Manual Excursion: Pasar Senen

By Hana Oktavia A.
22nd November 2019
In this round of Manual Excursion, we stepped our way to the centre of fashionable hand-me-downs and vintage pre-loved garments in the long-established Pasar Senen.

If you were to adopt the returning trend of vintage ensembles, then you must have heard of thrift-shopping and Pasar Senen. Stationed at the heart of the city, the jammed marketplace has been established as far back as the 18th century with a baggage of untold episodes of the past as much as it holds a mound of pre-owned clothing today. 

Built even before our country proclaimed its independence, Pasar Senen wasn’t so much like how we know it now. Instead, the marketplace was a place of rendezvous where heroes of the past came to share their common ground: thousands of intellectual conversations, revolutionary ideas, creative forums from respected artists and political figures, all took place within the premises of Pasar Senen, the very site where traditional Chinese medicines, kitchen utensils and so-called vintage apparel are now traded. 

However, Pasar Senen eventually began to shift function as a trading centre when it hit the nineties. Though the site has been renovated time and time again, the building still operates as an all-in-one plaza where miscellaneous needs are sold under one roof. 

Like many trade centres in the city, Pasar Senen isn’t as different on the first three levels where each level aggregates specific types of good. Run of the mill kitchen utensils, cosmetics and medicines and traditional local snacks (kue basah) and the wet market are settled on the first floor. As one goes up level by level, goods ranging from jewelries, sewing workshops designing professional uniforms, glasses, made-to-order medals and trophies to time-worn hand watches abound as each merchant continuously shout their best deals to market goers within an earshot.

But a visit to Pasar Senen would be hasty without the thrifting. Once you reach the fourth floor, the simultaneous yells from the merchants will welcome you into a floor-wide maze of second-hand clothes. In here, your shopping experience is never quiet, as the anthem “Seratus ribu tiga, yang cantik kasih murah!” (One hundred for three, the prettier the better the deal!) bawls repeatedly like a broken cassette while a manifold of pre-owned garments is at your disposition to browse through.

Much like discovering a walk-in closet where you would find all the cool vintage apparel your parents used to wear: bootcut jeans, corduroy trousers, parachute jacket to oversized animal-printed shirts, this size of a wardrobe will easily overwhelm the casual shopper. Otherwise, the savvy thrifter can be found roaming one rack to another relentlessly to find the coveted piece they’re looking for.

The madness that goes on could pressure you to believe that the art of haggling is a prerequisite. However, why banter for less than IDR 25,000 for a unique vintage piece that you will never find again? If you don’t snatch it there, then someone else will likely rock their new find. Or worse, you could see the coveted garment for three times the price in online thrift shop accounts. Why risk? Like they say, finders keepers, losers weepers. 

It leaves one wondering where the traders get piles and piles of clothes that found their way to Pasar Senen’s thrift market. Still, perhaps the mystery will not be uncovered, but nonetheless a good affair for the astute eye who can spot and style entire outfits stylish outfit after a day trip. While nostalgia is back in trend, perhaps a visit to Pasar Senen is due. 

An eventful site to the elders and a thrift haven to the young, Pasar Senen falls under the list of places that deserve a glance for one’s next excursion.