• Carolyn Anderson Shepherd

My second hand year. Settle down with a cuppa.

In 2020, when we all thought lockdown might be a few weeks, I started clearing out my clothes. I'm not exactly a fashion addict, I like clothes but I don't feel like I need to hop on the latest trend so if someone asked me if I had a lot of clothes I'd say no.

That was....a lie.

To be fair to past me, I didn't THINK I had a lot of clothes but when I went through them using a Marie Kondo-ish technique of getting rid of anything I didn't like or didn't fit I got rid of ...70 items of clothing.

If you'd asked past me I would've said I didn't own 70 pieces of clothing in total!

I recognised each item and remembered them, I just hadn't worn them in sometimes years. But I'd kept them because they were still in one piece. That was pretty much the line. Not, 'in good condition' or 'like new', still in one piece.

Me in a t-shirt from early 2000s

A big part of living as sustainably as possible is using what you have, and I had definitely done that to a degree, I have at least 1 t-shirt from the 1990s, but because I had so much stuff it had actually made me buy firstly more storage in the form of big plastic tubs for under the bed, and secondly more 'fast fashion' basics like vests and long sleeved black tops because I didn't know what I had. And while those vest and black tops ARE very handy and will be worn over and over (now I know I have them!) by buying these multiples I didn't need I was creating demand for fast fashion.

Before I go further there will be folks saying that me not buying a few tops isn't going to change the world and you're technically right however that is a big discussion in itself which we'll have another day.

So because of my unhappiness with myself for the above, I set myself a challenge for the whole of 2021 to:

  • Use what I have first

  • Repair and repurpose

  • Buy second hand, handmade or from small businesses

  • Make it myself

Now for me, this doesn't sound too tricky. I have a remaining wardrobe of items that I like and that fit me, I used to teach sewing so mending clothes is no hard task for me, I'm a proud joiners daughter and I'm not scared to have a bash at fixing things around the house (my husband is less fearless about me doing this!), I'm no stranger to shopping second hand having done it since I was a teenager, and I have an absolute plethora of small business friends I could shop with. Even with those abilities and experience, it was still pretty tricky.

Although this challenge started with just clothes, in true over the top me style, it ended up being about everything. I'll break it down into a couple of posts, to save on length and this first one will be about clothes!

I thought clothes would be the easiest category of items to do. I couldn't think of much I needed, I knew what I had, and I didn't have any special events I would need to go to in 2021. And while it was easy to an extent, it was also the category that brought up the most emotions, particularly towards the end of the year.

So first things first, did I buy any brand new clothes in 2021? Yes. I bought -

  • 1 t-shirt from an Indigenous Canadian designer to support Orange Shirt Day which is a cause that's important to me. I did look for a second hand shirt, but felt it was more important to be giving the money to an Indigenous small business as Orange Shirt Day commemorates those who died in, and educates on the Canadian Residential School system.

  • A 2 tone sequin covered mask from a wee local shop in Orkney because I loved it so much!

  • Period pants! But there's a whole post coming about them.

I focused initially on wearing out what I had and mending things I could. I LOVE visible mending. I find sewing really peaceful and meditative and I get a wee rush from taking something broken and making it new. Visible mending is also much easier than altering a garment so don't be scared to try it! You have much more leeway with your skills because

you're not trying to hide it. I've made a Pinterest board where you can check out tutorials and inspiration. Because I wasn't buying anything new, I did all of mine using threads that I already had, but there's so many cute patches you can buy and iron or sew on that actually make it look like you've bought something super expensive rather than fixed a hole or covered a stain! I darned a woolly jumper, leggings and t shirts, and I sewed up leggings that had gone at the seams and 'fixed' a onesie that my dog had ate the foot off, which ended up with one leg a good 10 cm shorter than the other!

Some of my mending - a 3rd hand bath sheet, my favourite leggings from Etsy and a favourite jumper

Invariably though there were things I needed, and wanted. Don't ignore things that you just want if you love them. That's a very miserable way to live long term. Some of the things I bought included -

  • leggings – both mad prints and plain

  • cosy jumpers – including one I'd almost bought new

  • a wrap/cape/poncho thingy

  • summer dresses and playsuits

  • pajamas

  • hair bobbles

  • t-shirts for hubby

  • a new purse

  • skiing gloves

  • and.......knickers!

Hahaha! Yes knickers. I'll talk about them a bit more in a minute.

