I used to be a thrill shopper. Even when I was little, I got so excited if we went¬†to¬†TJMaxx. When my mom and I would get home from one of these trips, we would show off what we got to my father, proudly announcing how little each item had cost. A child of the depression era, he always guessed they cost less than what we actually paid, which at the time I found endlessly annoying,‚ÄúDad, this was such a deal!‚ÄĚ. ¬†I appreciated design and beauty, though: I had a dress-up closet of old items from thrift stores and my mom‚Äôs closet and I used to page through her Vogue, trying to guess the designer‚Äôs in each shoot without looking at the caption. ¬†I had a vague sense there was another world out there beyond the deals at TJ‚Äôs.¬†
When I moved to Mali, West Africa after college, I was introduced to tailoring and the relationship one could develop with the tailor: what could we do with fabrics, colors, prints, a unique cut fit to one‚Äôs own body. ¬†In Mali, major retailers and mass manufacturing hadn‚Äôt taken over completely and a woman would have a few unique items made each year. I have a blue Touareg male boubou with aqua and pink embroidery, which my tailor and I transformed into a dress I still wear now.¬†
I moved to Uganda five years later and it was more difficult to find someone with whom to create beautiful pieces: people wore either old, used clothes, recycled from markets in the developed world or new, cheap almost plastic items, made fast from thin materials: it was a landscape of dull grays, whites and browns nothing like the colorful personalities, culture and landscape of Uganda. Eventually when I went to a fabric store, I found the colors, the prints that a few chose to still wear and could afford. ¬†A tailor made me a beautiful pair of yellow, purple, wide leg pants from wax cloth, a piece that reminds me of some of the beautiful pieces I saw on a few women there, who still experimented.¬†
¬†A tailor made me a beautiful pair of yellow, purple, wide leg pants from wax cloth, a piece that reminds me of some of the beautiful pieces I saw on a few women there, who still experimented.¬†
When I travel now, I love to visit the shopping and art/design districts and to observe what people are buying and wearing across a city. ¬†I‚Äôm now en route back from Japan, where I instantly noticed upon landing, the individual style, the cuts of the clothes, the use of accessories and the pairings of different shapes among both women and men. ¬†Yet, in some ways, initially, ¬†as I walked through Roppongi, Shinjuku and Shibuya, I was disappointed to see many of the same stores, familiar from the west: fast fashion metastasizing. Even at this far corner of the planet, the Zara, H&M‚Äôs and even Dior windows held the same items. ¬†
As I walked in the Harajuku district, a sign caught my eye - vintage. A nondescript entryway, with a stairway beyond and on the sidewalk, a rack of haori, the coats worn over kimonos. ¬†I grabbed a few to try on and went down the stairs as people streamed past me. ¬†The bottom of the stairs was buzzing with young people, wearing what to me was such a hip eclectic mix of style from west and east. Carefully organized around the store were jeans sorted by color, sweaters of all prints and knits, hats and coats, printed vintage dresses from the 70‚Äôs and in the back, the vintage kimonos. ¬†They had taken everything I love about thrift stores, made items easy to find and had older versions of many of the latest trends we‚Äôve seen cycling through the endless “next things‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúitems we must have‚ÄĚ. ¬†
Carefully organized around the store were jeans sorted by color, sweaters of all prints and knits, hats and coats, printed vintage dresses from the 70‚Äôs and in the back, the vintage kimonos.
As I looked around the store, I was not only happy to see such curation and variety but also see a set of people, individuals rocking their own style and preening in old sweaters from the 80‚Äôs, jean shorts, military pants and beanies. ¬†They wanted to experiment, they wanted to be unique, they were wearing what they felt was cool for them, not what a store told them to buy. And they were choosing to buy from a vintage, thrift shop, not from the fast fashion stores. ¬†Of course, I can‚Äôt be sure that they didn‚Äôt shop at fast fashion stores but I do know on this evening, that it was acceptable and even cool to shop here.
What I loved about this thrift store was that every item here, although used and pre-worn was a treasure; an item with which to build and grow. ¬†I bought three vintage kimonos, two for friends as gifts and one to add to my own wardrobe, to be treasured for life, adding to its history, my own story.
As I explored Tokyo more, throughout the city, I saw such diverse style: ¬†certainly the famous harajuku girls were a unique element but not the only one. ¬†I‚Äôm used to seeing this individualization in NYC, the LES and Soho where I live. ¬†There, people don‚Äôt follow trends but rather set them. ¬†And, here in Tokyo, I was giddy to see this kind of diversity and experimentation cutting across such an enormous city. ¬†My favorite district which I found was Daikanyama. ¬†I made a short video of the eclectic shops, designer boutiques, artist‚Äôs studios, galleries, vintage stores and restaurants you can check out here. ¬†It was such a creative, beautiful neighborhood. ¬†
As I explored Tokyo more, throughout the city, I saw such diverse style: ¬†certainly the famous harajuku girls were a unique element but not the only one.
This district and the thrift store, its kimonos and its patrons gave me hope. The thrill was in the story, the experimentation and the creativity, no longer in the deal or having the must have item. ¬†My father is picking me up at the airport. ¬†I‚Äôll show him my find and announce it was a deal; in fact this kimono is priceless.