Monday, 30 January 2017

The Very Sensible People Who Love My Charity Shop Clothes

30. Shopping: Write about your shopping wishlist and how you like to spend money.

Today's writing is a free written splurge about my clothes and about the joy of finding them.  In four days there will be a prompt that asks me to sit outside for an hour.  I tell you now, if it's not warm enough I'm not doing it!  Newcastle in early February is not my most ideal place to sit outside.  Especially when I need to hold a pen so can't wear gloves.  Tomorrow I think will have to be a fiction and the next day a rebellion may be staged against the tyranny of prompts.  I'd quite like to write about the Cafe of Stolen Dreams instead.

Dressed up for a night out!

Something's been happening to me recently.  It's a new experience.  I've spent most of my life telling myself that these things aren't important to me.  Not important at all.  Honest.  I promise you.  But now it's happened I find I like it.

What happens is this.  I go into a place and meet with people.  They say things like this to me:

"I like your skirt."

Two people said that to me in the space of half an hour this week.  One of them said it was amazing.

"I do love your top.  Where did you get it?"

Someone said that to me last week.  A few days ago someone else said it about a different top.

"God that's an awesome jacket.  Where's it from?"

That was said in the last week too.

What the hell is going on?  I'm not used to this.  There are people who like my clothes.  And they're not idiots!  I know them to be rational people who have their own sense of style and aren't just playing with me by saying polite things because they're sympathetically diplomatic.

I'm not sure that in forty years of living outwardly as a male anyone ever complimented my clothes.  And I didn't care.  I didn't want to put any effort into looking good.  If it wasn't for my mother giving me piles of jumpers and T-shirts throughout my adult life I'd have worn a lot more that was faded, frayed or just had holes in.  My wife and a friend once staged an intervention, throwing away many of the clothes I was wearing and owning so that I was forced to wear different clothes without holes.  We're not talking tramp on the street level of clothing disrepair.  But without all that womanly help through the years I'd have probably reached it.

I passionately hated shopping for clothes.  That's an overstatement.  A small one.  Shopping was a burden, a chore.  It was a necessary evil that I would have liked to be unnecessary.

Things have changed.  They began to change when I came out as transgender.  They continued to change with the influence of a friend (nearly mistyped as fiend) who encouraged me to wear more colour, to experiment and in my clothing become more myself.  Over the course of the last eighteen months I have removed the majority of black clothing from my wardrobe.  And the brown.  And the grey.  Gone.  On one day alone I cleared out over sixty black and grey items.

Over sixty.  Yes.  I admit to you freely.  It's a lot.  I have too many clothes and buy too many clothes.  For as little money as possible.

So when people say "Where did you get your skirt?"  I gleefully and proudly tell them.  It cost me two pounds in a charity shop in Newcastle.

When they ask about my top I say, "It came from a charity shop in Chorlton," or "It came from a charity shop in Farnworth for ninety-nine pence."

The jacket I mentioned was a little different.  That didn't come from a charity shop.  It came from a stall at the Greenbelt festival, drastically reduced to clear because it was the last festival they were selling at that season.

I tell them.  Charity shop.  Charity shop.  Cheap.  And I smile not just because I don't look like crap but because nothing has cost me lots of money, because I've not gone to "normal" shops, and because I have come to love wearing what I wear.   A friend said to me of her own clothing, "It's taken me a lot of work to be able to dress like this."  It's the same for me.  The courage to be yourself and wear whatever the hell you like can take a lot of time, commitment and strength to find and maintain.  I am proud of my friend.  She in turn is proud of me.

I love charity shops.  And not just charity shops.  I love car boot sales although I can't get to many now.  I loved growing up going to lots of jumble sales most weekends.  The joy of finding an obscure book or record or adding something to whatever I collected at the time cannot be overstated.  That was my childhood.  Things improved still further when I started buying things so I could sell them again.  By the time I went to college and had to stop being an avid dealer I was buying and selling a couple of hundred books a week.

I still love charity shops and car boot sales.  You'll have noticed that by now.  I love them because they're cheap.  I love them because you can find brilliant things there.  Most of all perhaps I love them because they are uncertain.

Go to one of those proper shops and you know roughly what you're going to get.  You'll get their range of clothes, chosen by their buyers, based on what some fashion guru has said should be the style and colour of the season.  But go to a charity shop and you could get anything.  Anything at all.  You could get a skirt like mine, a top like mine.  You could get something even more spectacular.

