Though the shop was (and still is) only the size of a small local offy, I remember spending what felt like hours poring over its shelves and rails, holding up long dresses and big coats and wooly scarves and wondering who their previous owner had been; what these pieces had seen.
Until my mum eventually got fed up of waiting for me and I only walked out with a copy of Clueless on DVD.
But since then, my love affair with pre-loved shopping has only become greater. As a teen, I’d drag my friends to the local charity shops before a Saturday afternoon hanging out (read: getting drunk off cans of cider in the park). When I moved to London for university, I’d take myself off to the vintage shops in Brick Lane and Cheshire Street even if I was too broke to buy anything, just to have a look around. Later, lunch breaks working in central London were spent in Beyond Retro on Great Marlborough Street. And now, I’d say 80% of my wardrobe is second hand, and I spend one day a week working behind the till in Crisis, Finsbury Park.
I can vividly remember my first experience of second-hand shopping. It was about 2001, on a Saturday morning running errands with my mum, when we popped into a small Oxfam shop in my hometown. I felt like I’d stepped into a tiny grotto of rare and wonderful objects; an Aladdin’s Cave of books, clothes and jewellery from different eras and origins that each held their own unique story.
It’s no secret that fashion is bad news for the planet. In fact, it’s reportedly the second most polluting industry after oil. As GLAMOUR‘s Fashion Editor Charlie Teather wrote in her piece on sustainable fashion: “An industry that makes a living by providing its fans with the very newest trends that haven’t been seen or used before is surely one of the most unsustainable imaginable. And that’s exactly what it is.” Of course, many brands are now acknowledging such environmental issues and adapting their production and business models to be kinder to the planet.
But the fact of the matter is that every single week, 13 million items of clothing end up in UK landfill. It would take 13 years for one person to drink the water needed to make just one cotton t-shirt and a pair of jeans.
Curbing our addiction to fast fashion by consciously trying to shop in charity shops and vintage stores will not only help our planet, but those in need around the world.
That’s why Oxfam launched Second Hand September, asking people to only shop second hand for 30 days or more. And though Second Hand September may be almost over, I say that once you really get into shopping second-hand, it will no longer be a task or something you feel duty-bound to do; it’ll be something you enjoy forever, finding truly unique pieces that you’ll cherish for much longer than that tie-dye tee from Topshop.
So, as someone who spends a pretty ridiculous amount of time browsing second-hand everything, here are my top tips for finding the best vintage, pre-loved gems. I promise you’ll walk out with more than just Clueless on DVD.
Quite literally the antithesis to fast fashion, proper pre-loved shopping takes time and dedication. If you know exactly the item you’re after, shopping online is best, but hunting for second-hand gems in store can be time-consuming (but tons of fun, obv). Don’t expect to find a Birkin after 10 minutes of browsing. Instead, make a day of it. Grab your best thrifty friend and spend a Saturday or Sunday rummaging through your local charity shops, vintage stores and flea markets. It takes time to discover where the great shops are but, although I may be biased, the Crisis store on Stroud Green Road is the best of the best.
This may sound like a generalisation, but trust me on this one – if you want the bargain designer pieces, hit up the charity shops in affluent areas. Last year, I picked up a Max Mara wool coat, which retail at around the £700-£800 mark, for £35 in the Barnardo’s in Marylebone. Forever grateful to the posh people of central London.
Note down pieces you missed
If there’s a high street piece you loved from last season, search on sites like eBay and Depop to see if anyone’s selling it. You wouldn’t believe the amount of barely-worn items people end up selling from the likes of Other Stories, Zara and Mango; even the high-street hero pieces that go viral on Instagram can end up on Depop for a tenner. Try searching for key terms as well as the exact name of the item as it was listed on the retailer’s website, as many sellers include this in their description.
Look to denim and leather
Did you know that buying a pair of vintage jeans, instead of a new pair, saves 36 bathtubs of water? And besides, where better to pick up a proper pair of beautiful vintage 501 Levi’s than an actual vintage shop? Search for Levi’s, Calvin Klein, Wrangler or more modern denim brands like MiH, Frame and Paige. The same goes for leather – you know how leather blazers and coats are everywhere this season?
The best ones are the old ones, plus you won’t be wearing the same faux leather blazer from Zara that everyone else is wearing. Try Depop and online vintage sites like Rokit, Beyond Retro and Headlock.
Check out the cashier
Many volunteers or staff in charity shops will be tagging and pricing donations after they’ve been cleaned and steamed on the shop floor or behind the till. Keep an eye on them and, if you the like the look of something they’re about to put out, ask them how much. It’s the quickest way to bag a real gem before anyone else. Sneaky but smart.
Forget about sizes
Ignore the size on the label, particularly with vintage and retro items. For example, vintage denim is way smaller than modern denim and sizing can vary enormously by decade; generally, a vintage pair of Levis in a 34-35 is a UK size 12 (there’s some great tips on beyondretro.com). If you can’t try an item on in the shop – especially at the moment – many items listed online will provide measurements. A rule of thumb: if in doubt, go bigger. Larger items can always be tailored.
Get into DIY
Speaking of which, if you really want to turn a vintage buy into a forever piece, get crafty with a needle, thread and a pair of scissors, and learn how to take up hems, tailor waists, remove sleeves, even embroider. Or if you cba, get to know your local haberdasher. Or ask your nan.
Be site savvy
There are tons of second-hand sites out there – get to know them because some are better for certain things. ASOS Marketplace has hundreds of second-hand boutiques; Etsy is great for vintage dresses; Depop has lots of great athleisure and designer bags; and eBay literally has everything.
You can also find great vintage stores on Instagram from all over the world. I recently discovered SITO, a vintage shop in Krakow, via Instagram and bought an incredible leather jacket with very cheap shipping rates.