I first came across the word “ukay-ukay” from my mother-in-law who lives somewhere in Benguet. It was circa 1992. Just so everyone knows what ukay-ukay means, let me quote my daughter:
Simply put, ukay-ukay is thrifting/thrift-store shopping, Philippine-style. I say ““Philippine style” because ukay stores are not so much clean, brightly-lit places like the ones you see in malls as they are hole-in-the-wall outlets that are often dusty and disorganized. Clothes are generally arranged according to tops, dresses, jeans, etc., but there are racks and racks of them and sometimes, piles and piles of them. Which is why the thrift-store shopping experience is called ukay. The word ukay is a Visayan word that literally means ““to dig through” (source: my mom, who speaks Bisaya) and ukay-ukay shopping can sometimes involve hours of wading through junk (and suffering from sneezing fits) to find dirt-cheap fashion gems.
Now that everyone knows what ukay-ukay means, allow me to give you a history of how ukay-ukay became such a hit with my girls.
One day, mom gave me a bunch of lovely children’s clothes. “Used clothing?”, I thought it was only meant for those that can’t afford to buy clothes. But when I saw the array of unique children’s clothes on my sofa, hmm…I thought it was cute enough to wear at the oath taking of my father-in-law at the Malacanang Palace. The girls never knew it was ukay-ukay clothing until they were in college. Not that it mattered. Lauren seemed fascinated with sailor clothes that she’d often buy marine-themed tops or skirts. Apparently, she had fond memories of this particular sailor dress. I told her that the dress she wore in Malacanang was ukay-ukay. She seemed pleasantly surprised.
When my mom-in-law told me the cost of each of the children’s clothes, I was amazed at the low prices and the good quality despite being used clothing. Those clothes above cost around 20 to 30 pesos during those days. Mom, a talented crafts person bought these ukay clothes for her beautiful quilt projects. She’d cut up the dress and use the fabric for her grandmother’s quilt. I got sucked in to grandmother quilt projects myself but until now, I still have to finish working on it. Most often, she’d be in the lookout for clothes for her grandchildren until they reached their pre-teen years. What a sweet grandma she is.