For writer Freya Latona, garage sales are about more than scoring a bargain – they’re a precious link to the past and a way of connecting meaningfully with her clothes. As Australia gears up for this year’s Garage Sale Trail, she’s sharing her own, very personal tale of treasure-hunting.
I grew up garage sale-ing around the streets of Byron Bay. Every Saturday morning, armed with a list of sales advertised in the local rag, my mum would drive us to various front lawns in the area with the hope of finding someone’s trash to make our treasure. I’m not sure how she came up with this weekend tradition – perhaps we stumbled upon a garage sale one day by accident and discovered a whole world of opportunity – but by seventeen I’d amassed an enviable wardrobe. Memorable favourites were a pair of maroon corduroys bought from a garage sale on the main road into town; a pair of perfectly fitting designer jeans bought from a new mum who couldn’t bear the pressure of having to fit into them again; and a red and white stripe dress that Mum chose for me as something that was perfect for a fancy future event – the fabric equivalent of keeping a bottle of champagne in the fridge, armed and ready for news to celebrate.
I still remember my last Byron Bay garage sale before I moved to the big smoke. Little did I know how significant it would be – Mum died of cancer eighteen months later; we never got to go garage sale-ing together again. Two friends in their late forties were having a combined sale and I rifled through their decades worth of fashion with gusto, finding a checked brown blazer with a cute ruffle detail at the back. It was to be my new look. I was about to move to Sydney to study a law degree, and this blazer represented the two aspects of my new life: the blazer said serious, not-to-be-messed-with-attorney; the vintage ruffle and missing button said youthful spirit and Byron Bay raised. I modelled it for Mum on our veranda when we got home, admiring my own sassiness and wondering if I should remove the shoulder pads. I dropped out of law six months later, but kept my garage sale blazer. It could morph into an appropriate garment to wear as I ventured into my perhaps ill-considered yet whole-lot-more-fun transfer into creative writing. Eight years on, the blazer hangs in my wardrobe – now a little too tight, but longing to be taken out for a spin again.
When I find a garage sale gem, I feel like I’m borrowing clothes from my older sister. There’s experience and love in the fabric fibres; I’m stronger and more connected to humanity wearing items with a story behind them.
Everything I’ve tried on at a garage sale tends to fit just right. There’s something about pre-wornness; someone else has softened the fabric for you. For some this might be a turnoff, but for me, I love the look and feel of pre-worn clothes. That relaxed, lived-in, lack of rigidity. When I find a garage sale gem, I feel like I’m borrowing clothes from my older sister. There’s experience and love in the fabric fibres; I’m stronger and more connected to humanity wearing items with a story behind them than I am in brand new clothes. It may sound overblown, but it’s true. Often sellers will tell you the story behind the item as you exchange it for a dollar coin. It won’t always be significant, but occasionally it’s a meaningful tale that will have you remembering someone else’s story every time you wear it. At a garage sale near my house, my mum once bought me the maroon knee length skirt a fashionable thirty-something woman met her husband in. How could she bear to sell it, we asked her. She didn’t attach her love for him to the skirt anymore. She had him in her heart, she said. Plus, she added, it could use a bit of fun. It hadn’t been on an outing for years. Knowing the magic of the skirt, I wore it one day when I was likely to see my high school crush. And sure enough, it gave me a flirtatious and confident edge.
For three bucks, I scored the shirt I wore all summer: a loose white cotton number, made for beach days over cozzies and summer evenings mulling around frangipani trees, drinking white wine spritzers.
Toward the end of last year, while my partner was picking up our old bomb car from our Redfern mechanic, I wandered over to a garage sale at the end of the street. It was run by a husband and wife in their mid-thirties and their tween son. They were clearing out their stuff before their end of the year summer holiday, partly inspired by Marie Kondo’s runaway success of a book, ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’. We laughed at how I was snapping up their ‘joyless’ clothes. For three bucks, I scored the shirt I wore all summer: a loose white cotton number, made for beach days over cozzies and summer evenings mulling around frangipani trees, drinking white wine spritzers. My comfy, lovely, all-rounder. I tucked it into high waisted pants and pretended I was on a European holiday. A store-bought shirt wouldn’t have given me so much utility. I would’ve been conscious of its cost. It would’ve been rigid. And as Murphy’s Law dictates, because it was NEW and WHITE, any number of beetroot and red wine spills would’ve found their way down it before the summer had reached its end. Because it was very second hand, to the point where its former owner had rendered it both joyless and lacking in practical use, the summer of 16/17 white shirt stayed pristine.
Of course there are better arguments to be made for buying pre-loved clothes. The environmental cost of fast fashion is a huge problem for Mother Earth, and worsening as our love for cheap clothes grows. Also, the most original and memorable dressers don’t wear an outfit they saw modelled on a chain store mannequin. They aren’t dictated to. They assemble an outfit purchased from a wealth of interesting places – different countries, op shops, garage sales, vintage stores, markets and ethically made labels – which may cost a bit more but last a whole lot longer. These savvy sartorial types inevitably have to field lots of questions from admiring onlookers about where they got their fabulous dress from, and their answer will be both very alluring and vaguely annoying. Alluring because there will be a back story. It’s not just a dress; it’s a catalyst for a story. And annoying because they won’t be able to get the same dress. It’s one of a kind. Just like its new owner.
This year’s Garage Sale Trail takes place across Australia from Saturday 21st – Sunday 22nd October 2017.