What’s the difference between a secondhand piece of clothing that a family member or friend gives you, and a secondhand piece of clothing that you’ve bought at the thrift store? Not much, you might say, but in Chinese culture (or at least, what my family preaches) you only keep clothes from people that you’re familiar with. Therefore, thrifting is a huge no-no.
It’s common superstition that secondhand clothes (which aren’t directly from a family member or friend) bring bad luck. Ever since I discovered Me & George, a local thrift store selling secondhand Japanese clothes, I’ve noticed that my family exhibits signs of this mentality. Just as I was about to tell my grandma that the dress that I was wearing was thrifted, my mom quietly stopped me on the grounds that it was best not to let grandma know.
In passing conversation with a couple of my friends, we stumbled across the topic of thrifting in Hong Kong. It’s not a hugely popular thing here as far as I can tell.
In fact, I only discovered that thrift stores existed in Hong Kong this year! Almost everyone I know gets their clothes brand-new from typical fast-fashion chains such as Topshop, Zara or H&M. When asked if they’d be comfortable with purchasing and wearing thrifted clothing, most people said no; instead they’d prefer to buy something totally new. One person raised concerns about the source of the clothes, while another said “Well, of course they’re from dead people! Where else?”
It is a little fun to think about where the clothes came from. Maybe what the owner looked like and why they decided to pass it forward. Personally it’s not much of an issue to me, but I know some of my friends are squeamish at the thought of wearing a dead man’s apparel. There’s also hygiene to consider. My mom says you can never be too confident in the cleanliness of anything even if it’s first-hand; you never know if someone had a skin condition or whatnot. It’s a fair point, but since there aren’t any changing rooms in the store I won’t put it on immediately anyway.
But then again, something has to be said about the consumerist approach to most things here in Hong Kong. It’s painfully obvious in ourshopping malls and commercial areas such as Central District and Tsim Sha Tsui, shopping areas with their fair share of the alluring neon signs. This is especially true when Chinese New Year rolls around, a time when people often splurge on the big sales in places like Uniqlo, or buy something red for good luck.
My art teacher once said that she used to be fascinated with Chinese culture when she moved here, but eventually realised that 90% of it is entirely to do with money and prosperity. I do agree with her point – every time I go to the temple at Wong Tai Sin, my grandma or parents often wish for good grades for me, or being able to find a good job and earn lots of money. Realistically speaking, they know that I have a 50/50 chance, but they think that if you have the opportunity to pray you might as well ask for it.
As for myself, I go because my parents want me have maximal luck. The only enjoyable part of the incense-waving-and-eye-burning experience is getting to shake the fortune sticks, and the smell of burning paper. We have a tradition of burning paper offerings to our deceased or to the gods. It’s a very specific smell, like a clean, non-meaty, wood-but-not-woody roast.
What do you think? Do you prefer to thrift, or would you rather buy a brand new item of clothing?