‘Ukay-ukay’ and the democratization of fashion


Sidebar: The Economics of Ukay-Ukay

MANILA — Miguel Paolo Celestial looks very well put together. A production journalist for The Financial Times, he really has to look his best every day. “The corporate world deals with superficials. You have to dress up if you want to get noticed. Confidence is bestowed on those who look like they spent at least an hour deciding on what to wear,” he jokes.

Even if he has to toe a certain fashion line because of his work Paolo, however, is by no means compelled to spend half his paycheck on clothes. “That would be ridiculous and impractical. In the corporate world, the starting, entry-level salary is P12,000 (US$280) to P16,000 (US$372). High-end clothes, particularly for men, cost almost that. Imagine shelling out P5,000 (US$116) for a pair of leather dress shoes, then another P2,000 (US$116) for a pair of pants, then at least P1,000 (US$23)for a shirt. And it’s not like you need only one set of clothes,” he says.

Enter Paolo’s almost scientific interest in used clothes and the popularly called “ukay-ukay” industry. Second-hand clothes, he says, are a godsend to people who are always under pressure to dress up for their careers.

Beanie and thrifted bomber jacket: both 5cm; tee, cK Calvin Klein; jeans, Calvin Klein Jeans; sandals, Birkenstock; belt, Brave Beltworks; Young Camel satchel and …Property of tote: both thrifted; steel cuff, Hablo; tiger’s eye bracelet from Divisoria (Contributed photo / bulatlat.com)

But buying clothes from ukay-ukay stores are more than just a necessity for Paolo. One could say it’s his hobby, but there’s a dimension to his interest in these second-hand clothes that’s undeniably artistic. How? For starters, he writes about them, and his language and imagery are poetic. It’s not surprising because when he still attended Ateneo University, Paolo used to contribute to the literary anthology Heights. Now he maintains a blog, El Bosquejo, wherein he documents his finds. There he waxes lyrical about shoes, bags and clothes, and reading his entry one can understand how so many consider fashion as an art form.

He started writing about clothes – not just ukay-ukay clothes – five years ago when he began writing for the Hong Kong based WestEast Magazine. “I wrote essays and features about culture – music, fashion, everything that had to do with it. Of course it was unavoidable that I also wrote about clothes. Hong Kong is one of the world’s busiest fashion capitals.”

It was then that he started being familiar with various brands, and with the differences in garments, fabrics and styles, and how to wear clothes well.

But writing about expensive clothes and being able to buy and wear them yourself are worlds apart. Paolo then began applying his newfound knowledge to his ukay-ukay visits.

“The most important principle to remember when buying clothes from the ukay ukay is don’t buy something if you’re not really happy with it. Otherwise, you did not really save money on your purchase. Ukay-ukay gives us ordinary people the chance to buy high-end clothes at ridiculously low prices. You just have to be conscious about brands, quality and make. You can really get good buys,” he says.

He himself has managed to find clothes that are ‘timeless in style’

“You’d be surprised how many high end brands can be found in your typical ukay-ukay store, but it’s not good to buy clothes that are part of a fashion trend because trends come and go. The ukay-ukay clothes from Hong Kong, for instance, are often the products of trends that ended, that’s why their owners discarded them soon after. Fashion changes fast, he explains.

“Better that you get clothes that are not part of any trend, so you don’t look odd. Also, when you buy something, make sure that it’s memorable to you, that you can picture yourself actually wearing it,” he adds.

It’s also not advisable to go to ukay-ukay when you have something specific in mind. “Chances are you won’t find it, or at least you won’t be satisfied with what you find. If you are looking for a sale price on specific clothes that you want, just go to the mall. But if you buy ukay-ukay say, on a whim, and you think of it as an adventure where you hope to find treasures, you’re expectations will be better met,” he says.

Paolo frequents ukay-ukay stores at least twice a month, and he goes to different places. His favorite ukay-ukay stores are the ones in Makati near the Makati Cinema Square, right across the Anonas station of the LRT 2 exit, and the a store near the LRT 1 Carriedo station that has since burned down.

In the meantime, it’s not only clothes that Paolo has bought from ukay-ukay stores. He has also bought shoes and bags. Among his favorite finds is a Burberry handbag which he brought for his mother. It cost him P2,500 (US$58), but it was not such a big deal because he was aware that had he brought it from a boutique, its price tag would have read P40,000 (US$930).

