Secondhand first in the wardrobe


I don’t enjoy shopping. Saturday afternoon in a shopping centre is my idea of time poorly and stressfully spent. I do however love an hour spent pottering around a street lined with charity shops, taking the time to hunt for bargains and to marvel at some of the stranger donations that have arrived onto the shop shelves. I’ve written in the past about second-hand wares in the home (read ‘the why’ and ‘the how’) but I’m immensely satisfied that most of my clothes are secondhand. Without the opportunity to pick the version of your desired item in any colour or size, shopping second-hand can be more challenging, but more rewarding for it.

Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years to help make the most of secondhand shopping:

Be patient. This is not a trait I’m particularly known for. As soon as I’ve identified something I want to change – in the house, at work – I’m instantly discontent with things as they are. I’ve learned though that it is better to be patient to buy the right second-hand thing rather than settling for something not quite right. It took months to find a pair of jeans that fitted AND that I actually liked, but it was worth waiting for them, rather than buying something just alright on either count that I would probably not wear. Having a list of things I’m looking for helps direct my searches.

Be decisive. This may seem to be contradictory to the previous point, but sometimes you have to grab something while it’s there. I haven’t always planned to come home with a new dress but stock changes quickly in charity shops, so sometimes if you like it and it works for you, purchase it immediately. I dallied for just 24 hours over a pair of sandals earlier this year to find they’d already been snapped up.

Be courageous. Ever late to the party (I finally joined Twitter in 2012 and just launched this blog in January this year), it’s only in recent years that I’ve begun enjoying fashion as a form of self-expression, finding how to balance what suits me and what I like. As charity shops are usually smaller than high street shops, I consider the options they offer in my size with a more open mind. Shopping secondhand I’ve tried on and subsequently purchased items I would never previously have considered. Initially uncertain items have become firm favourites.

Be creative. Learning a few basic sewing skills has greatly opened up the possibilities of secondhand items beyond the rails in my size. I’m no craft expert (read more about my recent venture into the crafting world here) but since learning to sew I’ve been able to look at clothes differently in charity shops – see the possibility of a fabric, or be confident that I can alter the fit of a dress that would be perfect three sizes smaller.

Be restrained. Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s right. Just because it’s second-hand doesn’t mean it’s not overconsumption. It can be tempting to go to town and buy unnecessary things just because they’re from a charity shop but if you still don’t need it, avoid buying more than you need.

And if none of the above work, you could always employ the ruthless strategy of befriending people with the same style and figure as you and hope they begin to pass some clothes on…

Learning all these things (no, not the ruthless friendships) means I enjoy the process and successes of secondhand shopping, as well as the sustainability benefits. This week is Secondhand First Week (November 23-29th 2015), which aims to raise awareness of and celebrate the role of secondhand in giving longer life to resources. You can join TRAID, the fashion reuse charity and creator of the week, by heading to one of their events or pledging to source even just a tiny part of your wardrobe secondhand. I’ll be wearing secondhand all week, adding my support on Twitter and Instagram to other secondhand shopping comrades declaring ‘secondhand first’, every time.

Find out more about Secondhand first here.

In a similar spirit, as an antidote to ‘Black Friday’ today, check out Buy Nothing Day – encouraging us to shop less and live more. 

The outfit was day four’s contribution to Secondhand First week. The skirt arrived with me initially as a pair of jeans from a clothes swap. They fitted at the waist but I didn’t like the style so got out the unpicker and the sewing machine to turn them into a denim maxi skirt. The navy top was passed on to me from a friend. The cardigan and necklace were charity shop finds. 

Today’s Soundtrack: Paolo Nutini // These Streets

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