Ukay? Okay! The Art and Science of Rummaging

By , on August 14, 2013


Do not be overwhelmed by the sea of choices.
Do not be overwhelmed by the sea of choices.

“UK” is a more glamorized term for “ukay-ukay.” An ukay-ukay is a store that sells second-hand clothes and knick-knacks for a fraction of the cost. The term “ukay” came from the Tagalog word “hukay,” which means “to dig” and that’s exactly what you have to do if you want glorious finds that won’t put a dent in your wallet.

Another variation of the ukay-ukay is called “wag-wagan” where you have to “wag-wag” or “shake off” whatever you find among the heaps of clothes laid out along the side of the street or the store.

Nowadays, ukay-ukays have evolved — from selling second-hand clothing to offering unused, branded clothing. Most shipments come from Hong Kong and United States, often carrying clothing, household items, books, shoes, bags, accessories, and other surplus goods.

Shopping at an ukay-ukay is a great experience for various reasons.

Shoes galore! Shoes for just 1/3 of their regular price. Photo from author's Instagram account.
Shoes galore! Shoes for just 1/3 of their regular price. Photo from author’s Instagram account.

One of a kind pieces. Most of the time, you will find one-of-a-kind pieces of clothing or accessories in an ukay-ukay, which is great because most people shop at branded stores and they end up bumping into a dozen other people who are wearing the same shirt.

Branded items for a bird’s song. I almost feel guilty whenever I go to an ukay-ukay and chance upon a Liz Clairborne top or old school Adidas running shorts for a fraction of what they’d normally cost if you buy them in a mall. It’s almost like stealing. But lo and behold, I tuck them under my arm and rummage through the pile and make my way triumphantly to the counter. That’s just how it is at an ukay-ukay.

A sea of choices. Since these ukay-ukays open shipments by the ton (okay, well, maybe not a ton exactly), you will have to swim through a sea of choices to find what you’re looking for. But believe me, if you do find a great item, the satisfaction is something short of a graduation rite. It’s like a gigantic achievement — nobody else has that item but you. Congratulations.

A white casual dress in pristine condition for just PhP 165.00!
A white casual dress in pristine condition for just PhP 165.00!

Here are a few tips to survive and succeed in an ukay-ukay.

  • Be patient. There are probably hundreds of pieces of clothing that you’ll have to get through in order to find something that you like. Just consider it as a work-out for your arms.
  • Don’t be afraid to try it on. Since most items are unique, it might be a little difficult to find something in your size and sometimes eyballing just won’t cut it. Most ukay-ukays now have changing rooms where you can try on clothes.
  • If you find a stain on it, there’s a 99% chance it will never come off. Most items are sold as is — whether in mint or terrible condition.
  • Do not be overwhelmed or intimidated by what’s ahead of you. Whether it’s one of those gigantic ukay-ukay “malls” like the one next to MRT North EDSA and Tagaytay City, or one of those hole-in-the-wall stores like the ones along the alleys of Baguio City, you should shop with a sense of purpose: what am I looking for? How much am I willing to spend on it?

Rummaging through an ukay-ukay is an art and a science, and maybe even a little bit of magic or chance. But once you get the hang of checking out these shopping havens, you will definitely come scouring back for more.

Happy rummaging!