I’ll be honest. Until last year, the last time I had bought something second-hand, I was listening to grunge and had dyed my hair purple. I was a young teenager and it was circa 1994, don’t judge me. Since then, I’ve had a view of vintage stores being more of a political than a fashion statement. Some smelled a bit.
But loving our (or someone else’s) clothes for longer, is one of the easiest and most powerful things to do to help topple the fashion industry from its place as the second most polluting industry globally and donating clothes to charity regularly does not necessarily count as a good deed. Charities often receive far more donations than they can possibly sell.
And so my work in sustainable fashion with FreeRange Fashion made me give vintage shopping another try. As it turns out, my idea of it could not have been more outdated. When vintage fashion is done well, the quality of the garments is far superior to what you can buy on the high street these days, and that includes some of the premium brands. I now own a few second-hand pieces that are more than 20 years old. I don’t own anything from a large, mass-producing fashion brand that has lasted that long, even if my 14-year-old denim jacket is giving it a really good go.
There are many vintage stores, or, dare I say it, charity shops that carry beautiful, and often flawless, even unworn items. Here are three tips for getting the most out of them:
Firstly, have some imagination. These are not places that lure you in with beautiful branding, images of models taller and thinner (and probably more photo-shopped) than you, or, sadly, topless guys standing in their entrance. So look at an item and imagine it in a different context: ‘Would I like this if I saw it in Anthropologie?’
Secondly, either learn basic sewing skills to take a hem up or in, or pay a tailor £5 to make a vintage find made-to-measure. Personally, I have learnt that my enthusiasm for sewing vastly exceeds my skill. While I’ve done good work on a silk top, I’ve totally butchered a more intricate dress. So next time the tailor it is. Still worth it, financially and otherwise.
Thirdly, exercise some caution with second-hand items from cheaper brands. Second hand is not necessarily vintage. If you can tell by the label that something is truly 10+ years old and the details (hems, buttons) are still intact, you know you are looking at true quality. If it’s more recent and from a midrange brand, its condition should tell you whether it’s a good purchase. It absolutely can be, but if it’s a poorly manufactured piece, most likely it won’t.
Here are a few of an increasing number of online stores that do second hand fashion really well.
Launched in 2009, this online market place offers beautiful pre-loved clothes from medium to the very high end, so it’s great even for a more corporate wardrobe. You’ll find everything from Cos dresses and half-price 7 For all Mankind jeans, to gently used luxury handbags. That means you may or may not save money from shopping there, but you’ll have definitely upped your environmental bank balance. See more here.
An incredible gem of a place in London’s Brixton Village.The small online offering belies the larger, but carefully curated range of cotton shirts, lace dresses and leather accessories. So beautiful, it can only be French. See more here.
Yes, their branding needs a major overhaul, but trust me, it’s good. Their website is an imperfect representation of the quality of their five stores across the UK and one in Sweden, as I happened to find a beautiful, silk dress in a retro print in one recently. If anyone asks, it’ll be ‘Vintage Erdem’. Noone will ever know. Learn more about them here.
Ebay and Etsy
Obviously. Where else would you find beautiful and truly one-off pieces, some made of luxurious fabrics like raw silk, all for the price of lunch? Think you couldn’t afford sustainable fashion? Think again! One boutique I’ve enjoyed shopping at is Cat Called Esteban, but there are too many great one to list them, have a look.