Second hand September – the catchy phrase you’ve probably seen floating around social media for the past month, and that I’m rather late to the bandwagon to write about but shall do so anyway. I haven’t strictly participated myself as I did buy two new items amongst a handful of charity shop clothes this September, but I’ve most definitely enjoyed the extra discussion it’s instigated. Attitudes towards second hand clothing – particularly in the blogger/influencer sphere – are a changing and that can never be a bad thing.
Re-winding a little, I distinctly remember being told by a teacher on a high school non-uniform day that I ‘looked like a walking Oxfam advert’. Now this individual wasn’t many students’ favourite teacher, and to be honest I might have been more concerned if she’d said she liked my outfit (tartan shorts with an owl print tshirt, oversized cardigan, knee high socks and ankle boots, just FYI). I really liked my outfit and couldn’t care less about her opinion, but the fact remains that a ‘walking Oxfam advert’ was most definitely meant as a (light-hearted) insult. I don’t know about you, but I’d quite like to be part of an Oxfam advert given the opportunity! ‘You look like you’re good at spotting bargains, curating an outfit from a random selection of clothes, shopping sustainably and supporting charity’ is how I’d like to interpret it anyway. Personally I’ve always loved getting thrifty and have spent many a Saturday morning pottering around charity shops, but there was definitely a stigma around them years ago that thankfully seems to be on its way out.
I can’t stand snobbery when it comes to second hand items – sure it’s nice to own brand spanking new things, nobody’s denying that, but what’s wrong with giving a new lease of life to something pre-loved? Absolutely nothing – often items (clothing, furniture…) are discarded because our tastes change or they’re just not right for our life any more, not because there’s actually anything wrong with them. Fair enough to draw the line at wearing a stranger’s old underwear, but clothes? Clothes often have years of life in them after the original owner has moved on. I remember an article in an interiors magazine about a couple who had bought a second home in the south of France and were clearly rather wealthy, but wanted everything in their home to have a story. I absolutely love that – these folks could clearly afford to kit out their fancy second home in brand new items floor to ceiling if they so wished, but instead chose to fill it with preloved items that they either restored, adapted, or just used in their original slightly worn state. A house like that appeals far more to me than one filled with everything brand spanking new, as does a wardrobe with a selection of handmade, new, and second hand clothes.
The #SecondhandSeptember discussion hasn’t been limited to social media, either; Mary Portas’ new BBC Radio 4 programme ‘On Style’ recently covered the topic, during which folks in Liverpool were asked about their personal style and attitude to second hand clothing. It made me love Scousers even more tbh, because nearly everyone on the programme said they loved, or were at least open to, second hand shopping. Last year the conversation around sustainability and fashion seemed to really kick off following that Stacey Dooley documentary, and since then I’ve seen a shift in conversation from ditching fast fashion to shopping second hand instead. Big hurrah for that! I’m all for celebrating that second hand is getting sexier, and the more prominent influencers like Emma Hill and Chloe Miles share their second hand finds, the more normal it will become. That said, I’m aware that whilst second hand is becoming more mainstream, it’s a necessity for some, and it’s important not to glamourise it too much.
Above photos by Photonomy Photography
As you’ve probably gathered, I’m certainly not new to thrifty shopping, and would consider myself pretty damn good at finding an ethical bargain. So I thought I’d share a few tips for folks looking to shop this way – let me know if you agree, or find any helpful!
Tips for thrifty shopping (from a self-proclaimed Charity Shop Queen)
Look in different areas. I tend to pop into charity shops whenever I pass one to be honest, be it when I’m in town, on my way to yoga, on a weekend away, in another town for any reason whatsoever… you get the idea. Different areas often have completely different styles and price ranges, so don’t write off charity shops altogether just because your local never has anything to tickle your fancy. Although I will add that it seems to be a completely different kettle of fish in London, where a Zara dress costs £25 in a charity shop… maybe getting thrifty in London is a whole different story. Anyway, shop around!
Be open to bolder pieces. Buying second hand is an opportunity to go a little more ‘out there’ with items you wouldn’t spend £50 on, but a fiver for something that isn’t damaging the planet? Why the hell not. It’s an excuse to be that little bit extra. For example, the bronzey dress above set me back a grand total of £1.50 – it’s not the kind of thing I’d wear on a regular basis, but I bought it because it fit so well and I thought it’d be cool for photoshoots. Paying full price for items just for photoshoots would be rather ridiculous, but £1.50 to charity isn’t so bad! When there’s less money and reduced environmental damage involved it’s easier to throw caution to the wind and go a little out of your comfort zone.
Look beyond your usual size. For a number of reasons – A) items are sometimes on the wrong hangers, B) you’re looking at rails filled with clothes from different stores and different decades, so there’s bound to be variation, and C) items can be styled totally differently to how they were originally worn. Still annoying when a beauuuutiful item just won’t fit however hard you try to make it though (looking at you, £12 Amanda Wakeley dress 2 sizes too big).
Be prepared to make adjustments. This is where it’s handy to know your way around a sewing machine/needle and thread, to save you missing out on fabulous clothes that almost fit but not quite. Case in point, the above pleated maxi skirt – it’s old Reiss and has a really cute slightly drop waist style, and also a not quite so cute gappy waist on me. But overall it’s very cute, so definitely worth quickly taking in the side seams for a perfect fit. For photo purposes it was pegged here (as are many skirts you see online – trust me!) but only because I haven’t got round to sewing it yet.
I didn’t consciously choose to pack so many second hand items for recent portfolio shoots, but as it turns out the beige maxi skirt, black jacket around my shoulders, black trench coat, pink jacket, bronze dress, and white boots were all second hand purchases, mainly from charity shops with a vintage store and EBay bargain in there too. The brown knee boots are one of my two new purchases this month – I knew they’ll always be a very ‘me’ item, so picked up a new pair in a classic style that I’ll hopefully wear for years. With second hand outfits, of course!
What’s your favourite second hand purchase, and who should I look to for thrifty inspo?
Lily Kate x