It’s a chilly Sunday morning in Daylesford, a small country town an hour and a half’s drive from Melbourne. From where I stand, fog rolls down the hillside like an avalanche in suspension, casting the surrounds in otherworldly luminescence like a Caspar David Friedrich painting. Slumberous smoke stains the air. The gravelly road is peppered with puddles from the previous night’s rain. Peddlers at the market are setting up their final items to sell. I have arrived with several other early birds – rugged up against the icy bite is a small price to pay for the treasures that may wait us.
Although no one says anything of the sort, I’m sure giving the hip and shoulder isn’t out of order to anyone who thwarts their pursuit of finding the treasure amongst the trash. Daylesford Market has, in the past, been a successful locale in finding cheap shabby chic and distressed items. And today has been no exception. Within a two-hour period I have procured a set of stunning chairs, several leather bound suitcases, an industrial ladder and an ornate olive green timber mirror. All for under 100 dollars. (I cordially pat myself on the back for the effort!)
The adage the hunt is half the fun certainly stands true for procuring market items. Writer Roberta Smith likens market shopping to snorkelling: ‘…you drift about, looking this way and that, waiting for something to catch your eye. Then you swim closer, zeroing in for a better look to see if the rest of what you saw rises to occasion of the part that initially drew your attention.’ The fabulous thing about markets is that they have something for everyone. And yes, the spectrum of goods ranges from tasteful to trashy, but that, too, is part of the fun.
Pre-loved paraphernalia has become all the rage in recent times. Global Market Insite’s 2013 research study found that one third of consumers are buying second-hand clothing more than they were twelve months ago. The term ‘shabby-chic’ is one that has been thrown around time and again. The name is a curious one, the juxtaposition implying a marriage between something shabby – denoting vulgarity or dilapidation – and chic – evoking an image of elegance and class. I liken shabby-chic to wearing a comfortably sported jumper, rather than a stiff, ironed shirt. It’s a relaxed aesthetic minus a pomposity that so often accompanies a modern design palette. Designer Rachel Ashwell sees timeworn objects possessing a mystique that requires us to demystify: ‘shabbiness in its shunning of what is too new, modern or ostentatious, as well as in its rebellion against “perfection”, is precisely what makes this comfortable look so alluring.’
The reach of pre-loved accoutrements is vast: from home wares to fashion. More than that, it’s no longer just the poor student’s or bohemian’s choice of ornamentation. There was a time when second-hand goods furnished a residence solely on the basis of affordability. Now, second-hand and period pieces are influencing high-end goods. The process is self-referential: new designs look to old ones for inspiration. Take the 1970s. ’70s style clothing has been appropriated since the mid ’90s, namely Issey Miyake – he borrowed heavily from the ’70s style in his Pleats Please collection – and continues to inform stylistic choices of designers today. In a similar vein, vintage clothing has become one of the most sought after commodities in this century. Jane Hargrove says that combining new school and old school fashions is not a far-fetched notion: ‘in the end it is still up to us to create it, paired with individual preferences and fashion statements. The real balance is achieved by making use of what we know and what is there in compliment to what we want to achieve.’
Celebrities have jumped on the yesteryear bandwagon, too. British songstress, Sophie Ellis-Bextor frequents silhouetted vintage dresses; Drew Barrymore has steeped into the vintage boutique a few times and flaunts it on the red carpet, and Aussie boy band Because They Can echo The Beatles’ classic ’60s look with crisp suits.
There are a host of reasons why seemingly outmoded goods are having resurgence. Some, like Kasie Maciejowska, argue that infusing distressed items throughout your house is a way of understanding a post-industrial world – informing others that you don’t take your home too seriously. What calls me to aged items is that they’re markers of elapsed time. They are a way of experiencing a time and place in which I was not present. My approach is a romantic one. I am intrigued by the energies and textures in pre-loved items: they are imbued with the stories of their past. Installation artist Christian Boltanksi makes similar references with the use of second-hand clothing in his work. He sees them as elegiac – evocating memory, loss and death.
Frequently, there is sterility about contemporary homes. They’re ubiquitous and that undifferentiating feature is lacklustre. Pre-loved items have an inherent charm. They move away from the gloss and coldness of ultra modern styles. Imperfection has its own kind of beauty. Look in home and furniture magazines and you will see dejected-esque applications in the form of decorations, flooring and wall paint. This is because the neutral backdrops allow modern flourishes to pop, injecting drama and liveliness into a space. A perfect representation of the shabby chic bravura is in the 2006 film, The Holiday. Kate Winslet’s character, Iris, lives in a small cottage, peppered with crackling cupboards, mismatching upholstery, and a melange of colours, textures and patterns.
The recycling of wonders from yesteryear doesn’t appear to be slowing any time soon. I encourage you to go out and have a look around. There is a plethora of places to search: Op shops, online, markets – just not Daylesford market, I call dibs on it.
Chahal Mindi. The second-hand market: what consumers really want to buy. Marketing Week. 31 October 2013. Web. 2 July 2014.
Maciejowska, Kasia. “Shabby Chic Goes Hardcore.” The Times 21 Oct 2011. Print.
Morgan, Philippa. Celebrities In Vintage Fashion. Glamour. 24 September 2009, Web. 2 July 2014.
Smith, Roberta. “Finding Something Worthy in Every End.” The New York Times, 29August 2012. Print.
“Sophie Ellis-Bextor opens up on fashion, family and her top secrets to looking fab as a mum of three.” Daily Record. May 27 2014. Web. 2 July 2014.
The 20th Century Artbook. London: Phaidon Press Limited, 1996. Print.