Or you could get nothing.  Disappointment is possible.  I don't mind the disappointment.  It's outweighed by the excitement of entering the shop and exploring the great unknown.  It's lessened when I remind myself I have too many clothes.  Today I found nothing.  But I was wearing a jumper I bought for two pounds last week.

It's not just clothes either.  It's books.  It used to be CDs and DVDs too but I find myself looking at them less and less, belatedly realising that I already own more of those items than anyone could ever need unless they were a DJ or a film and television critic.  Something similar could be said about my book collection.  Wait, it has been said.  More than once.  Without effect because I keep buying books.  In my bag today I carried three books (why?!) bought in the last week.  A book about the fortunes, or lack of fortunes, of a German Jewish family in the Holocaust.  Philip Pullman's version of Grimm's Fairy Tales.  And a history of Christian evangelicalism in the USA that looks absolutely fascinating to a religion obsessive like me.  It only cost me fifty pence too.  For a big hardback.  I was very pleased with it.  A confession:  I did buy a DVD on the same day.  It was Orlando, the movie of Virginia Woolf's novel.  Something I've wanted to see for a while.  I had to pay a massive five pence for it too.

I am addicted to charity shops.  I learn which are the best.  Which are the cheapest.  I learn the ones where I never buy anything.  And I visit them anyway, just in case!  The Cancer Research shop is the best for me in central Newcastle.  It often has clothes I want and nothing will cost more than three pounds.  Chorlton often has interesting clothes.  And a precious discovery is the set of charity shops in Farnworth.  There is always something there for me.  So far.  When I found that two pound skirt (which has pockets too) I almost screamed with delight.  When I found that top in Chorlton I said, "Nooooooo, that won't fit, it's the wrong size.  Look.  Wrong size.  There's no way it will fit."  I will never be allowed to forget that I was forced to try it on and discovered it fit me very well.

That's enough about my charity shopping habits.  It's not enough writing.  Before I stop I want to say something about my life.

Three and a half years ago I came out as transgender.  The dam collapsed and I was forced to admit the truth to myself in a way I wouldn't ever be able to deny again.  Within two months I lived full time as female.  It was the most exhilarating and most frightening period of my life.  One of the side effects of socially transitioning so quickly is that you have to buy an entire wardrobe of clothes quickly too.  Another side effect is having an entire wardrobe of clothes that you never want to wear again.  It's all got to go - apart from some pairs of boots including the ones I've worn pretty consistently for at least eighteen months and a pair of red trousers in case I want old clothes to paint in.  I gave all my clothes away, including the suit I wore to get married.  All of it went to a refugee service in Newcastle.  I'm sure that many refugees benefitted by my gender transition.  Yay!

Clearing was the easy bit.  Buying was harder.  Because I didn't know what I could wear as a woman.  I didn't know what size(s) I could wear, what would suit my body.  I didn't know what would look good or make me look like a man wearing appalling drag.  The only way to find out was to experiment.  Keep buying a wide range until I had lots of clothes that would at least look okay.

I've heard quite a few transgender women saying that they cannot afford to socially transition because clothes are so expensive and they'll never be able to afford it.  They talk about places to go to get "clothes suitable for a trans woman" and I'm forced to agree.  They'll not be able to afford it.  Even if they give up smoking legal and sometimes illegal chemicals or drinking.  Even if they stop going to coffee bars or don't go that concert/cinema/wherever.

Several times I've suggested to these women that charity shops are good.  That they're cheap.  I even point out the cheapest ones - there used to be a hospice shop nearby where the most expensive item of clothing was a pound and many were much less.  But no.  "Oh, no no no no no!  We couldn't possibly go there.  We wouldn't be able to find things there.  We wouldn't like what we found."  I'm serious.  I've heard transgender women say things like that.  So they delay transition because they think it's too expensive.

Today I wore a skirt, T-shirt, pretty jumper and a Per Una coat.  Total cost?  Six pounds and forty-nine pence.

Transition isn't expensive.  (Except for shoes.  They're hard.)  Pride is expensive.  Fear is expensive.  Living a long way from charity shops is expensive too.

If it was not for charity shops my transition may have taken much longer.  I would have made it of course.  I would be me.  But it wouldn't have been as easy as it was.

All hail the charity shop.  Source of a thousand happy finds.

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