Fashion has come a long way since the days of buying an entirely new rotation of clothes each season. As a cost-of-living crisis looms and the climate crisis heats up, three ELLE writers describe their approach to pre-loved wardrobe building, and how you too can become a resale queen.
Alice Wignall, Executive Editor – eBay Addict
I cannot deny that sustainability part of why I started shopping second-hand. Even the most determined head-in-sander can’t avoid the statistics on the fashion industry’s contribution to carbon emissions, not to mention the water-intensive processes required for clothing production. But it wasn’t just that. Regular shopping had ceased to hold the appeal it once had. I work in central London: there are multiple outlets of every major high-street brand within walking distance of my office, and while lunchtime browsing I started to notice a feeling of slight vertigo while staring at the rails upon rails of clothes, knowing that not only would every one be replenished in a month, but that the groaning shelves were replicated in another branch five minutes away – and the same in every shop in between. I started to feel like I was drowning in viscose and polyester.
Yet, while I might have grown out of fast fashion, my bank account has not. But second-hand shopping gives me everything I need: the clothes I want, the joy of a bargain, and something I’d barely realised I’d lost – the thrill of the chase.
In 2020, 76.9% of the money that I spent on clothes went on second-hand. (I know because I tracked it all in a spreadsheet. What can I say? I had some lockdown time on my hands.) I haven’t logged it since then, but the numbers won’t have gone down.
eBay is my hunting ground, because I’m Gen X, and because of Saved Searches. Every lunchtime, a flurry of emails lands in my inbox containing every listing from the last 24 hours in my chosen categories. They range from generic – ‘Miu Miu shoes 39’ – to the specific (a particular Dolce & Gabbana mosaic dress from the AW13 collection will be mine one day). Barely a day goes by that I don’t add something to my Watch List.
The way I shop has changed, but the way I dress hasn’t. When I was younger, ‘vintage’ was an aesthetic as much as a way of shopping – and it’s not one that appeals to me. But with the secondhand market booming as it is, you can find whatever you want. I’ve scored some pieces I missed out on the opportunity to buy new: a Proenza Schouler satchel I’ve wanted for about 20 years; a Loewe leather skirt which made me understand what people mean by ‘buttery soft’. But just as often, I buy what I would do on a regular shopping trip: Arket trousers, Sezane shoes, tops from & Other Stories. Now, I just get them via an intermediary, for less money and with a slightly relieved conscience.
It’s more thoughtful shopping, but it’s more thoughtful dressing too. It makes me think about what I’m missing in my wardrobe and what I want to wear, and it allows me to follow whims and fancies guilt-free. If I get a sudden desire for a YSL-alike champagne-coloured satin maxi skirt, eBay is vast enough to satisfy my cravings in a few days (old high street, great condition, £6), but just as often a Saved Search will throw up something I wouldn’t have considered.
Our current ‘whatever you want, whenever you want it’ retail environment is convenient but, for me, no longer fun. And the fun is what made me love it. Shopping second-hand has reawakened the feeling I had when I was a teenager and started to buy clothes for myself: the excitement of the search, the necessity of invention, the discovery of myself through the way I dress. It might be better for the planet, but the real reason I do it is because it’s better for me.
Aja Barber, ELLE Contributor – Serial Clothes Swapper
It all changed when I started to care a lot more about my clothes; I began to view older pieces as dear friends, not to be discarded like yesterday’s rubbish (which, I am loath to admit, was how I viewed fast fashion, especially when things fell apart after a laundry cycle). One of the blessed things about having two sisters is that, more often than not, one of them is happy to take an item off your hands. Certain pieces have been passed between all of us: three owners from one family alone.
But then I began to branch out past my sisters. My best friend and I engage in something we call ‘long-term loans’, which means that mostly you now own the garment – but if I ever want it back, I reserve the right to ask for it. It works a treat, and nine out of 10 times you have no regrets about parting with the piece because it’s pretty joyful to see a friend wearing with pride something you once loved. There is no shame in outgrowing something, whether that be physically or emotionally. Have I had enough of that designer silk dress that I got on super-duper sale? Yes. Is it an obscure designer that might not be easily recognised in a secondhand store? Yes. Could I find a friend who might love it? I don’t know – why not ask on Facebook? And so I did. Someone snapped it up so they could surprise gift it to another friend.
This was how I decreased my wardrobe by 60% before I moved to the UK from Virginia in 2017. There was no way I could take it all, so I made a Facebook album and offered up my clothes to my friends, feeling better knowing my pieces wouldn’t necessarily end up in the bin.
