Alexander Wang Dress, 90 Pesos

Actually it was a lot less than that, but it doesn’t make any difference because it was too small for me.
That it was too small for me is crucial, that meant I would have to give it to my sister.

Actual conversation:
“I got you an Alexander Wang for Uniqlo dress!”
“That’s great! Who is that?”
“Alexander Wang!”
“Oh. Okay. But thanks!”

The question of who Filipino fashion belongs to has always intrigued me, especially in this day when even the dirt poor have access to designer labels. I took advantage of this knowledge when I was in high school, and we would trek up to Baguio during summer vacations just to shop for clothes. The 7-hour trip has since been replaced by a habitual stroll or short drive to my nearest haunts. There are a handful in Cubao next to the train stations, another couple near Quezon Ave. (where I found the Alexander Wang, also two Tsumori Chisatos, an Anne Demeulemeester and a Betsey Johnson dress, and a Matthew Williamson blouse), and countless others in North Ave., Blumentritt, Taft, and pretty much all along the length of Edsa (prime real estate for any retail establishment).

Ukay“, meaning to rummage, is a lyrically ugly and unattractive word. I’ve been trying, since I started this entry, to work it in somewhere but it never seems to fit. “Thrifted’ and “rummaged” don’t quite capture the act of shoving pieces around on a rack that places no stock, no distinction when it comes to the primacy of labels–hence the occasional designer finds. The racks are manned by uncouth and often impatient women who treat the Ukay-ukay like their personal space (or their only space) that you, the shopper–you cheapass–are intruding upon. Your clues to this are in the food you find in the fitting rooms and the kitchenware beneath the racks.

Thrifting–despite the proliferation of Ukay-ukays throughout the Metro–will never find a large enough middle class market to actually threaten the state of Philippine retail, but the niche it has attracted is enough to raise questions about taste and style and where these slippery subjects come from. In other contexts it’s so easy to pinpoint the trendsetters as the upper classes from whom taste trickles down, but in the Philippines there can be a price difference of as much as 20,000% between two designer dresses. You would think that fashion is a phenomenon inextricably linked with class issues–especially in a society as highly stratified as that of the Philippines–but the reality of having the fashion illiterate running these establishments is enough to make you think twice.

Now that I’ve been working for nearly 2 years, my budget is no longer restricted to “thrifting”. But relative financial independence has hardly altered my shopping habits, particularly because I know what I’m looking for when I see a label, and can inscribe it with the multitude of subtexts the fashion industry wants me to read into it: things like “sexy” or “effortless” or “chic”. To my sister, as an example, this was just some khaki colored dress. But despite the less than desirable conditions in which the purchase was made, it was an Alexander Wang–at least that’s what the label said.

It is these conditions that manipulate, or rather downplay, desire. What use is a designer dress in a context that does not nurture design?

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