I’m going to be straight with you here in saying that the used-clothing game in Tokyo is on a whole other game-changing level, a level set high above anywhere else in this world as far as I'm aware. Now that’s a big call, because in the scheme of things, I am familiar with only a tiny piece of the global vintage industry, but I don’t think I’d be far off even if I am wrong. Thrift shops, geriatrics selling their clothes on sidewalks in front of their restaurants and homes, worn designer flea markets, chain stores with whole production lines of revamping second hand items behind the scenes and so very much more; I can concur, Tokyo knows what’s up.
I couldn’t have picked a worse day to venture downtown to scope the whole scene out. The saying is “not a cloud in the sky”, right? Well, today was whatever the opposite of that is. The Harajuku area is bursting to the seams with shopping opportunities, but if you’re looking for the good stuff, retreating into the big malls won’t do you much good despite it guaranteeing a nice and dry, pneumonia-free day.
Hence I was left out in the open, wandering the back-streets that boast low-key boutiques and international flagships that are known to keep mouths (and eyes) watering for hours. I didn’t mind. No amount of rain can dampen my love for hunting down a pair of worn chucks or a fiiiine corduroy coat. Besides, there was a certain warmth that came with stepping inside a mecca of pre-loved clothing that at least kept me cosy on the inside.
Not only are vintage stores in abundance in Tokyo, but serious quality is a real life thing too. Back home in Brisbane there’s an op-shop in almost every suburb, and even if a suburb is lacking then their share can probably be accounted for in suburbs like West End, Woolangabba or Annerly which host several each. There’s monthly markets and online platforms that allow for even more second-hand trade. However, finding a winner in my local Vinnies is as likely an occurrence as finding snow in Australia is. Sure I might luck out big time one day, but on most I’d be fortunate to spot a single item of clothing that doesn’t look like something Britney (Spears) wore in her darker years.
Here in Tokyo, it’s like the shop knows what I’m looking for before I even walk in. Hell I don’t even know what I’m looking for until I walk in and there it is, on the first rack I inspect. Denim for days, groovy prescription glasses and aged varsity sweatshirts all in near mint-condition, I spent three days in a row in the following thrift stores and would still go back for more…
Chicago - Several Stores to chose from but Harajuku was my favourite of them all. Specialises in denim, knitted-jumpers, old school sports brands and pretty much everything else...
Flamingo - Again, a number of Flamingo stores located in the area but this one in Jingumae was my favourite. Cool stock included: a wide-range of 80s windbreakers, tonnes of shoes, classic caps and bucket hats and other fun accessories like badges, bandanas and the glasses to the right.
Kinji Used Clothing - Definitely the biggest store on the list, Kinji could be described as a slightly upmarket Salvos superstore. Prices and quality in this basement store are almost on par with those back home, probably the place to go if you are looking for something cheap and cheerful rather than a unique, one-off.
Caliente - Super cool collection in Caliente, but mostly men's items on offer. Despite this, would have easily bought a few things (it's not like people let gender "rules" govern how they dress these days anyway) - great selection of backpacks, bombers and denim jackets. Staff are wicked, too.
Santa Monica - Stumbled upon this store on the main street that cut's through Harajuku and Ometsando and glad I'm did. Awesome interior and the collection is carefully curated. The button-ups on offer were really neat, as were the anoraks, long coats and military jackets too.
RAGTAG - This bad boy is a chain of 15 something stores in Japan that buy and sell secondhand designer goods. Not quite the vibe I was going for on the day, but I did spot a few awesome buys that weren't totally outta my price range either. If i was looking for an Isabel Marant shift I would have totally gotten on board... and then left with very little change in my pocket and a day of exploring cut short.
Panama Boy - Found this gem on my last day in Tokyo and boy do I wish I found it sooner. I tried approximately 300 items on. Lots of pastel graphic tee's, paisely shorts, vintage spray jackets, two-pieces and a funky selection of skirts and dresses my mum would have worn back in the day - an old Ken Done print dress was a particular stand out and you'd be happy to know I am now his owner.
The fashion scene in general here is a noteworthy accolade for a society already known for achieving success in many a field. May it be their invention of high-tech toilets or advancements in household electronics across the board, this is a nation that already has so many fields covered. If I may, I'd also like to take this moment to congratulate the youth of Japan, and even their elders, for introducing sock-envy to me, because Christ was their sock game on point too. I don't know if it's even worth trying to compete against these folks and their feet accessory co-ordinating wizardry. Be my guest, though, so long as you know you have big shoes (socks?) to fill.
The Japanese take pride in their sense of style, whether they mean it to be a fashion statement or not. This is particularly evident in the state in which these 'used' clothes are sold in. More often than not, they seem brand new - not in a stiff and shiny kind of way, but in terms of being hole-less and stain-free (unless the stain or hole is adding character to the piece and in this case is on show). Despite being clean as can be in this manner, the pair of 550 Levi's I eyed off in Chicago somehow still felt rugged and pre-loved, characteristics which resulted in an automatic predisposition for now winning over my love too.
On the downside.. much like everything else in Japan, many pieces on offer can be a little bit pricey. I wouldn’t go anywhere close to calling them over-priced, but if you’re looking for a $2 salvos bargain you won’t find one here. For me at least, I’m happy to lash out on a $25 knitted jumper, or $45 on the said pair of Levi’s, in the name of salvaging great clothes that have been taken even better care of.
Why not? Sure, it’s easy to overspend to a point where you might slaughter your budget but in 'Tokyo Drift' (2006), Han says “life’s simple, you make choices and you don’t look back.” And when you’re shopping in Tokyo Thrift(stores), this couldn’t be more true.
Words and images by Elli Webb