Tuesday, March 3, 2009

You Can't Take It With You, So I'll Take It Instead

"Those who wear dead people's clothes will live a long time"

So goes a Turkish superstition, one of a long list of fascinating beliefs compiled by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism. (On the same list: "if a person steps on a cat upon entering the wedding chamber, the person will not succeed in his duties").

I'm glad to see the Turks so sensibly condoning the wearing of secondhand clothes, because for other, strenuously vocal opponents, the creep factor surmounts all. This is certainly true for the Guardian's otherwise brilliant fashion writer Hadley Freeman, who writes:
Vintage came into fashion when lots of models (aka Kate Moss) started wearing it, models being the only species on earth who have sufficient time to trawl through racks of dead people's clothes to find the occasional nugget, the funds to buy them, and the bodies to make anything - even dead people's clothes - look good.

Simon Doonan, creative director at Barney's and the author of several superb style guides, is less concerned with the skeeve quotient of other people's things as the restless nature of the ghosts that haunt them. He writes:
Spirits love a nice bit of schmatte [Yiddish, "tat"] as you or I: Does the phrase "Shroud of Turin" mean anything to you?
In a column for the New York Observer Doonan provides a listing of vintage purveyors in New York City, as well as a roundup of spiritual guides, psychics, and exorcists to give the garments a precautionary laundering, in case you feel it important to dispossess your new possessions.

There is a small cadre of secondhand fans that actually appreciate -- even relish -- the notion that you can walk a mile in a dead man's shoes. Matt Lucas did a sketch along these lines on Little Britain:

Customer in a charity shop: "Did anybody die in this?"
Shop owner: "Yes, I'm afraid so."
Customer: [brightening] "Ooo! I'll take it then."

If you don't mind skating close to the rim of the Great Beyond, as many creative individuals do, you're less likely to be put out by the idea of donning the mantle of one who has since passed on. Novelist Stona Fitch recalls:
"I had a friend in the Fenway (Boston) who ran a secondhand shop called Dead People's Things. He would call me when someone my size died. And suddenly I'd have a dozen white shirts from the 50s that actually fit. And smelled like someone else."

Anybody who enjoys shopping for secondhand things has reconciled to the fact that the molecular remains of the lives of others may jolt us into considering the mortality of our own. The cigarette fug, the waft of faint perfume, the scent of effort. Or, casting farther back, anointed oil. Because I have heard of the Shroud of Turin. And I wonder which of the lucky apostles wound up wearing Jesus' old robes.

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