Second-hand September – what is it all about?
This is Oxfam’s campaign to encourage us to buy only second-hand clothing during September in a bid to stop clothing being dumped in landfill or being shipped off to third world countries and dumped there.
How many clothes go to landfill?
We in the UK send on average about the size of a small suitcase of clothes per person to the tip each year. However, there are alternatives to throwing items away.
Most of the clothing we wear can be reworn, recycled or repurposed and it is often all too easy just to discard it when we are bored of it. In my view, we should do all that we can to reduce the damage caused to the environment by the fashion industry, and joining Secondhand September is my small part in the wider effort.
What do you think about buying preloved clothes?
It is no hardship to me to buy second-hand as those closest to me can attest – I do love a bargain!! These days I prefer to call second-hand clothing preloved - after all, someone must have loved the item enough to buy it, even if they didn’t keep it for long. And if I buy older items, I love to imagine who has worn them before and for what occasion. To me, older and previously worn clothes come with a story which immediately makes them interesting.
I also find that vintage clothes especially suit my body shape and style personality very well in a way that modern styles don’t always do. Buying preloved is a great way of getting some unusual and different pieces in my wardrobe. Unique is good!!
However, chatting to other women made me realise that not everyone thinks the same. Some people cannot bear the idea of wearing clothes that other people have previously worn, no matter how clean and pressed the garments are. I canvassed some opinions and you have a snapshot of the results below.
Positive attitudes - why choose second-hand clothes?
Some respondents absolutely adore second-hand garments and they never buy anything else because they have access to great outlets and can find items which perfectly flatter them. They also love the opportunity to experiment and push boundaries, which they would never have pushed when paying full price. It gives them the freedom to play without it making a huge hole in their budget – it’s a great way to make the financial risk manageable.
It’s also a great way of keeping costs down and buying expensive brands which they could not otherwise afford. Someone cited a Mulberry handbag and Jaegar clothing which they could not afford at full price. And yet another person managed to get a designer suit from a thrift store in the States for an important job interview: normally it would have cost $2-3K but she managed to buy it for $25 which really helped her at the time.
The challenge is knowing your size for different brands when buying second-hand online. However, one person is really pragmatic and says, “If I get it wrong, I put it back on the site and resell it. The only things I don't buy second hand are knickers and socks.” I have to say that I do the same as this person.
Another person who loves the idea of buying pre-loved and has done so quite often finds it much more tricky online as it’s not always easy to return items (compared to buying new) if they’re not right for you when they arrive. The key thing that tips the balance for many people is knowing the right colours and style so that they avoid the more obvious pitfalls.
Interestingly, most said that they would prefer to buy from strangers than friends, via online sites or charity stores, because there is less chance of seeing the original owner and having them look at you in ‘their’ clothes. That view fascinates me as it isn’t a view I share; I buy/swap equally with friends, family and strangers. In fact, I love it when someone I know is wearing something that I have passed on – usually because they look so much better than I ever did in it!!!
Negative views about second-hand shopping
These are also legitimate views – not everyone likes the idea of having something next to their skin that has previously been next to someone else’s. In my previous job, my colleague disliked the idea of reading library books as someone else had handled them before her – interesting take when she was a librarian like me! And our prejudices and likes/dislikes are very personal: some are very happy to buy shoes and coats but nothing else; others can’t stand the thought of literally putting their feet into someone else’s shoes.
The biggest downside which is often commented on, is the inability to correctly establish the colour and feel of the fabric from online second-hand shops such as Vinted or Depop. The difficulty of not being able to return second-hand items in a way that you can new was cited very often as a deterrent.
At least in charity shops you get to look, and feel, and (perhaps soon) to try on. But here I found there were yet more negative views to overcome.
People expressed their dislike of the smell of charity shops – though to be fair, this is less of an issue these days since clothing is usually steam cleaned before being hung out; they also felt that there was some prejudice against buying from charity shops. This wasn’t fully expressed but I guess that there is still a hang over from the past in that people feel that when they buy from charity shops they are like poor relations who end up with someone else’s cast offs.
Some also expressed the view that charity shops were overpriced, but I would counter that by saying that their express purpose is to raise much-needed funds, so inevitably they want to make money from their sales. However, that said, there is clearly some lingering stigma which organisations, such as Oxfam, will have to work to overcome.
When do second-hand items become vintage?
Well, true vintage is really for items at least fifty years old, but generally speaking they would be 20 years or more. Vintage items are more desirable because they are truly old and rarer, and so have a value which something in a charity shop dating from two years ago just doesn’t have. Here, buying second-hand is a conscious fashion style choice. If this is your choice, then you have to buy second-hand because there is no such thing as new vintage!
My overall findings…
As with most things, I found that people’s views covered a really wide spectrum of opinion, but that on the whole those I canvassed were favourable to buying at least a few items second-hand.
I loved doing this challenge – though I bought very little during September as I have few gaps in my wardrobe. I did wear lots of the second-hand and preloved clothes that I have been buying throughout this year.
On examining my and other people's responses, the key to making this a successful activity is really to know your best colours, style and be clear on your size. Otherwise you can waste lots of time hunting down items. Knowing your personal style profile prevents all of this and means that you can become an expert bargain spotter!
When you do, it enables you to hone your searches and be very clear about what you are looking for. I have bought and exchanged lots during 2021 and have only made one mistake – a dress which is too long for me and which I cannot shorten because of the pattern. I’m sad as I really like it very much but I shall resell it and someone else will benefit from it instead.
I will now say goodbye to Second-hand September, and hello second-hand life!
Do you want to make fewer mistakes? Are you unsure about what to look for? I can help you to shop online or in person - whether new or secondhand. Get in touch and let's get that shopping trip into your diary!
Email me on email@example.com or ring me on 07790 653669
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