My current focus is winter coats. We know that so much of our old clothing ends up in the global South polluting the environment for others, because the fashion industry produces way too much. But coats aren’t helpful in warmer climates as donations. (Used, bobbly polyester-blend sweaters are frankly of no use to anyone in the global North either, so let’s avoid the ones that are likely to pill.) And with so much of our knitwear and outerwear these days being made from poly fibres, they’re not biodegrading within our lifetime. So that simply means we’ve got to keep these items in rotation for as long as we possibly can.
I re-home old coats as the first step. I particularly want a new coat for this winter because two of my old favourites no longer give me the oversized fit I crave. I’ve got quite a few coats though, so I’m operating a ‘two out-one in’ rule. I immediately knew which of my friends I wanted to have each coat, and was able to tell one of them when we were out browsing together. She picked up a similar coat to show me, to which I replied: ‘I have one just like that that’s waiting for you.’
The joy of gifting these coats is the knowledge that they will get another life – and my friends get a free winter coat. Once I had re-homed the coat, it was time to look for something new. I turned to my Pinterest boards; it didn’t take long before I came across a statement jacket with a beautiful star print which I had admired in the past. A very quick search on eBay yielded several results, including one in my size in nearly-new condition. I purchased it at a fraction of the retail price and the circle of re-homing was complete – for now.
Eni Subair, Fashion News Editor – Depop Devotee
I joined Depop after I grew tired of looking at all the pieces in my wardrobe that no longer fit or felt like me. Somewhere on the app, I knew there would be someone gagging for a maroon leather trench coat, my modest collection of Noughties-inspired kitten heels and my figure-hugging Marine Serre catsuit.
Once I made my first sale on Depop (a tangerine-orange denim Topshop jacket), I was hooked. But I wasn’t quite prepared for the addictive buzz that came with finding my own treasures. My first purchase still holds a special place in my heart: a floral, fuchsia-pink Carrie Bradshaw-style vintage dress (think season three, episode 18), that I bought for £35 and wore with ByFar heels on a momentous birthday.
Knowing you’ve beaten thousands of buyers looking to poach the same hard-to-find piece feels exhilarating. And according to Depop’s figures, I’m not alone in my addiction to the hunt – and the purge. One in three 15-to-24-year-olds in the UK is registered on the app, with a total of 26 million users across 150 countries. After signing up to Depop, I noticed that I’d turn to it whenever I became focused on a trend or an item; as I write this, I’m currently searching for Nike Rifts and kitsch, motif-ridden Hysteric Glamour T-shirts to add to my collection.
When I know I’ve got a week or so until my next big night out, it’s to Depop I go. If you too become besotted with the cargo-skirt renaissance – a 2022 essential, who knew? – the most quick-off-the-mark shoppers will come away with a head-turning original from the early 2000s; there are plenty to find in the world of resale (my colleague Cici found an excellent version, the colour of a glass of malbec.) My proudest score thus far, though? A billowy, vintage tiered prairie dress that has seen me through two summers – more wears than some of my most expensive designer purchases.
During my time shopping the resale circuit, I’ve managed to acquire some tips and tricks. Depop’s curated ‘suggested for you’ section? A godsend. ‘Liking’ items you’re desperate to own? A definite no-no, as other people can see which items you’re interested in. It’s competitive out there and I have had more than a few moments when friends and I have had the same items ‘liked,’ sparking a round of playful bidding. (You can now also see if the item you’re after is already in someone else’s basket, which makes the shopping experience that much more intense.)
Instead, ‘save’ your most-wanted pieces, as only you’ll be able to see what you’ve stored under that tab. And if you want something, don’t sleep on it. I’ll never forget the time a friend told me that she turned up to a party and another guest was wearing the exact item she planned to pull the trigger on later that evening.
Shopping on clothing resale apps has changed the way I shop in store too. When I choose to embark on physical shopping trips, I’m much more considered about my purchases: I’ll scrutinise fabrics, opt for quality, and if an item isn’t quite right, I’ll mentally earmark the style and try to find a decades-old designer alternative that boasts the same silhouette on Depop. Most important to me, however, is that I’ve managed to find a plethora of independent brands through my resale scouring that I never would have otherwise encountered.
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Fancí Club, founded by the designer and Vivienne Westwood enthusiast Duy Tran, and a favourite of Bella Hadid, Olivia Rodrigo and Doja Cat, became a go-to of mine in 2019. Distinctive in style, his upcycled customs were a breath of fresh air. Meanwhile, Of Planet Earth, an emerging brand known for its sheer, square-neck tops and patterned skirts, is quickly becoming a label I regularly look for.
Ultimately, there’s something heart-warming and inspiring about seeing Gen Z and Millennials bridge the social-media divide to forge a common bond through clothing. Plus, there’s no better way to start your day than by revelling in the latest happenings on the Depop Drama Instagram page (@depopdrama). Once you start, I promise you won’t stop.