I shopped in 4 main places for these – eBay, in person shops, Facebook groups and apps.

Does anyone else ever get really jealous when you watch thrift hauls online and they're in USA and they have these giant supermarket sized thrift shops? I would love to just go on a thrift shop tour of the USA! But alas I live in rural north east Scotland and we don't have those. So my options for shopping in person for second hand clothes were limited to

  • “pre-loved”, vintage, or consignment stores which specialise in clothing

  • the one fancy boutique charity shop that I'm aware of here

  • standard, small, 'bit of everything' type charity shops that sell whatever is donated to them

If you're looking for high quality or designer, number 1 on the list here is where you'd go.

They're higher priced but are good quality items all very well checked over. If you're looking for wedding attire, or 'proper vintage' they're the easiest to shop with as that's their specialty. I've found the staff to be very passionate about the items they sell and are very helpful and knowledgeable.

Charity shops, whether fancy or otherwise, are going to be more hit and miss. You might strike gold and someone with just your taste in just your size has just donated a ton of things, but you might find nothing. And this is an issue I found with shopping in person for second hand items in general, you can't predict what will be there. To shop this way effectively can be wasteful as when you see something you like you need to take it or you'll never see it again, and you can't guarantee to pick up basic things you need like a vest or leggings. I often find as well that you really need to check over things in charity shops as they sometimes don't get much of a check before going out. Contrary to popular belief, items donated to charity shops are not all laundered etc before going out on the shelves and it's the decision of whoever is working whether items are ok or not. I generally wont buy items that are 'bobbly' or have real signs of wear, unless it's a very special item, and sometimes you'll find that in certain shops that's everything.

Another issue I find with some charity shops is that the staff aren't brand aware or have no real interest in clothes, which is no problem in itself, but it's not unusual to find Primark items, with signs of wear, priced above their original price. And it's not that I'm snobby about brands at all (a fair chunk of my 70 items were Primark and supermarket tops!) it's just that some of these items are going to fall apart very quickly, and contribute to micro plastics in oceans, and they're often being prioritized over better quality items because they 'look modern'. On the flip side, it's really great when you find something that's really amazing quality and it's got a very low price, I think my best example of this is an original Burberry polo shirt, as new, for £1. I also got a 'Chanel' purse (above) for £5, which is almost certainly a knock off but it makes me laugh and I needed it!

One benefit of shopping in person is that it's easier to gauge whether or not an item will fit you when it's in your hand, plus you can usually try things on and most places accept returns if you get something home and it isn't right. And DO return items if you can't use them, it's better it goes to someone who can. If you feel guilty about it, just donate it back!

The long and short of shopping in person is that, unless you're looking for something really special, there's no predicting what is going to be available, at what price, and where you live will have a big impact on what's available to you. To shop for only things you need, you need to be visiting frequently and having the willpower not just to buy everything you like while it's there....or you end up donating it all back.

Wearing my favourite jumper I got from Vinted

Ebay and apps have some of the same issues as thrift shopping however that's where I bought most of my clothes this year. They worked better for me because I was trying to be mindful about what I was buying rather than just browsing. I found eBay to be less good than my app of choice, Vinted, as even if you set the eBay filters to not show new items, there will be lots of items in there that are straight from the factory, and having to sift through those is wearying. With Vinted, although there were fewer items in some searches, I wasn't having to wade through lots of brand new fast fashion items from overseas. Plus you have the option with Vinted to search for items that are new with tags, which if you do on eBay you'll get all the brand new stuff, rather than second hand stuff that hasn't been used.

So because I was being mindful of what I needed, or wanted, to add to my wardrobe I could just search for that particular item rather than having to resist items in front of me that 'could be handy'! And Vinted was GREAT for basics like ¾ length leggings to go under summer dresses I'd bought at a charity shop. The prices varied widely between absolute bargains and oh my no I'm not paying that! Basics, and things like non designer t-shirts you could pick up quite easily for £1-£2 but when I was really really wanting a pair of dungarees, I found that some people wanted more than they paid for them.

And that question of price is definitely something you have to think about and decide on for yourself. I think it's a lesson for me to take away from this that I need to stop thinking everything should be a total bargain. I do, however, think that unless something is a real collectible or true or special vintage item, it should be cheaper than new. When buying something new the customer gets all the assurances and customer support that goes with that. When buying something second hand from an individual, regardless of what the law actually is, if you decide you don't want it, good luck getting any money back. That is a personal choice to make though, and you decide what you're happy to, or can, pay for something, and there is definitely an argument to be made on both sides regarding pushing up the prices of second hand goods brought direct from individuals.

