by Hayley Doyle
Do you remember being allowed to go clothes shopping alone for the first time? Perhaps with your friends, but certainly without a grown-up! Did you take your saved pocket money? Your birthday money? Had you recently started a Saturday or after school job, ready to spend your first month’s wages? The High Street and it’s trendy clothes shops called our names loud and clear. An array of replicas we’d seen in magazines tempted us to splash our cash and do the catwalk in our bedrooms. Ah, those were the days…
Well, those days started us on a lifelong journey towards creating our own style. We figured out what we liked, what we didn’t like. We fell in love with certain brands. We learnt what worked for us, and - with fond memories of trial and error - what didn’t work for us. There was something exciting about coming home with lots of bags filled with new togs and tags. Especially when the tag was super affordable. So now that the fast fashion industry is under scrutiny from the negative social and environmental impact it creates, you might be worried about how to buy clothes with a clear conscience and without breaking the bank. Fast fashion has to slow down. But how do we change a habit of a lifetime?
Avoiding fast fashion does not mean only shopping for expensive designer gear.
Nor does it mean wearing ‘old lady clothes’. (I mean, it can. If you like old lady clothes.)
When I left university, the only second-hand clothes I’d ever bought were garments from the local charity shop to create some sort of fancy dress costume for Halloween or some crazy student party. I’d shop for my real clothes in the usual suspects; Topshop, Miss Selfridge, H&M… Until I was introduced to the Salvation Army shop just off Oxford Circus in London by a friend with incredible style. She mixed her high street with second-hand, pulling off outfits that were retro inspired and her top tip; a big, brown leather belt. Looking through the rails and rails of colourful clothing in this shop, I picked out a dress that stood out to me. Floral pattern, top quality and never a need for an iron, I tried it on. My friend offered me a selection of unique belts to try. I couldn’t believe how much I loved this new me. It was as if I didn’t choose the dress, but instead, the dress chose me. It was waiting for me.
Sounds silly, doesn’t it? But after that experience, I started to see high street shops in a different light. When I went into them, the shop was telling me what I had to buy. It displayed its latest stock for my eyes to be drawn towards, the rails enticing me, making me believe that I had to have it. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be “in fashion”. I’d be soooo last season. Whereas, when I nipped around the corner to the Salvation Army shop, every single item was different. Nothing was forced upon me. What worked for me wouldn’t work for the customer before or after me.
My journey into second-hand shopping had begun.
My style became floral dresses with belts and boots, a cardigan or denim jacket, and perhaps a beret for when it got chilly. I grew in confidence to try new things; playsuits, evening dresses, loose shirts. I never imagined I’d be the kind of girl to pull off a US army shirt as a jacket, but hey, never say never! My wardrobe was full of colour and throwbacks. I would get my essentials at the high street; black polo neck, jeans, trainers, leggings. But taking that chance at a second-hand shop allowed me to experiment. My hobby became seeking out vintage stores, retro shops, anywhere that had rails and rails of individuality. One of my favourite ever outfits was a yellow 60s summer dress that I wore with white patent leather shoes for a friend’s wedding. I have never felt so attractive and comfortable… and guess what? The dress had cost a grand total of £8. Plus, I didn’t have to worry about twinning with another guest!
Over the years, at various points in my life, I admit that I’ve been drawn back into the high street chains. I had children. I moved countries. I changed jobs. Subconsciously, my style evolved. Naturally. But one thing I started to notice was how dark my clothes had become. I was wearing a lot of black. I remained loyal to vintage for special occasions, including my wedding dress, but my everyday style had started to spiral downwards into fast fashion.
So recently, I made the effort to go back to my love of second-hand. And let me say, it’s been no effort at all!
It’s so much LESS effort than buying high street brands online; trying the items on to realise that they look remarkably different on me than on the high street model! Then having to package the items back up and post them, OR, worse… keep the items I dislike because I can’t be bothered with the hassle of sending them back.
I have realised that second-hand clothes shopping isn’t about just finding bright 60s dresses, but it’s about finding anything you feel comfortable in. Last week, I bought a Christmas jumper, a smart black sweater, a sparkly party top and a bold pattern dress that I can dress up with heels or down with trainers, all for less than £50. The quality of every item is perfect.
So here are my top tips for second-hand shopping - wherever you are in the world:
Luckily, many fantastic boutiques are online and ship worldwide. Instagram is your best friend when it comes to inspiration. But check out All About Audrey for beautiful boho styles, Beyond Retro for brilliantly priced items from plain Jane to plain crazy, and Vinted for pretty much anything you want to search for!
Suggest a clothes swap with your pals. We’ve all got clothes we don’t want anymore, but how often do you wish you had that lovely sweater your friend might actually be bored of?! Any excuse for a girls night in, yeah?
Get away from thinking that charity shops are for old people! They are for all people! If what you need is a black t-shirt, then you’re very likely to find one in there. Or, you could succumb to fast fashion for a higher price and a heavier heart…
Try on LOTS of things. Remember, a second-hand shop isn’t forcing you to buy it’s latest trends. You are looking for YOU. If a certain splash of colour takes your fancy for a moment, try it on. Even if you think, hmm, that’s not me… You might be pleasantly surprised. So many items I ‘gave a go’ in the changing room have turned out to be some of my most treasured outfits.
Size does not matter. And even more so with second-hand. You aren’t looking through items to see if the shop happens to have ordered a size to fit you. You’re looking at individual items. So you’ll only find what’s right for you.