In the lead up to National Op Shop Week The Standard set its staff a challenge –go to a local thrift shop and find an outfit you would wear and share the experience.
Op shop week begins on Sunday and highlights the treasure trove of pre-loved items that can be snapped up for a fraction of the original retail price at nearby stores.
Warrnambool Uniting Church Op Shop volunteer Liz Sparrow said charity stores breathed new life into garments and spared them from going into landfill.
The city has seven op shops and the majority of the south-west’s surrounding towns boast at least one.
The ABC documentary War on Waste found that people dumped 6000 kilograms of clothing into landfill every 10 minutes.
Research showed in one year Australia's charity op shops diverted more than 300,000 tonnes of clothing from landfill.
It would be no surprise to hear that 30 per cent of clothing in an average wardrobe has not been worn for at least a year. Of that figure, most of the clothing no longer fits and could be enjoyed by someone else.
Clothing at the Warrnambool Red Cross Op Shop has a six-week cycle where stock is coded as it is unpacked. It is rotated through the store each week.
Once it reaches the rear of the store, it is packed up and sent to another op shop, meaning the stock is always new. Many of the other stores follow a similar process.
Red Cross Op Shop volunteer manager Phyllis Vaughan said people loved the quality of clothing on offer and the bargain prices. “A lot of people aren’t shopping at new shops anymore,” Mrs Vaughan said. “A lot of people come in and they only shop at op shops.”
She said the thrill of finding that special item was what kept people coming into the store. “If they find one item they’ll go looking for more. They’re getting quality as well as variety.”
Warrnambool Uniting Church Op Shop volunteer Carol Price encouraged people to give it a go. “If you haven’t been here before come in and have a look around. You’ll see some lovely treasures. Some people make it a weekly thing and come in to see what’s new,” she said.
Journalist Madeleine McNeil joined seasoned op shoppers Rachael Houlihan and Rebecca Riddle to see what she could find.
How do you describe your own style? I prefer a more classic look and staple pieces, rather than trying to keep up with changing fashion trends.
Fast fashion or quality? Quality. I generally look for wool or cotton clothing that will last and is comfortable and practical to wear.
Online or instore? Bit of both. I can’t go past seeing and trying an item on in store but I also like the convenience of online.
Comfort or style? Comfort all the way.
What is your go-to outfit? Jeans or a skirt, tights and boots with a long sleeve top/cardigan and a scarf. I would have at least 30 scarves. They’re an inexpensive way to change up an outfit.
Do you shop at the op shop often? No, it’s not somewhere I would think of to go shopping for clothes.
Were you were happy with your outfit? Yes. I bought a navy floral Sunnygirl dress for $13 from the Red Cross Op Shop that looked like it was brand new.
Has this challenge changed how you think of op shopping? It’s made me realise some of the quality items you can pick up. There are some good brands and items that have barely been worn.
Was it a positive experience? It’s not often you get to go shopping for work with your colleagues. We had fun checking out what was around and spent only $36 between us. The volunteers were so helpful and lovely and grateful for the chance to promote their wares.
Journalist Rachael Houlihan has a regular work-week look, but mixes good quality designer pieces with older, retro op-shop sourced pieces on days off.
How do you describe your own style?
My style changes dramatically from work to days off. My standard work uniform is black, black, black. Jeans, a long sleeve top, jacket and boots, every day for work. When I’m not at work I mix it up – bright colours, mixed patterns, retro dresses and funky jewellery all make up my weekend repertoire. I probably purchase 70 per cent of my clothes from op shops, and then save up for bigger purchases. I go camping and horse riding a lot when I have time off, so comfy, warm clothes are a must.
Fast fashion or quality?
I definitely go for quality over fast fashion. I’m not a huge shopper – I rarely buy new things. Generally I don’t need to buy anything new, as over the years I will have already sourced it from an op shop. When I do go shopping I save up and splurge as I know buying quality means the item will hopefully last longer.
My RM Williams boots and Louis Vuitton handbag and wallet are prime examples. An absolutely expensive outlay, but they have been going strong for years. Ethically and environmentally, fast fashion is not appealing to me, despite the low prices.
Comfort or style?
Always comfort over style. With this job you never know where you might end up – so I can’t be wearing the latest high heels if I’m going to be traipsing around a dairy farm.
What is the oldest item in your wardrobe that you still wear?
Nearly everything in my wardrobe is old! A large number of items come from the op shop. My oldest piece is probably a brightly coloured Ken Done t-shirt that was my nana Marie’s. I love it.
Were you were happy with your outfit?
I purchased a red Australian wool coat from the RSPCA op shop. It’s a perfect winter staple, and I know I will get a lot of wear out of it during the south-west’s chilly winters.
I also purchased a pair of beautiful Fletcher Jones wool pants for $1 – they look as good as the day they were made and are a fantastic fit. Can’t beat good quality.
Journalist Rebecca Riddle grew up shopping at op shops with her mum where the pair would search for bargains together.
Rebecca agreed with Warrnambool Red Cross Op Shop volunteer Phyllis Vaughan who said as soon as she found one item she loved, she was keen to keep looking. “If you find the right piece all it takes is a wash or dry clean and chances are you might have found your new favourite outfit.”
Who are your celebrity style icons/ whose style you admire? I'm not sure I follow any celebrities but I did admire Asher Keddie's wardrobe in Offspring. In reality I'm probably more The Block at the moment.
How do you describe your own style? I don't think I have a style. I love colour and I think it makes me feel better so I'm usually attracted to bright clothes. Gone are the days of the fluro hypercolour T-shirts though.
Online or instore? I think as you get older you've got to try things on.
Comfort or style? Can't I have both?
What is the oldest item in your wardrobe that you still wear? I have a khaki cardigan that I bought in Bali in 2003. Yes, hard to imagine. It was 33 degrees and I carried this long nana cardigan around for hours to get it home but 15 years later I still love it.
What is your go-to outfit? I can't go past a dress and boots, or sandals and shorts when it finally warms up.
Were you were happy with your outfit? I'm not sure what happened. I was obviously channelling the 70s because I came home with a short yellow dress, lime cardigan, purple velvet jacket and orange sun hat. Not sure it all goes but I'm feeling brighter.
Has this challenge changed how you think of op shopping? No, I think I've always been a fan.
Was it a positive experience? I was surprised at the quality at the different op shops. Each and every one of them had at least five items I'd buy.
Op shopping tips
- Spend time searching. A quick look is unlikely to produce the ultimate find.
- Keep going back. New items are added regularly and continually change.
- Look for quality and check items for wear, holes, stains and that the buttons and zips are intact.
- Grab a bargain when you see it. Great buys won't hang around for long and every keen op shopper knows the heartbreak of thinking they'll go back for something only to find it has been snapped up.
- Keep an eye out for the styles, fabrics and brands that you would normally purchase from a retail store.
- Keep an open mind. Op shopping is a chance to try a look or style you would not be willing to pay full price for.
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