Second hand inspiration, Granny, Paul Price and Sydney Poitier

“I wear your grandad’s clothes. I look incredible”

– Macklemore from the awesome song “Thrift Shop”

I see a world where people respect their clothes.  They choose them carefully, they wear them well.  And when those clothes get a little tatty, they are still paraded proudly like an old teddy bear.

My grandmother Gwen spent much of her life farming and the other part of her time combing for treasures at garage sales, thrift shops and antique stores.  In her later years, she used to hunt often with her friend Paul Price, photographer.  Like any self-respecting woman born in 1909, Granny Gwen could wield a needle and thread with great dexterity.  She would find diamonds in the rough and then polish them up with her handy skills.  I blame my thrift shopping and passion for style on my Granny.  Here she is in the 1950s (looking flash in her 50s):

GWEN when she managed The Music Box Theatre in Hollywood

The first time I met other kids who thought second-hand clothes were cool was when I met Sydney Poiter.  I was around 14 or 15 at the name.  Sydney’s father Sidney was filming the movie “Shoot to Kill” in Vancouver and brought his family out during the shoot.  His daughters were about our age.  They came to visit for a week or so and we became friends with their family.  One day my sister and I took Sidney and her sister around Vancouver’s best thrift store shopping.  There was a place underground on Granville and Robson, another few stores in Gastown.  Apart from the shopping, what I remember most was that the Poitier girls got really excited about a Studebaker car that they wanted their dad to buy.  (He didn’t).  But more than that, I was impressed that these beautiful tall girls from Hollywood really knew what Style was and celebrated old things.

There are cultures that don’t celebrate second-hand clothing as a rule.  I found it terribly difficult when I lived in Italy and Spain, for example.  The Indians also frown sternly upon buying strangers’ cast-offs.  I hypothesize that’s because the warmer the climate the more you sweat and the faster your clothes wear out.  Whereas if you are in a colder climate, you never sweat and hence clothes get less wear.  I grant that some people don’t want to take on the energy of clothes of people they don’t know.  I can respect that.  One place I frequent in Vancouver has a lot of media types or slaves who can’t be seen in last year’s fashions (which in itself is silly).  I only ever recommend buying what suits you, is classic, quality –  and smells good!  Avoid trends (as they come and go but style stays).  If you don’t want to buy used clothing, you can follow the SSSD (Stephens’ Sister’s Shopping Diet) and buy local, sustainable, organic.  Or if you’re stuck still, buy clothes that are made in countries with stellar environmental and social records.  Above all, buy quality, buy to last.

Me on Thursday

40+ year old coton pants made by my grandmother for her friend Paul. Sandals are Italian from 2007 and the top is Max Mara (from consignment). That label isn’t itchy or else I wouldn’t remember the brand!

Over a year ago, I got a call from Paul, a friend of my late Grandmother Gwen who died when I was 14.  Paul generously wanted to pass on to us clothes that Gwen had made for him in the 70s.  Paul’s/Granny’s clothes were carefully-stitched, lovingly-made and honorably- preserved pants with coordinated tops and jackets.  Although they didn’t fit Paul’s body or his style any more, he was unable to throw them away or give them to random people.  I was overwhelmed with his generosity.  Wanting to share this gorgeous gift, I offered the clothes to my siblings and cousins, limiting them to 1-2 pieces each.  I kept one pants suit and a jacket.

With the sunny weather, I wore Paul’s/ Granny’s pants today for the first time.  I had to get the elastic replaced since it was slack after over 40 years.  The waist is elasticated as are the hems.  I can just see Monsieur Paul wearing these in the 70s with a little smart scarf knotted at the neck and twisted over to one side.  Here’s an air-kiss bisou for Paul! In the photo above, I’m wearing a consignment Max Mara top from 3 years ago and scuffed fradito (Italian meaning ‘between the toe’) flip flops from Italy in 2007.

It is cool to wear old clothes.  By doing so, we honor the Earth, sweat, love and pride distilled into those venerable threads.

If you haven’t yet heard “Thrift Shop”, (the first independent song to top the charts since 1994), check it out:

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