Unless one has the luck and luxury of a phoenix hairpin, a four-leaf clover, and the mellowest pearl from the deepest of oceans, filling a closet often stays like a wish locked inside Pandora's box. More so, if one is a youth trying to save up for a tour with friends, or to buy new art supplies, or with helping out the family's finances. A thousand taka might not buy haute couture, or even branded casuals. However, possibilities from thrift-stores cannot be shooed under the rug.
With a thousand taka in the pocket, not many can imagine a contemporary silhouette in the mirror. Especially if one thinks fashion equals expensive. An adequate kameez with embroidered designs or a suit for interviews can cost as much as a student's monthly dorm rent. All the more reason to store them inside the closet until they soak in the smell of naphthalene. And for daily use, tee shirts and salwars tossed on 'the chair' are most people's favourite.
Radia Islam is a 22-year-old student of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology. She likes to stay out, and roam around with her camera. Capturing the beauty around her is a passion she pursues. Hence, she likes to wear casual clothes that does not get in her way of photography.
However, she does not wear branded casual clothes every day as her favourite outfits might get ruined quicker than expected. Her top choice for daily wear is loiajaneksho. She shops from the footpaths of Dhaka’s New Market, or sometimes from Sylhet’s Hasan Market.
Shopping from thrift stores might seem inefficient. There would be less chance of finding wearable clothes of good quality from street vendors. However, having faith in Dhaka’s biggest thrift market can pay off big time.
"With a thousand taka, I would buy a tee shirt or a dress for Tk 100, a pair of trousers or pants with Tk 200-300, and a pair of shoes within Tk 200. Making them look good on me comes later. With the rest of Tk 400, there are plenty of opportunities to buy another shirt to wear as a layer. Maybe adding small pieces of accessories such as glasses, bracelets, earrings, pendants can make the outfits shine," says Radia using her experience and imagination.
If one prefers to go traditional instead of casual, she can fulfill her dream of wearing a saree as well. Radia informs that a saree for Tk 300-400 from the second floor of New Market, a pair of shoes, and a Tk 100 top that goes well with the saree can do magic like Cinderella's fairy godmother. Wearing a top as a blouse with a saree can give an unexpectedly elegant look.
Ibnat Sadia is a 23-year-old youth from Dhaka’s Mohammadpur. Her friends often ask her where she had bought her outfits as they look fashionable and unique. They get surprised when the answer comes as New Market’s streetside. She matches the colours of her outfits and they appear seamless when she wears them. “The secret is accessories. With no accessory, your outfits would look plain and dull. Even one piece of accessory can pull your outfit together and make you look standout on a budget.”
Ibnat often tours with her friends. Her casual collections from New Market come in handy at such times. "Travelling and wrong outfits are the worst combinations. Neither do I want to look like I've just finished my final project, nor do I want to look like I'm attending a wedding. The photos I take then would stay forever," she shudders at the thought of not having a suitable, yet popping outfit for taking photos at a beautiful place she would probably never visit again. Hence, she relies on her cheap casual buys from thrift stores that check comfort, trend, and budget.
From Dhaka’s Bailey Road, a 56-year-old businessman, Murad Hossain, reminisces his younger days when he had first come to the city from his hometown. He used to buy clothes for his family from New Market, Gausia, and Bongo Bazar area. “Those were the only shopping places I knew back then. Now there are a lot of bigger shopping malls here and there. But still, I sometimes find joy in finding clothes from street vendors. It reminds me of the old, humble days.”
He often goes on walks towards Dhaka’s Shahbagh and buys tee shirts and Panjabi-pajama on the way for daily wear. “Buying from the streets doesn’t necessarily make anyone look cheap. When I bring them home, my daughters keep complaining about me being more stylish than them,” he jokes.
It is time for a disclaimer for those who are convinced to shop at thrift stores from now. No matter how alluring the idea may seem, it is clever to keep in mind that the mother knows the best. It is hard to find a person who has not heard lectures about better things costing more from their mother. Therefore, one should be prepared for clothes that fade into desaturated tones after several washes. But still, some might think a cheap pair of shoes with a short life span is better than walking in expensive sneakers on the roads of a monsoon country.
A low-budget fashion-haul must come with a low expectation, but not necessarily settling for less. A bag from Balenciaga, or a pair of Nike shoes should not be expected, but a Tk 150-money bag with "Gucci" written on it can fill a closet with quantity. The moneybag would not be as sturdy and long-lasting as the original one, but at least it could serve every day.
Even though thrift store hauls might not always be sustainable, they can give one a budget-friendly closet while filling the stomachs of small vendors. Buying low-budget clothes is as procrastination goes - making things work with the minimum in hand. The result might not be the best, but no one would suspect a thing. Sometimes quantity over quality wins the impression.
Mehenaz Sultana is a student of English at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology.