the fact that Polish hand-me-downs have changed into fashionable and classy second-hand shops. It is these Polish migrants– opening shops with foreign, second-hand clothes in the Vistula country – have given a new and fashionable life to hand-me-downs. And all that because of…Elton John, Kate Moss or Robert Pattison – the brightest English stars who visit hand-me-downs ever so gladly and in no way are they ashamed of it. On the contrary, as second-hand shopsare (at least in the world) not only a way of dressing, but also a lifestyle.


D&G for a token price


The trend to comply with what second-hand shop fashion decrees is gaining increasing popularity in Poland. Those rummaging through rails, baskets and displayed second-hand clothes are no longer after savings (at least – not so much), but also after a unique style. Second-hand shops do not offer large collections – here each item of clothing is unique, the only one in its kind. Second-hand shops do not bore you with sets worn by the mannequins which have lost their appeal. Second-hand shops offer originality, freedom, retro and vintage styles, unrelenting rebellion and a chance to meet Monika Brodka – one of the best dressed Polish stars, who officially owns up having completed her original wardrobe in hand-me-downs. As if this was not enough – designer D&G blouses, Versace dresses and Prada coats can be found there – and all that for a few (really!) Polish zlotys. Unfortunately, in second-hand shops you can bump into ladies with hair treated with violet conditioner, elbowing their way through the crowd of customers and pulling large quantities of clothes off the rack, which they will later resell on markets or online auctions for a pretty penny. Well, this is probably the inalienable philosophy of hand-me-downs – if you want to look fashionable and not get fleeced, you need a discerning eye, large muscles and strong nerves.


This article appeared on the website Kobietaa.Pl



Published: Tue, 01/04/2014 - 14:09

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