Something to note with Vinted is that there are no seller fees, the buyer pays a fee instead. The 'buyer protection fee' varies between 3-8% plus 30p-80p. This fee covers you if the item comes and isn't as described, doesn't arrive or arrives damaged. There is always a postage cost too. You also have to confirm when the item arrives, which I often forget, so the seller can get their money. It feels very person to person to use, which is sometimes enjoyable and sometimes not depending on who the other person is!

The last way of purchasing I mentioned was Facebook groups, and I deliberately left them until last because they highlight well a problem that exists in all the buying methods.

It's important to get in Facebook groups that suit you. They can be very niche, which is good, they can also be hideously petty kingdoms full of bitchiness and drama. My only advice with these is to leave as soon as you don't like it. Anything on social media that makes you feel bad just Marie Kondo that shit as quick as you can.

The one Facebook group I have remained in is very nice and there's no infighting or people being mean. It has a Scandi theme, although this isn't wholly applied but the items posted for sale are expected to be higher quality items. Group members can also ask for items so some people will post a photo of a particular item of clothing from a particular shop in a particular size, and others might say I need something to wear to a wedding, or I need a navy blue dress and folks can post what they have to offer. The prices are definitely higher than on Vinted or Ebay which seems to be the general norm in the groups I've experienced.

Cape I bought for £4 from Vinted

Some brands have set up their own Facebook groups for their fans to buy, sell or swap their brands clothes so if there is a particular item you've been after, they'd be a good place to check, however it's worth noting that the folks in those groups LOVE that brand and you definitely shouldn't expect to get any bargains!

Facebook groups have the same issue as shopping in person in that you can't just expect to find the thing you need. The one Facebook group I've remained in, I have never bought anything from, and the reason why is an issue across the board for buying second hand.

There's never been anything in my size.

I'm on the lower end plus size, generally looking for around a size 18, give or take, and even at that lower end the choice I have is dramatically reduced, sometimes to nothing. It's a huge privilege to be able to shop second hand that is not open to everyone. I have known people that have run both consignment stores and charity shops and there is a huge demand and need for plus sizes and I know consignment stores can struggle to get the stock. Charity shops on the other hand CAN have an issue getting the stock to meet demand, but because they're not necessarily trained, staff can just decide not to put out plus size stock. A charity shop I used to frequent weekly got a new manager and it went from there always being items up to a size 22, to there never being any over a size 16 overnight.

There's also the issue of folks buying plus sized clothes to alter when they are a straight size. Environmentally speaking that's a good thing, however if you're a size 12 you have plenty of other options in that store, leave the one size 24 item to someone who needs it. Not everyone shopping second hand is doing it because they want to, and I have friends who've told me they wish they could enjoy thrift shopping with their friends but going into shop after shop where there is nothing that fits you is demoralising, even when you have no issues with your body.

In the autumn I decided I really really wanted a pair of dungarees. Baggy, comfy, dungarees that I could wear all year round. I looked at the websites of the big companies and discovered they were not make in UK as their marketing had implied so they didn't really fit my rules and by this point I really didn't want to buy anything that didn't fit the rules! I looked in the online places and the few pieces there were in my size were more than I was prepared to spend for a pair that weren't the perfect pattern or style. And this really got me down. It was really upsetting to not be able to have this thing I really really wanted, that other people have. But I was so close to finishing my year and I felt like if I bought them new I would just feel disappointed.

So I just kind of gave up the dream! And it felt really shit.

Until last week.

Me in my perfect Run and Fly dungarees

Last week I thought I'll just do a wee search just in case...and there are the perfect dungarees in my size at my price! I am so glad I waited.

Oh and the knickers! I had started off deciding that I'd make knickers from any old jersey items that couldn't be worn any more. I used to do knicker sewing parties so this isn't something difficult for me! But ye know what? They're sitting cut up in a drawer waiting to be sewn. You get surprisingly few pairs of pants out of a garment and it left me with lots of odd shaped offcuts that went in the bin. I'm still going to sew them up but if I really weighed it up it would probably have been better to use the fabric as rags. Luckily though I found 2 unopened 5 packs of appropriate smalls on Vinted. Score!

What about you? Do you shop second hand for clothes? If you haven't done it before, would you consider it now? Let me know in the comments!

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