“Make sure than when find something amazing, don’t show it. If the salesperson sees you looking excited, the price would go up,” he says. Paolo says it’s better to keep poker-faced. He has succeeded in getting leather belts, shoes and bags with expensive name brands all below P500 (US$12) because he kept his excitement in check.

Paolo’s interest in fashion – ukay-ukay fashion – has also earned him a trip to New York courtesy of United Colors of Benetton.

In September last year, Paolo was chosen by the fashion giant to be one of its bloggers for its global casting call campaign. The organizers discovered his blog and invited him to fly free of charge to New York and participate in the week-long event. When there, he got to see fashion designers at work, models wearing the latest clothes on the runway. For three months, he wrote blog entries twice a week for Benetton about the Philippines.

“I suppose they liked it that I based my own personal sense of what’s fashionable on thrift clothes. Through the years I’ve been better at matching second hands clothes with new ones, and I wrote about it in my blog,” he said.

It goes without saying that Paolo sees nothing wrong about buying ukay-ukay the way some people do, citing reasons that have to do with hygiene and cleanliness.

“Of course you have to wash the clothes really well. Depending on the fabric, I soak the ukay-ukay clothes overnight and use fabric softener. For shoes, they’re trickier. Leather shoes are difficult to buy second hand because leather changes shape and adjusts to the shape of your foot. They also absorb sweat and smell, so if you’re buying second hand leather shoes, make sure they fit and make sure they don’t stink.”

In any case, Paolo says, there are shampoos for leather.

Finally, he says that he likes how ukay-ukay fashion is a metaphor for what’s happening in the Philippines and its political and economic history. He turns serious and pensive at times.

“Second hand culture, second hand values, second hand clothes. Because of how the Philippines has been colonized, it has been difficult for Filipinos to get it touch with what’s really inherently ours when it comes to culture. We have mixed sensibilities – good and bad. What’s terrible is that more often than not, the things we emulate or like from foreign cultures are not important, or even damaging. Excepting our indigenous brothers and sisters who are struggling to fight to keep their lands and their traditions, we have no genuine cultural identity. Everything second hand. At least second hand clothes are practical and useful,” he says.

Tips for the everyday fashionista

Paolo says that in the age of ukay-ukay, it doesn’t matter how expensive or how inexpensive your clothes and accessories are. What’s important is how you wear them. The following are some of this tips to look good no matter if you’re wearing ukay or boutique-bought clothes:

For an instant neat appearance, tuck your shirt in and wear a belt.

If you have a friendship band, wear it only with your friends – nililibag ang mga yan kasi tela.

Wear clothes that fit your shape and size. If you’re short, don’t wear too big shirts, maglalaho ka na. If you’re on the chubby side, stay away from tight-fitting clothes.

Wearing sandals make it necessary to maintain clean feet or at least clean toenails.

If you’re wearing formal shoes, wear socks that are long enough so they don’t show when you cross your legs.

Don’t use a bag that makes you look like you’re lugging a sack of flour sideways. Get a bag with compartments, para di bulky tignan.

If you can afford it, iron your clothes. Sobrang mahal ng kuryente! Kung di kaya, batakin mo na lang ang damit para matanggal ang lukot.

Don’t wear clashing jewelry, or too many accessories. Hindi maganda magmukhang Christmas tree.

If you’re wearing slippers, make it a point to wash them. Malinis nga paa mo, maputik naman tsinelas mo…

Open yourself to wearing new styles, but always remember that it’s all about picking clothes that complement your shape and size.

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7 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. Heya we are for the first time the following. I came across this particular mother board and i also locating It truly handy & the item taught me to be outside a good deal. I hope to supply something once more along with guide some others just like you solved the problem.

  2. Thank you for another informative web website. Where else could I am getting that kind of info written in this kind of an ideal way? I’ve a mission that I am simply now running on, and I’ve been at the look out for this kind of info.

  3. This is a very sad story – not only of one person – but of a whole class of people whose identity are defined by what they can buy rather than by what they can create.

    Also, wasn’t the ukay-ukay partly responsible for the decline of the Philippines garments and textiles industry?

    I hope that Bulatlat publish articles with a more critical and responsible social attitude, to try digging more under the surface and not just reflect and reinforce superficialities.

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