Following on from her hilarious first instalment, Lola is back with the second part in her Miss Burlesque WA edition of “Burlesque on a Budget”, one of our most-requested blog topics! If you missed the first edition, check it out here
Hello internet friends! I’m back and you’d better buckle up because Miss Lola is going to talk about op-shopping! *Insert evil chuckling…*
Full disclosure: I am a little obsessed.
Op-shopping is the answer to a lot of questions in my life. Like: Where did you get that? How do you afford that brand? Why do you have so many shoes? It’s a way of life that has shaped my wardrobe since I was a costume assistant on a student production of Threepenny Opera many years ago. The costume lady taught me a simple but invaluable lesson, namely: There be gold in them hills.
While many write op-shops off as a place to find one off outfits for theme parties (and I was one of them) there are glorious finds hidden within. But as with most things, there are some common complaints:
“You wear second hand clothes? Gross.”
Well firstly, I wash them. Secondly, enjoy your sad, boring life.
“I can never find anything good!”
Most people who say this to me go to one op-shop, once a year, so I’m not surprised. Some things take a little effort (more on that below!)
“They never have my size!”
This is genuinely frustrating at times. There’s also no solution so if it’s a bridge you can’t get over maybe op-shopping isn’t for you? It’s an option.
My approach to successful op-shopping involves two main things: Know your op-shops and visit them semi-regularly. Simples, yes?
In my experience, op-shops can be broken down into three categories:
- Cheap, cheerful, chaos.
- Organised bargains.
- Curated collections.
Cheap, cheerful, chaos refers to op-shops like Good Sammy. They’re big, they’re crammed to the brim, and beyond being separated into colour and category it’s a jungle in there! These are op-shops for rummaging in. You need time and patience, and you’re only going to have a quick visit if you’re looking for something specific and don’t get distracted. (And yes, I get distracted all the time!)
But Sammy is where you’re going to get some real bargains. They’re usually the cheapest price-wise as everything is priced by category, not individually. This means you can find a t-shirt from Big W and Country Road side by side and they’ll be exactly the same price. They do have a Gold Seal collection for some of the better quality clothes but even this rack remains very affordable. I love Good Sammy. Four pieces from my 2019 Miss Burlesque WA Unique costume were found in Good Sammy, two in the same trip. It was a good day.
Organised bargains is more your Salvos, Vinnies, Save the Children and some RSPCA stores. Everything is usually separated by size and category and individually priced. Still cheap (although not quite as cheap as Sammy) and it’s a lot easier to find things! You have to spend a lot less time rummaging in these shops as they’ve done a lot more of the leg work for you. They also tend to be a bit pickier with their stock which filters out some of the cheap, synthetic crap some clothing manufacturers seem intent on pumping out en masse.
I’ve used tiaras as bases for two of my headpieces in MBWA this year and they both came from this type of op-shop. Finding both of them filled me with the sort of fiendish glee I usually reserve for unexpected excuses to visit Sue Lewis’s Chocolate shop.
Curated collections are the crème de la crème of op-shops. This is your Masonic, RSPCA Reloved, Vinnies Retro and Red Cross. This is the closest to “normal” shopping you’re going to get in an op-shop. This is genuinely nice stuff, usually good brands, well organised and nicely presented. These shops give me a warm fuzzy feeling inside. You’ll pay more but you’re still getting a bargain and a quick trip is entirely possible. I’ve got some amazing stuff at these shops, such as a real leather Alannah Hill skirt for $30. If you like higher-end brands but can’t afford them, these are the shops to look in.
The fabric I used to make my Traditional Act’s underwear was from a lovely gold t-shirt I picked up from Red Cross. I felt a bit bad cutting it up but I like to think I’m giving it a greater purpose in life.
So now we’ve covered the categories, what do I mean when I say “know your op-shops”? Obviously you need to know where they are, but also when it will be convenient to stop by and what type of op-shop you prefer to visit. I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve always lived and worked near them, once literally across the road. I’ve never been short of options and I’m pretty good at knowing what type of shop I’m in the mood for. If you’ve got a cheeky ten minute window, try curated. If you’ve got a leisurely hour, shoot for cheerful chaos. Knowing what suits your shopping style best does matter because trying to force yourself to rummage through racks and racks of $4 tops when you’re short on time and patience is a recipe for giving up on the whole caper.
The other thing to remember is that op-shops have new stock all the time, and the best stuff doesn’t stay long. If you can swing by your favourite shop once a week, do it. One of my best all-time finds was an almost fully-functional dress maker’s dummy for the ludicrous price of $60. They put it out an hour before I got there.
My hot tip for costuming in particular is to grab stuff that will be useful even if you have no need for it right now. Especially trimmings. If you scroll back up and look at my blue bodice, that sparkly belt I sewed on was bought at Salvos ages ago for $2.25. I didn’t know what I was going to use it for but I knew would use it! If you find crystals, sequins, fringing, beads, tassels in good nick, snatch ‘em up. You’ll save money in the long run. I once found a pillow covered in feather trim for $1. The trim bought new would probably have set me back at least $20. Did I have a current project that needed feather trim? No. Will I use it? Yes.
(Obviously use this particular bit of advice in moderation. I don’t want any angry emails because you’ve buried yourself under bulk bags of $2 assorted trims. That’s on you.)
So hopefully by now you have sufficient knowledge to go out and give op-shopping a red hot go for your next costuming project, it can be incredibly rewarding and with an experienced eye and a bit of patience you’ll find some amazing stuff!
And don’t forget you can catch my latest op-shop based creations onstage at Miss Burlesque WA, June 29th at the Astor Theatre!
PS. Here are some of my favourite Perth op-shops. Go forth and conquer!
Cheap, cheerful, chaos:
Good Sammy Osbourne Park
Good Sammy Mount Lawley
Salvos Osbourne Park
Save the Children Mount Hawthorn
Save the Children Tuart Hill
RSPCA Bibra Lake
RSPCA Reloved North Perth
Red Cross North Perth
Red Cross Mount Hawthorn
Vinnies Retro Fremantle
Masonic Charity Outlet Cannington