I have always loved second-hand clothes shopping! I find the dusty, musty smell of second-hand stores relaxing. The slow, considered rifling through rails of clothes, for me, is almost meditative, culminating in the thrill of nabbing a bargain after rummaging for hours. There is a whole community of people like me, I know, I follow them on Instagram. I also know that for some, this style of shopping sounds like a living nightmare.
There seems to be a lot of stigma around second-hand and vintage clothes. For some it conjures up images of small, tightly stocked stores, a lack of sizing, musty smells, moths and loose hemlines, but I would ask you to keep an open mind and take a second look at items that already exist. Pre-loved clothes are more authentic, original and sustainable. It’s also an opportunity to slow down and consider every purchase. Remember, the real deal takes time!
Younger customers are becoming more conscious of the environmental impact of fashion. The sales of second-hand clothes are predicted to overtake the sales of new clothes in the next few years and the industry has seen more traction in second-hand, vintage and resell markets. Increasingly, new independent retailers are springing up, offering what is coined as modern vintage from the 70s/80s/90s and even the 2000s. My own online store Fir and Fable and designer resell apps like Vestiaire Collective, who offer designer clothing from previous seasons, have seen huge increases in sales in the last 3 years. Also, direct-to-charity sites like Thrift+ , where the proceeds of sales are donated to the charity of your choice, are inundated with donors. And it’s no wonder why.
In the last 20 years the fashion industry has seen radical changes in the demand for the latest trends, as seen on catwalks or worn by Instagram influencers. This has sent high street retailers into a whirl of churning out fast fashion, based on designer styles, for a tenth of the original price. But to turn a profit on low cost produce, retailers have to sell a lot of items. This means that vast quantities of clothes are produced and shipped around the world to ensure that consumers are offered new deliveries weekly or even daily when entering their store of choice. This constant supply and demand for clothing is taking its toll on our planet and is directly contributing to global warming. To put the true cost of fashion into perspective, the United Nations released a report that states a fifth of the world’s waste water is produced by the fashion industry every year and it is also responsible for between 8 – 10% of the total global carbon emissions.
It’s a sobering thought that 99% of the world’s footwear ends up in landfill and charity shops often receive more clothing than they can actually manage – a sharp reminder that nothing ever truly goes away, so why not take another look at things that already exist? Try taking part in Oxfam’s Second Hand September by only shopping second hand for 30 days or more. It’s a great way to kick off your new shopping habits and boost your wardrobe sustainably.
I have compiled some shopping tips based on my own experience to help you take your first steps:
- Visit your local charity shop or research online second-hand stores and vintage markets in your local area to support small businesses.
- Check all items over for moths and obvious stubborn stains but be prepared for the odd small mark, dropped hem or missing button.
- Look for great construction, quality fabrics and good design.
- Before you start shopping, know your size. Measure your chest, bust, waist, hips and inside leg.
- Don’t pay attention to sizes on the labelling. Sizing charts change each decade based on the average of the population. Instead, check the measurements provided or try on items in store.
- Always wash, mend or dry clean items before adding them to your wardrobe.
And for the more dedicated fashionistas:
- Use Pinterest or Instagram influencers to collate a wish list and then search for these items second-hand.
- Stay true to your style, you don’t have to look retro or like you’re wearing a costume. The trick is to look modern in vintage.
- Don’t be seduced by designer labels. Look for mid-range, high street labels from between 1980- 2000 as these are usually good quality and have been valued by previous owners and therefore looked after.
I hope that you are inspired to take up the ‘Buy Something Second-hand’ Challenge and I wish you luck finding your pre-loved treasures.
Maxine Groucutt, founder and owner of Fir and Fable Vintage.