Shopping second-hand; pre-loved clothing.

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This post is the first of a series on shopping second-hand, beginning with clothing.

I have always been a magpie. It began with stacks of Vogue in my teenage bedroom, weekends spent in city centres and Topshop bags toted like an identifier. Then graduated to much smaller things- like newborn size smaller - of high street baby clothes and the Instagram brands worn on the backs of influencer infants. It’s the shiny things that catch from the corner of my gaze, the things found at 10pm on your laptop that you didn’t know existed and you now desperately need. I’m still a magpie, I’ll admit. But hopefully a far more ethical and sustainable magpie than I once was.

I deeply believe that in this world of buy, buy, buy, teaching children the value of objects is, well, invaluable. Things that can easily be bought from a store and then just as easily be disposed of are contributing to a throw-away attitude. Imagine the value of an item that was much-wanted and hard-searched-for, gifted down from a child who loved it hard before, and then used well and loved more, before being passed over again to yet another.

While shopping ethically and sustainably is good, it’s second-hand shopping that can make the most impact. In doing so we are saving things destined for a life in landfill, creating a more circular economy, shopping cheaper and smarter, and actively preventing the production and consumption of new materials.

It also has my heart too, I’ve found that our second-hand finds are more loved and cherished by me sometimes due to the thrill of finding a good piece amongst the unloved; the handing down of a well-loved piece from a good friend; or simply the joy of rescuing something you know would have otherwise been quite lost and wasted.

Second-hand shopping, however, can be time-consuming, hard work and difficult to fit into your schedule. I don’t know if we will ever shop truly second-hand, but I count any item of clothing saved from landfill as a win. It can also seem counter-intuitive, if you have to drive X amount of miles to collect just one item for example. Do what works for you and your family, and don’t overload yourself.

HOW TO SHOP SECOND-HAND Clothing

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SHOPPING.

  • Capsule wardrobe is key. Shopping second-hand means that when things pop up it can be tempting to just buy them, I did this and it meant I ended up with a wardrobe for Eilish that was mismatched and felt like she had nothing in it. Instead, I’ve found it much more helpful to create some kind of capsule wardrobe. Try buying a couple of pieces you love and then shopping around that colour palette, or making list of items you need, eg six tops, three pairs of leggings, two cardigans etc.

  • Shop around your size, not in it. The discrepancy of sizes from shop to shop is vast, so shop in the margins too. For children that might mean sizing up - a bonus for clothes that fit much longer, lots of more ethical brands already create fits that look good oversized for this reason - and for adults this looks more like figuring out which brands fit best in which sizes. A small or large might fit more like a medium for example.

  • And forget genders. I always hunt around the “boys section” whether that be in store or online. Firstly, because I feel gendered clothing is damaging, and secondly because I often find some great treasures. I much prefer clothing from unisex brands for this reason also.

  • Type keywords not specifics. Shopping online often throws up so many random results that it can feel overwhelming trying to find things we like. Play around with what you might be typing into search bars, for example instead of “mini boden striped leggings 2-3”, I’d type in “striped 2-3”, “mini boden 2-3”, or just “mini boden leggings”.

  • Be prepared to wait it out. If there’s something you truly need or want, it can seem frustrating to have to wait for it to appear. If you can do so I applaud you, you are a much better person than I. But as they say “good things come to those who wait”. Save your searches so you’ll get notification when things are added and try doing so with a few different phrasings.

  • Always ask. If there’s a charity shop that you often frequent, ask if they would be willing to hold any items that they think you might want. The same goes for an online seller, if I see someone of Facebook selling an item of children’s clothing that I like, I will always click on their profile to see what else they’re selling.

  • Still buy quality, if you can. Changing the mindset of clothes being just worth the wear that we get out of them is hard. In my mind this applies to children’s clothes more than any other, but try to think beyond the time that you will be using that item; caring well for clothes and buying second-hand but good quality brands ensures that our clothes will last for another person, and hopefully another after that.

  • Ask for low-waste packaging. If you’re buying from a seller online, ask if they are able to package your item in something they already have or at the least some kind of reusable packaging.

who to shop with.

  • Local charity shops, thrifts stores or op shops.

  • Vintage.

  • Facebook Marketplace.

  • eBay.

  • Markets, including special one-offs such as children’s or vintage.

  • Online second-hand shops: Manifesto Woman (UK), Loopster (UK), Thred Up (US and Canada), Zouma (Australia) are just a few.

  • Etsy.

  • Charity shop websites.

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CARING FOR CLOTHING.

  • Stick to gentle detergents, or move onto a low waste alternative. We used an eco egg, there are soap nuts too, and I’ve seen people store conkers in Autumn ready to wash with for the next year. Skip the softeners too, they actually tend to shorten the life of our clothing. If you really feel you need it, vinegar is a great alternative to softener, can be bought plastic-free and doesn’t leave any trace of smell.

  • And while we’re here, wash less. The spinning action in machine pills and tears clothing faster, and fades colours much quicker too, not to mention the water usage. Think about whether that top really needs a wash or whether it can be worn again. Try creating a space in your bedroom where you can hang and air out clothing between washes.

  • Create a clothing rescue kit. A fabric shaver for removing pills from knitwear, a lint brush, a good stain remover, needles, thread and a few buttons. Having these things handy means you can look after what you already own, and also might mean you’ll be more likely to buy something that needs just a little TLC.

  • Love what you have. I split my jeans the other day and my first thought was to buy another pair. It only crossed my mind to repair them the next day, rather than just replace. There are plenty of different ways to repair, try looking up visible-mending for inspiration, and I’m sure there must be some makers who will mend your clothes for you if that isn’t your forte.

love what you have.

  • Before you pass it on, think about how much clothing is currently in production vs the volume a charity shop or thrift store can accumulate. The balance is far outweighed; is there someone you already know who might love it, a women’s refuge or children’s home that is lacking in donations?

  • Create a circular economy. Organise swap meets between friends, pass them along to family members expecting a child or just simply save your baby clothes if you think you’ll be having another.

  • Reuse. If clothing is really truly beyond saving, think how you can use it once again. I know people who have made quilts from old babygros, or wrapped presents in old tops and scarves; I made bread bags from much loved duvet cover that tore beyond repair.

Let me know if you found this helpful. How do you find your second-hand clothing?