ode to the op-shop experience.

Can't wait for Monday.

Don't hear that too often? Well I'm serious, I can't wait.

On Monday, I'm going op-shopping with my mum. For the whole day :) Then we're going back to her house and rummaging through our finds and cooking roast potatoes, and it's going to be awesome. I haven't done this in so long, I can't even tell you. Sounds strange, seeing as I am a vintage dealer, but I don't source my vintage from opshops or markets any more. It comes from far-off lands, traded by pirates for ale, buxom wenches and salted meat. Or is brought to my pillow while I sleep, carried in the left ear of the BFG and laid down gently by my side. Obviously.

So I'm not looking for stock, I'm not really looking for anything. Op-shopping - or thrifting, is it now? It seems the popularity of sites like Lookbook is pushing this American term upon us, with trendy young Aussie thangs modelling their 'thrifted' cardigans etc. Granted, 'thrifting' has a certain ring to it. But dang it, I'm sticking with my outdated colloquialism.

Anywho, op-shopping just gives me this joy. You know? Do you know? People who love it know what I mean. You first enter the shop and there's the sense of possibility. Anything could be here. This is not like stepping into a normal shop, where the convenience of it all is almost nauseating – size, price, colour choice of every item all laid out to maximum visual effect. Oh no, in this place there's work to be done. Digging to be... dug. You earn your purchase here.

You survey the scene, do a first scan of the racks to decipher the order in which you will peruse and pursue. Is there a vintage rack? Get there. (Though experience will tell you this rack is more often than not completely disappointing and barely even vintage. Still, it's a magnetic force you cannot deny, so don't bother trying). Dress rack? Highest priority. Jackets? Best bargains can be found here. Bags and shoes – 99.9% hideous vinyl 90s atrocities, but occasionally there is 70s leather gold in dem hills, so get digging. Jeans? Mmmmm not so much. Unless you're one of those highwaisty cutoff shorty with florals and nerd spectacles-y type vintage wearers or dealers, which I am not. Not that there's anything wrong with that! It can be cute, but frankly, I'm getting a bit old mature for that type of jazzy scene.

Each op-shop has a presence. It's... the vibe of the thing, as someone cool in the 90s once said. Most of the time, you can kind of tell if it's going to harbour treasure or not. They're not all brilliant like they used to be in 1996, when my best friend and I would hunt for $1.50 fluffy Kurt Cobain grandpa cardigans. Now, if time is of the essence, you need to be selective. Note: Year 2000-era polyester Ice dresses for $10.50 displayed to the front of the shop on neat racks, Rockmans/Supre/Millers pieces priced higher than they were at full retail, and stained, fugly 80s sack dresses on the vintage rack for $25 a piece = BAD. Independent church-run store IN AN OLD CHURCH only open on Wednesdays and Fridays till 3pm, little old ladies behind the desk that take only cash and write hand-written receipts and gossip together over cucumber sandwiches, walls crammed with hideous and wonderful and old and new and brilliant and falling apart clothing, old dusty shelf piled high with boots, and a glass cabinet strewn with 80s costume jewels and glomesh bags = GOOD. This is where you find cashmere beaded cardigans for $3.50. This is where your red leather mary jane pumps come from. This is where that belted 70s Cue sz 6 trench is. This where you buy a Chanel dress for $9.

“But!” I hear you splutter in frustration, “you are fiendishly toying with my emotions! Such a place does not exist!” Well it does. I've been there. I bought those things. I have the hand-written cucumber-stained receipt to prove it. And when I retire... I'll tell you where it is.

That's not to say that brilliance can't be found in unlikely places. A couple of years back I went into a large, reasonably priced, but completely uninspiring op-shop with way too much time to kill. I sifted through every single rack, quite thoroughly, and found absolutely nothing. (I'm sure the lady behind the counter thought I was trying to steal something.) I was just about to walk out the door when this woman picked out – from where I still honestly cannot fathom, it must have been the lingerie rack, ALWAYS CHECK THE LINGERIE RACK – this dream of a 1960s dress. All strapless boned and full skirt, palest shell-pink tulle layers with a deeper raspberry shade underneath, little ribbon rosebuds at the waist. Heaven. Carrie Bradshaw would have taken one look at this dress and cooed, “hello lover”.

“Oh”, she says. “This is nice.” Nice? This is nice?! I scream internally. You're standing there with the embodiment of holy ecstasy in a dress and you think it's NICE? You don't deserve this dress.

“Jess”, she says to her friend, “I might just try this on.” HA!! I am triumphant. It's totally not going to fit. I am mentally buying and wearing this dress, I am skipping down a New York street and being carried into the sunset on the back of my dream man's trusty steed.

“Actually”, she pauses and turns back, “I won't bother. It's only $7.”

Crumbling. Drowning. Weeping. Dying.

I numbly watch her pay for my dress with loose change that barely buys a Maccas meal these days, find myself briefly wishing she get hit by a car as she steps out the door, squash said thought promptly due to its ridiculous and evil nature, and exit myself. So yeah, brilliance can be found in unlikely places, but it doesn't mean you'll be the one to find it.

But I guess that's just the universe balancing things out. Experiences like that have been greatly outweighed by the wonderful finds I have sold and kept over the years. A stunning 1970s acetate backless halter party dress, with an Asian-inspired floral print and a sweep that covered almost the whole of my bedroom floor. Amongst some tacky modern jewellery a 1950s sterling silver filigree cuff with real turquoise and coral stones. A thinner than thin nylon minidress covered in silky black fringe. A $2 satin scarf-print Medieveal-style 70s dress, with some minor damage, but I still use it as a costume piece. My slouchy Italian suede banana bag.

The strapless cream lace wedding dress I wish I never sold.

I wonder what I'll find on Monday?