Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Book Review: Old Clothes, New Looks

Old Clothes, New Looks is a collaborative book about second hand clothing. Approached from a multidisciplinary and cross-cultural perspective, the contributors to this scholarly book examine the historical, cultural and contemporary significance of second hand clothing.

To my surprise, I learned that the trade in second hand clothing has been in existence "as long as the manufacture of cloth and garments." (page 2) Historically, the textiles in garments were so valuable that items were rarely discarded. They were either reused or sold. The trading of second hand clothing was the means by which poorer people could acquire better quality garments, as well as the method by which the original owner could release the value of their investment in the garment. "Much of the value in garments was founded on the quality of the fabrics used in their construction, the weight, weave, finish and substance of the cloth, plus the presence or absence of braid, lace, buttons or accessories." (page 41) In the first part of the book, the historical importance of second hand clothing in Florence, England, Australia, Ireland and Europe during various time periods is considered.

Through time and across cultures, the trading in second hand clothing has had an impact on fashionable norms. In the second part of the book, contributors address the second hand clothing trade and dress practices in Zambia, India, the Philippines, and Hong Kong.

The last part of the book deals with how vintage fashion has been incorporated into contemporary fashion culture. Wearing vintage is now considered an expression of individualism and connoisseurship. Upscale vintage fashion boutiques, on-line vintage websites and the refashioning of second hand clothing by such designers as Lamine Kouyate and Martin Margiela has made vintage accessible to the fashion connoisseur.

This book is not for a casual reader who is interested in fashion. It is a scholarly analysis of second hand clothing from various perspectives and includes original research. Given the stratospheric cover price, I suspect it was written for university level courses on fashion history. While I enjoyed the book, the quality of the writing was somewhat uneven. The best parts were written by Dr. Alexandra Palmer (Vintage Whores and Vintage Virgins), Hazel Clark (Second Hand Fashion, Culture and Identity in Hong Kong), and Carole Collier Frick (The Florentine Rigattieri).

Title: Old Clothes, New Looks Second Hand Fashion
Edited by Alexandra Palmer and Hazel Clark
Published by: Berg 2005 (New York)
Category: Non-fiction
Number of pages: 255
Cost: Canada $120