In our house, when we were young, there was nothing more exciting than the appearance of a 'black bag' full of clothes! This would occur from time to time when a particular stylish treasured aunt of ours had a wardrobe clear out. The mention of the 'wardrobe clear out' and the subsequent bag arrival was great. An opportunity to add to your fashion arsenal without having to save pocket money or save babysitting money.
This was a lucky dip of unknown possibilities, adding to the mystique. My mother would get said bag out after dinner and place it down on an arm chair in the sitting room. Sometimes it could even be two bags. We would all gather round, my two sisters, mam and I to unveil the contents. Tea shirts, skirts, jumpers, blouses, jackets, handbags, belts, you name it, would be slowly unfurled to great commentary. Usually, it was obvious who each item would suit best and sometimes if you had already been the recipient of a few really good suitable items you may have had to forgo something else really cool. Only Fair. It was, I have to say, quite a peaceful process. We were all surprisingly considerate so that everyone got some great loot.
There was some hysteria here and there too, as you might imagine. Taking into account the age difference, the fashion sense and colour choices sometimes lead to the suggestion that this or that 'questionable' item of clothing was particularly suitable to one person or other i.e. the one we knew it would suit least. Teenagers are often very particular about their own personal style seeing as they are discovering and developing their identity and we could be quite protective of our own individual choices. There was seldom anything left over so the 'black bag' had an appreciative audience, all in all.
I am the eldest of three and have always had a healthy disregard for mainstream dressing. My early experiences around clothing helped form my own personal style it seems. This was convenient when I was growing up since there wasn't much money about in the 80s for teenagers' wardrobes and when my sisters were young I had very few covetable or fashionable items of clothing. What I mean is that I was, unlike my younger siblings, 'unfashionable'. I didn't suffer from sisters 'borrowing' leather jackets, denim jackets or other cool pieces of clothing. They did however, have to deal with this kind of behaviour between themselves. I am lead to believe that went mostly one way too. (The younger one borrowing or trying to borrow the clothes of the other). Much of my own attire was 'questionable' to their minds and certainly not to be seen dead in save for my black suede stilettos. I discovered years later to have been very coveted indeed! Strangely, it pleases me somewhat that I had one or two 'satisfactory' fashion choices through the eyes of my younger siblings.
I had already had the luck in fact, of having other benefactors of clothing before this kind aunt. My father's aunt for example, was petite and didn't have anyone to gift things to in that way. When I was big enough to start wearing her size, 10 years plus, I began to acquire some hand-me-downs, so to speak, from her. Now that really could supply quite questionable fashion sense at times. To think about it, she would have been at least 40 years older than I was. It didn't bother me in the least. I got some really nice items of clothing to wear from her. Classy things like a cream swing coat, that I wouldn't have dreamed about buying or wearing unless it came in a black bag. Shoes too sometimes. Peep toe style. These were all blended in with my own clothes bought by my parents who were very relaxed about letting us choose our own clothes to wear. Not that there was any discernible style obvious then.
This kind of influence gave me freedom where clothes were concerned I suppose. A creative freedom to mix and match with plenty of practice in being different and wearing what I think is nice.. I have no interest really in buying something that is very mainstream. A dullness comes over me when I am let lose in a huge mainstream fashion outlet. No intrigue. No creative feeling of wonder and interest comes over me. No wish to buy the current offering. I really hate feeling like a clone. I hate wearing what someone else has told me to wear without changing it or embellishing it in some way. Yes, there are certain things needed to tie pieces together like leggings or little tops and of course you need new underwear and other intimate clothing but when it comes to outerwear in general, I prefer second hand. I love to tweak what I find. Embroider and embellish, add beading or change trousers legs into waistcoats etc. So much to do, so little time.
I am still very excited about the appearance of a 'black bag' and I have conjured up the odd one of them too for my like minded friends and family over the years. I still get them now and then. One yesterday actually and one on the way. Sometimes there are unsuitable pieces of clothing but where the material is perfect for another project in the making. Yippee! Other times there are possibilities for up-styling or restyling by changing hem length, necklines, sleeves etc.
When my teenage friend and I were old enough to go to town we would head into Dublin city on the bus which would take an hour and head for Temple Bar as it was before the 'make over'. You might remember it too. That was where you could find trendy second hand shops with all sorts of off beat clothing including the coveted worn out '501s' which were the Levi jeans of choice for us at the time. Then over the Ha'penny Bridge and in to 'Shree' which had some great velvety Indian skirts and beautiful floaty cotton blouses in various colours which we could afford only sometimes. None of which you would find in the mainstream fashion outlets.
In our early twenties the best place for second hand shops was the roads running all the way from Upper Rathmines Rd to the centre of town, Dame Street. Upper Rathmines then the Lower Rathmines Rd, which runs all the way down to the Royal canal, over Portobello Bridge, on down Richmond St. past Harrington St. on the left, Camden St. Upper, Camden St. Lower, then Wexford Street, Redmond's Hill, Angier St. South Great Georges St. and finally you hit Dame St. This walk we did regularly. There was no need for cars or even taking the bus in Dublin. Sometimes you could bring the bike if there was a definite destination like work, college or if you were going much further. There were at least 16 if not more charity shops and then some second hand books and furniture shops too. Not to mention the George's Street Arcade where you could get a cuppa and much more. One day I came back to the bedsit in Rathmines with about 8 pairs of second hand Levi's in various sizes that I couldn't leave behind at a pound each! So all the friends got dibs on that haul. Girls and fella's alike.
I do not have a classic dressing style at all and definitely not the classic 'capsule wardrobe' though I could probably nail down an alternative approach. I prefer a free and moving approach decided by me! Maybe next time and until next time, enjoy yourself whatever you do and thanks for reading! Amanda X