Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Thrift Store Theatrics

Sori tru, but my camera was in its death throes during this trip

I nod at the security guards and slip into the store, handing my bags to the attendant at the counter, who gravely passes me my collection ticket. Here, harsh tropical sun is exchanged for soft lighting, and my eyes blink back the shadows. I take a deep breath and exhale the chaos of my day—shopping cannot be hurried here, as if I was racing through a cheap fluorescent-lit department store. Instead, each hanger displays a different style of blouse, skirt, trousers, or dress; there are no garish cookie-cutter outfits in this classy boutique! Cashmere rubs against silk, hand-dyed batik drapes against merino wool; cotton, knit, denim, leather—every material and cut a person might want…

…and all found in the hidden second-hand shops in Papua New Guinea!

Look at all those bales of clothes, just waiting to be opened!
When we go second-handing (yes, it’s a verb here), it’s not just clothing shopping. If you want to merely go in, buy a shirt, and walk out, then I suggest going to Target (of course, for us that would mean a flight to Cairns, Australia…). No, here it’s a whole sensory experience. And, because most of the prices are extremely low (10 cents USD for a tank top…$3 USD for a name-brand Columbia jacket—if you find one), it is also rather cheap entertainment and an excuse to get off centre (and, it allows us a good opportunity to replenish our clothing supply, which often takes a much severer beating and lasts far less time than clothes back in the States). And so, earlier this month, some of my friends and I piled into a truck and bumped and jolted our way to the second-hand stores of Kainantu. The racks are supplied by bales of clothing sent up from Australia, New Zealand, and Indonesia, so a sharp-eyed shopper can find some truly golden treasures—if she is willing to page through racks unsorted by color, style, or size!

Back in the States, if I was searching for clothes, even in a thrift store (my favourite clothing haunt), an item would immediately be discarded if it was stained, ripped, torn, or 12.5 sizes too big… but here, those same articles have so much more potential. When we are perusing through racks and digging through bins, we’re looking for exotic fabrics (like silk saris), intriguing colors, bold patterns, and mending potential. Because fabric is often hard to find in the right color, material, and quantity that we might want for a sewing project, our first stop is the second-hand clothing store—that dress with the ugly bodice? Well, its skirt will be perfect for making those new living-room pillows!

Examining the purchases
Of course, we’re shopping in a dimly lit, crowded room, where none of the items have been washed or mended and we can’t try anything on, so perhaps the most revealing and thrilling part of the experience is the essential fashion show upon return to Ukarumpa at a fellow shopper’s house. We pile all our plastic bags in a heap and begin pulling out our purchases…and discover some interesting quirks along the way! It's a show of the good, the bad, and the ugly to the extreme! (Such as when I found an adorable black cowl-neck dress...which happens to have a completely open swag back! Not really appropriate for Ukarumpa activities…). Thus, the joys of a second-hand shopping adventure often continue long after the drive has finished—such as when I find myself on the couch, meters of fabric draped across my lap as I sew darts into a gargantuan skirt.

...And that’s part of the experience too :)

What amazing finds have you dug up at a thrift/second-hand store?