As our handbasket accelerates towards a hell of melting ice caps, smoking rainforests and smug, gammon-skinned climate-deniers, it’s tough to muster much optimism. When Trump’s using executive orders to roll back environmental protections, using a KeepCup feels about as impactful as trying to extinguish the Amazon with a water pistol.
But as consumers – and especially fashion consumers – we’re more powerful than we think. You know the numbers by now – fashion gobbles up more energy than shipping and air travel combined; 11m garments end up in UK landfill each week; we’ll be creating 102m tonnes of clothing by 2030 – but their sheer scale can be enervating. Against that tidal wave of new clothing, what can one man do?
Well, you can start not buying it. For all the stuff ends up in landfill, there’s plenty more that was crafted to last. Buying second-hand clothes is the almost-carbon-neutral way to scratch your fashion itch without, y’know, contributing to a climate crisis that, according to the most doom-mongery scientists, could see as much as 90 per cent of humanity wiped out within a century.
“As consumers, it’s in our power to make a real difference,” Oxfam chief executive Danny Sriskandarajah put it in a press statement to mark the start of the charity’s Second Hand September initiative. “Buying second-hand clothes helps to slow the ferocious fast fashion cycle, giving garments a second lease of life.”
Especially since it’s easier to buy pre-owned than ever. The same one-click checkouts and centralised supply networks that have made fast fashion so destructive also mean that you’re no longer reliant on the old, ill-fitting jumpers that hang in your local thrift store. Whether you’re after vintage designer one-offs or bombproof leather jackets, the good stuff is out there. Here’s how to track it down.
You are, we hope, not picking your intimates up pre-owned. But there are wardrobe gaps where second-hand clothes are more than just a stand-in. As a rule of thumb, think like your granddad and contribute to slow fashion and seek out the kind of materials that genuinely were built tougher back then.
“There’s so much denim out there that the bad stuff ends up in the rag trade and only the good stuff makes it to vintage stores,” says Ash Moss, from vintage store Rokit. Their fades will also be more authentic than anything a designer dreamed up.
Leather, too, looks and wears better after it’s been battered. Vintage stores are full of leather jackets, says Moss, because they’re practically bombproof, so you can be confident you’re buying quality. They also offer something you can’t get off the new-in rail. “You get loads of guys in bands coming in to buy the same style of jacket that their favourite band wore.”
The one big problem with pre-owned is that quality isn’t always guaranteed (that said, vintage often still has more years left in it than something brand new from the high street’s worst offenders). Shop on eBay and you’re on your own, but the luxury sites have teams dedicated to verifying that what you think you’re buying is what actually turns up.
“We first review the quality of the materials used, whether leather, silk or metal parts for example,” says Victoire Boyer Chammard, head of VestiaireCollective’s authentication team. “We then look at the quality of the finishes, such as stitching, edge-dyeing or engraving. Finally, we check that the label is consistent with the graphic chart of the house and the quality standards. Everything from the zip used to the serial number is checked to ensure the item is genuine.”
If you don’t have a team of experts to help, then steal some of their tricks. When buying online, try to cross-reference logos with the real thing and make sure the photos cover every angle. When it turns up with a big hole in the back, you’ll discover why that Gumtree find was such a steal.
If shopping IRL, look at things like hems and hardware – when they’re solid and well-finished, odds are the rest of the piece was built properly, too. Finally, “always check for moth holes,” says Moss. If you don’t, then at best you’ve bought something that’s ruined. At worst, the moths you bring back could ruin everything else in your wardrobe, too.
The charity opened its first shop 71 years ago, and has long been a haystack in which canny shoppers can turn up the occasional designer needle (a lucky browser once found a one-of-a-kind Philip Treacy bag worth £350,000 in his local Oxfam). But since it began selling its clothes online, sifting wheat from chaff has become much simpler.
Its vintage section has well-priced high-end, from Yves Saint Laurent tailoring to North Face jackets, but like the bricks and mortar stores, it’s best for picking up high street cast-offs while helping the less fortunate, rather than exploiting them.
Founded in 2014 by a trio of streetwear obsessives, Grailed is where hypebeasts trade rare sneakers and even rarer Raf Simons, although there’s a decent amount of accessible gear on there too. As the name suggests, though, it’s where the menswear nerds find their ones that got away, be it a slept-on Supreme collab or a pair of Acronym shorts.
A marketplace for the nearly new (the name stands for Hardly Ever Wore It), HEWI sees itself as the Selfridges of pre-worn, with a catalogue that stretches from new-with-tags Gucci to APC suits, at around 70 per cent less than retail.
It was originally launched to encourage circularity – users are encouraged to sell things in order to free up space and cash for new purchases. That might not be quite as environmentally friendly as buying pre-owned in the first place, but it does at least ameliorate the impact of those inevitable must-haves.
Home to true high-end, VC is the place you’ll find Rolex Submariners sharing virtual shelf space with Dior saddle bags and Brioni jackets. Again, it’s not cheap – the workaday stuff goes for around 40 per cent of retail, according to Chammard, but bags only offer a 25 per cent discount – but you pay for peace of mind; its authentication systems are unrivalled, especially when it comes to watches and jewellery.
That said, the ticket price isn’t always what you fork out, so long as you play ball. “The best way to negotiate with a seller is to keep the real price of the product in mind and offer fairly. If your offer is too low you will end up frustrating the seller and they will refuse your negotiation.”
London’s best-known vintage brand has been the go-to for bargain hunters and stylists after era-authentic clothes since 1986, but its online experience is arguably even better than shopping in-store. The best pieces end up online, so it’s worth checking every couple of days to get the jump on new arrivals.
Rokit’s particularly strong for things like band tees (why buy a designer remake when you can get the original tour merch?), sportswear, leather and denim jackets, but it’s also a good place to pick up the boxy tailoring that’s come back into fashion. If, that is, you get in quick enough. “I’ve seen a couple of beautiful, tailored suits come in,” says Moss. “And I now own them both.”