I HONESTLY THINK September 2014 - Page 33

“WHAT IF SOMEONE DIED IN THIS?”

More like: “What if someone died making this?”

You know when they’re about to say it. You can see it coming. That scrunched-up face, recoiling in disgust, holding on to that beautiful vintage blouse with their fingertips as if the fabric was made from the skin of a corpse. The words: “what if someone died in this?” have rung out in the charity shops and vintage stores of Britain far too many times.

For every time this ignorance is voiced, a reply is missing. It seems that for these people that want to miss out on an original, timeless piece of clothing, a high street duplicate more disposable than the pennies paid to the worker who made them, seems more favorable.

It’s understandable that cavernous creases and suspicious stains could turn the noses of any clothes-shopper sky high. But what’s unmistakable is the inherent worth of a genuine vintage garment. Dawn O’Porter recently bought this to the attention of homes across Britain every Wednesday with her TV show: ‘This Old Thing’. To vintage-virgins, the series was an eye-opening revelation. To any fellow vintage-enthusiast, the programme was well meaning but simultaneously painfully patronising. It gave too much airtime to my least favourite phrase.

If you can’t buy from Beyond Retro because “someone might have died in that”, why has it slipped your mind that when buying in Primark someone might have died making that £4 top you grasp in your hands.

Sweatshops, by definition, are factories that defy two or more labour laws. Sweatshops by harsh reality are the far-too-common occurrence of poor working conditions, unfair wages, unreasonable hours and child labour. It would be jumping to conclusions in saying that all high-street stores hide a sweatshop secret, as that’s not always the case. However, it is hard to ignore when cries of help are sewn into the seams of one our most coveted high-street store’s garments, hoax or no hoax.

The uncomfortable truth lies in the fact that sweatshops are still in operation all over the world. Toiling in unbearable conditions, the product of their labour to be de-valued by its thousands of duplicates, short shelf-life and ridiculously cheap prices. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for a bargain as much as the next person but I’d rather get my fix in charity shops, when I can get my hands on an 80’s St.Michaels summer dress for £2.50.

Vintage clothes hold history, and undeniably so. Not only have they stood the test of time, owed to the craftsmanship in their creation, but also to the sights they may have seen before the rails of your local charity shop/thrift store. When I debut my new find, I can’t help but consider how the garment has featured in the life of its previous owner, especially in a world very different to the one we inhabit. And if they died in it? Well, they died looking seriously stylish.

As for some of your high-street pieces, the only history they may have seen is a very current crisis.

Every week a ‘high-street honey’ would be ‘converted’ into a ‘vintage-lover’ - having initially protested against the very thought of wearing a piece from the past. The questioning of morals just couldn’t be helped. Warning: with a wardrobe bursting full of vintage finds it’s obvious where my alliances lie here.

WRITTEN BY ALICE FREEMAN

ILLUSTRATIONS ABBIE FREEMAN