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Vintage Clothing Article

Liam Donohoe


Now I must confess that I am certainly not immune to the charms of the enterprising garb
hawker—who could possibly say no to a bootlegged Rage Against the Machine Australasian
2008 tour shirt for just $5? (I’ll even throw in those neat patches of underarm sweat from the
very same concert free of charge!) And it’s certainly true that buying vintage clothing is often
preferable to entering the first-hand market, ever-so-slightly reducing the demand that
commissions new, disposable garments (?) while rescuing the purchased textiles from a soil-y
stuffing. Suffice to say, therefore, there’s nothing inherently wrong with vintage clothing. It is in
fact often comparatively virtuous. But despite this general truth, there is one particular genre of
vintage clothe vendor that concerns me and this article; the sartor exploitus.

The sartor exploitus is one of those pesky parasites that thrives in areas with a mid to late
Capitalist climate. Though often hipster in appearance, they have been known to mutate into full-
bridled anti-consumerist irony-insensitive hippies, especially as major psytrance festivals draw
nigh. Their survival mechanism is simple: raid op-shops, purchase the clothes most likely to
fetch a higher price amongst the animal spirits of the wealthy hipster, accumulate profit. Seems
there’s incentive to do so often and early in the morning, lest high-margin produce escape their

The sartor exploitus comes in many forms. Sometimes they sneak about as retail outlets. But
more often they materialize at communal markets, the type ostensibly designed for cheap
exchange and to give budding fashionistas a shot (?). Types like the Glebe and Newtown
markets. Whether what the sartor does is consistent with the spirit of such affairs (?) is

In the process of securing the best inventory, the sartor necessarily takes away clothing that was
intended for the less well-off. These are the people who rely on the below-market, low-margin
generosity of a not-for-profit to clothe themselves, and who would otherwise have bought the
sartor’s harvest. But beyond that, the clothes lost to these greedy motivations (?) are often the
most coveted and so, in a sense, the “best”. The sartor’s target the highest quality, the coolest,
and the least worn among the lot, preying across a wide plane to keep their standards high. The
less well-off are therefore not just left with less, they’re left with worse (John Locke rolling in
his grave).

Beyond this, a cruel form of double jeopardy befalls those among the less well-off who have a
preference for such clothes. That’s because when the sartor resells these clothes they do so at an
exclusionary price. They need only look in the mirror to know the types of clothing their
clientele desire, and so get stock with high levels of inelastic demand. From the affluent hipster’s
perspective, going vintage is a tempting proposition. They secure the social capital, brand
recognition, and aesthetic improvements associated with the material configuration of the item
cheaper than they would if the same item was bought first-hand at, say, Urban Outfitters (and
that’s to say nothing of the social credibility that comes from being ~sustainable~) As such, the
items sit in an awkward superposition between the bourgeoisie exclusivity of the first-hand
Ralph Lauren store and the mass affordability of the fading Vinnies, collapsing in any case in a
way that locks out the less well-off. This denies them whatever social capital, …, or personal
happiness would have come from those clothes (?)

The difference between the price charged by the charity and the price charged by the sartor is
roughly equal to the value of exclusion. It is also termed profit. But the sartor themselves is
certainly no prophet—anyone could do what they do, and many have surely dismissed the … out
of moral trepidation. The sartor offers no real tangible value, exposes themselves to next to no
risk, and exploits good intentions. Now, while this may seem indistinguishable from many of our
society’s most credible profit-generating enterprises, like finance, such a resemblance may in
fact be cause for reconsideration of our intuitions on that practice, too.

But if undeserved and unfair sources of profit are necessary constituents of a late capitalist Ponzi
scheme, then so too are appropriation and gentrification. When wealthy people buy vintage
clothing, they are able to mute one of the most visible markers of their advantage—their physical
presentation. They are able to obscure themselves in the mass, fading into commonality just as
their new (or, newish) Levis do ‘round the knee creases. In doing so, they necessarily appropriate
working class sartorial trends, and not just subconsciously. The process is often labelled, but in a
code known only to a few: …, ‘new law casual’, … among the more recent. Though these
concerns aren’t the domain of the sartor’s alone (?), they are nonetheless heightened by their
preponderance and made structural by their profitability. And at the point the less well-off can’t
access these clothes, while the affluent can, their tastes have not only been stolen, but repackaged
into a bourgeois sensibility; moderated, alienated, gentrified. Alas, for holding the affluent to
account for these shenanigans is all the harder with their program of war without a uniform (?)