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This festive season, give preloved fashion a chance

Dressing up during Diwali means buying something new but we no longer make special purchases just once a year. Is it time to revisit the tradition?

If you really want to shop, buy preloved clothing and accessories. They are good for the pocket and the environment.
If you really want to shop, buy preloved clothing and accessories. They are good for the pocket and the environment. (Unsplash)

Growing up it was a norm to wear only new clothes on Diwali. In fact, it extended to more than what we wore. The bed was dressed with new sheets, the table was adorned with new table linen—it was a day when everything had to be new and shiny, for the belief was Goddess Lakshmi was visiting the house and blessing us with health, wealth and happiness.

Over the years, one has, of course, understood there is more to the cultural and spiritual significance of Diwali but the dressing up aspect remains important. Looking for that special sari, lehnga, kurta, even new jewellery for Diwali and Dhanteras has become part of the festive routine. The popular belief is that purchases bring good luck and prosperity. Today, however, we do not make special purchases just once a year. So perhaps we need to revisit this tradition?

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According to Orsola de Castro, a global voice on sustainable fashion and the founder of Fashion Revolution, an international non-profit that is asking the industry to change its bad habits, “The most sustainable garment is the one already in your wardrobe”.

I followed the advice last year and it injected a new energy into Diwali dressing. The whole process of pulling the looks together can be not just fun, but can also make you appreciate what you own, something we often forget because we are always looking out, not in. And if you really want to shop, buy preloved clothing and accessories. They are good for the pocket and the environment.

Where’s Indian vintage though?

Poshmark, the peer-to-peer resale marketplace, recently entered the Indian market, just in time for the festive season. There is also Saritoria (which counts fashion entrepreneur Pernia Qureshi as one its co-founders), and several smaller, home-grown brands that offer enough festive season-specific pre-loved designer wear, and vintage clothing, the flavour of the season.

Suki Dusanj Lenz, the country head of Fashion Revolution India, succinctly explains the difference and significance of pre-loved and vintage wear: “Pre-loved clothing is what I call the storyteller of fashion, the one that has been worn before but not necessarily from an era per se. Vintage, on the other hand, is an aged item. I call it the fine wine of clothing, typically considered to belong to a bygone era anything from the 20s up to the 80s thereabouts. Typically, if it is over 100 years old it slips into potential antique clothing.”

While the market is flooded with pre-loved vintage options from labels like Chanel, Hermes and Gucci, there aren’t many Indian-specific ones. For the past few years, Mansi Poddar, co-founder of lifestyle website Brown Paper Bag, has been running One Amazing Thing, a pop-up that is all about conscious shopping, in her home city Mumbai.

Style maven Roohi Oomberhoy Jaikishan curates their Vintage Edit. Previous editions have included vintage and pre-loved items from Chanel, Dior (including the iconic newspaper dress from Galliano’s reign at the French fashion house) and Valentino to name a few. All proceeds go to charity. Indian wear hasn’t been included yet, as it’s not a category they focus on. But Poddar is open to it. “I think internationally the idea of vintage is far more luxurious than here at home,” she says.

Stores like New York’s What Comes Around Goes Around, Los Angeles’s Lily et Cie and Paris’ Resee, creating environments that make shopping vintage or preloved seem like a special experience abroad. “Online luxury platforms like Farfetch now include pre-loved in its edit. In India, however, not many are paying attention to the rich legacy we have. The few who do aren’t, frankly, doing a great job. Nothing I have seen on the platforms right now is calling out ‘buy me’,” she says.

Dusanj Lenz says, “Although I am hearing more and more stories of pre-loved dressing solutions, we have a long way to go. It requires a cultural shift. The more people hear about the relationship between fashion and the climate crisis, the more we will see a change in shopping and buying behaviour. Educating the consumer about the amount of carbon emissions released to get them one item of clothing in their wardrobe will hopefully make them rethink buying new for every occasion. Diwali is a celebration of light, good over evil and hopefully we turn our evil shopping deeds into positive ones.”

When it comes to jewellery, the same rules do not apply since remaking it or even buying old pieces are very much part of our shopping tradition. Jay Sagar, a jewellery expert at AstaGuru, an auction house known for its collectibles, says, “As compared to fashion, jewellery works differently in this space.”

Often older pieces have more value than old ones since they have a level of craftsmanship and finesse that is hard to find today. “These pieces are fascinating for their relevance, despite being created years ago. They are still relevant to today’s trends and fashion,” he says.

The latest fashion trend is to invest in the old, not new. Shop inside your closet, look at your clothes, remember what made them so special that they occupy a space in your house. And if you can’t deny the urge to buy, look for something pre-loved, it’s a step in the right direction.

Dress Sense is a monthly fashion column that takes a look at the clothes that we wear every day and what they mean to us.

Sujata Assomull is a journalist, author and a mindful fashion advocate.

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