Nuala McCann: Memories of when 'shabby chic' was a way of life rather than a trend
We were vintage before vintage was a thing. We were second-hand when we couldn't afford not to be. We were unconscious non-consumers – saving the planet in the days when we didn't know we were doing it.
SHABBY chic fashion is having a moment. Even Selfridges is offering shoppers a bargain... if you call selling used items that cost an arm and a leg a steal.
It's high-end second-hand, Mulberry handbags for £465 and a Tom Ford suit for more than £4,000 among them, Jo Thornhill reports in the Guardian. This is testament to the growth of 'pre-loved' or 'pre-owned' fashion. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.
I have a personal interest in pre-owned stuff as my mother was a veteran volunteer in the local Oxfam shop in the days when second hand was piled up on the shelves and everyone's little quirks were indulged.
Hello, man who swiped the bras – they cottoned on to you – but you always made good by paying a donation and what harm's a little cross dressing. Ma was never judgmental.
Sometimes, when business was slow, ma would swoop like a hungry hawk around our house and collect anything that was lying about to peddle to her customers.
When I was 17, I dropped into the shop one Friday morning – ma was a Friday girl – just to say hello. She looked up from behind the counter where she was just about to clinch a deal on a lovely pair of faded blue jeans to an interested customer. She froze like a rabbit in the headlights.
The jeans looked strangely familiar. They had a knot design on the back pockets, they were Brutus Gold and every time I hauled them up over my bum, I'd sing those old lyrics: "I put my blue jeans on, I put my old blue jeans on." You can't beat Mungo Jerry.
Back to the scene of the crime: she had a case to answer. I had never knowingly given up those jeans – they were my best and only ones. And even though I had never put them on and sat in a cold bath to shrink them to my contours – that was a thing back then – they were still mine, mine, mine. They were truly beloved.
I left the customer in no doubt about this – she had her purse open, she was about to buy stolen goods. In her defence, my mother said that she thought I didn't them want any more. But ma had history.
There was a certain skinny lace-up jumper that was the height of fashion but went mysteriously missing in our house. It wasn't the Oxfam shop – it was just that she had shrunk it to Barbie size in the wash, then rather than face daughter wrath, she'd hidden it in a cupboard out in the garage.
Reader, I found it. I may have thrown it on the floor and danced up and down in rage. I had form.
Still, I have fond memories of the Oxfam shop. We did vintage when it was a necessity. Students were never rolling in it. We liked a bargain. There was the blue aran jumper that I wore with my jeans, my fake flowers and my aunt's old brown suede coat. In the words of my mother-in-law: "Sure, you wouldn't call the king your cousin".
In later student days, the boys in our friendship group – it was a little like Friends and we all ended up marrying each other – shared a single suit jacket.
They each took a turn wearing it to job interviews. If that jacket could have talked, it might have said "tell me a little about yourself".
I fell in love with a man who stood tall in a second-hand herringbone Crombie coat, collar turned up against the wind and extra large pockets lined in red satin.
There was enough room in one pocket to insert a pint glass and nurse the remains of your beer all the way home from the party. He had swiped the coat from his father.
We were vintage before vintage was a thing. We were second hand when we couldn't afford not to be. We were unconscious non-consumers – saving the planet in the days when we didn't know we were doing it. The fact that we lived in student flats with no central heating was a noble thing: we were the wise virgins saving the oil.
Here's to pre-loved and vintage and shabby chic. I don't think I'll be visiting Selfridges to nab a Mulberry bag. But I'm a sucker for Oxfam and War on Want.
More power to them... sustainable, wind power of course.