I've always loved the allure of thrift shops. Back in school, however, I had to hide my affections.
Instead of spending my weekends in London shopping in Oxford street like my classmates, my mum and I would sit together and trade out my thrifted labels with that of clothes that I'd grown out of the year before.
Every girl at school had a Hollister hoodie, so eBay became our staple. We would sit and scour the internet at night just waiting for people to sell their old stuff for cheap.
Eventually, a few of the "cool girls" clocked on to what I was doing when every 'new' item I brought in was still over six years old. I can still remember the way they turned their noses up and called my jumpers 'gross'. But, it never really bothered me as much as my mum worried it did.
Sure, I kind of wished my clothes were bright, vibrant and came with the cool bag with a shirtless man on the front, but, I liked how my clothes told a story I didn't fully understand.
I enjoyed imagining all the important life events my clothes have secretly been through. What if that one blouse I have has seen more breakups than I have? What if those jeans have climbed more mountains? I had the preposterous idea that the excitement of it all could leach into my own life and lend a hand to dull schooldays.
Even when I got a job, and could finally afford the thrill of online shopping, I continued to dart into charity shops whenever walking past one. Most of my finds were limited to a cool lamp with a pretty wooden base or sequined dresses that looked straight out of Disney Channel's old shows. That was, until I went to Bakewell.
After a day of hiking in the Peak District, my friend and I decided that the only logical route to travel home was through the town for the specific reason of eating a Bakewell tart in Bakewell. And, when there, I of course had to check out what the local Cancer Research had to offer.
When I say this was the best charity shop that I've ever been to, I'm not kidding. For such a tiny venue, this place was utterly filled to the brim with amazing finds.
I scanned through and plucked out a couple great pieces, from a Prada run vest to a beautiful figure-hugging slip dress with polka dots on it, and tried them all on. Then, just as I was going to pay, I saw something bright and orange floating around.
Curious, I picked it up and honestly, I was shocked. Now, I like to donate my clothes back to the charity shops whenever I can afford to but honestly, I can never imagine donating anything like this one garment. Seriously Depop girls would probably cry at the prospect of such a find.
Silken, papayan coloured designer beauty. Truly, I had never even felt something as expensive feeling as that before.
My friend caught sight of me holding it up from across the store (yes, it's that bright) and ran over to help inspect it.
I think it's become an unspoken rule with me to fully inspect whatever I find in a thrift shop, just on the off chance that I end up with a secret treasure. This is the one and only case where I really did find a bona fide treasure.
Now, I’ve never been much of a skirt girl unless it’s an occasion, but this one particular skirt had me changing my perceptions entirely. At 100% silk from waistband to tip, with a sturdy underlayer and flowing top, this skirt looks like a burnt sunset flowing across the room. The bottom is rippled and a section is pleated, wrapping from front to back which gives off an almost Grecian effect that makes me think of goddesses if they had been born in the 2000s. I wish I can say that I’d heard of Alberta Ferretti but truly my eyes glazed across the tag as I darted back to the thick velvet curtain to the back of the store to change.
I shimmied into the skirt faster than I thought possible and called for my friend to come watch me spin and twirl around like the princess of the papayas. I practically felt like what I'm sure a cat does when someone directs a laser pen at them, eyes darting around to follow every movement of the material.
I’d never felt actual silk before then and I couldn’t stop myself from feeling as though I was doing something wrong as I played dress up in a thrift store. But, I think that’s part of the beauty of thrifting. Usually, I would never even encounter something so luxurious. On those rare occasions where I've been in stores that sell expensive items such as the skirt, I'd stand as stiff as a board practically bound with my hands at my sides.
I didn’t have that fear then. I didn’t need it. Because, as I looked down at the Cancer Research label that had been gently attached to the washing instructions (which ominously read ‘Dry Clean Only’) I nearly keeled over laughing at the £4.50 price tag that melted all worries.
Seriously. £4.50. You could times that by a hundred and you’d still be off the original price by a thousand pounds or so.
I went back to the till and the lady there, who had been watching the pair of us giggling and throwing worker’s overalls at one another for the better part of the last hour, smiled when she saw my selection. She commented on how the one dress would really suit my figure and her eyes widened happily when I gently laid the skirt across the top of the pile.
She said she’d had her eye on it for the past day, as it had only just come in, and then asked if I was familiar with the brand.
I could feel her excitement as she ushered me closer to her computer monitor and began typing ‘Alberta Ferretti’ into Google, but how could I not? Even the name sounds sort of exotic.
Now, if like me, you’ve managed to ignorantly ignore the existence of Alberta Ferretti, you might want to look them up to make sense of the pure ridiculousness that was the fact someone donated one of their items. Their lowest priced item is still more than my car. And their 100% silk items? Try 4 times the cost of my car. And, as my car is the most expensive item I have ever bought (and perhaps ever will buy considering the economy is bust and the pandemic hasn’t exactly helped that fact, leaving houses out of the equation) I do always make sure to measure by it's price.
Myself and this woman I had never met before looked at each other like co-conspirators as we rang the purchase up. And, she laughed outright as I squashed my secret treasure down into my hiking rucksack like a barbarian.
I'd always thought that the people who wore expensive clothing would be like those girls I went to school with. I thought they'd be ignorant and think the worst of me and what I wore. It sounds bizarre, but that one trip and that one skirt really helped to change that in my mind.
Clothes, after all, are just clothes. They hold no more meaning than what we attribute them to have. And, dressing like a princess for a night really doesn't make me one. But, it doesn't mean it isn't fun whilst it lasts.
I'd never been much of a skirt girl with my torn jeans and second-hand finds but you best bet I wore that skirt out to the pub that night. And, I have to say, it was kind of funny to have to try and protect my clothes from beer spray, but, can you blame me? After all, I can’t afford the dry cleaning bill.