If you've never shopped for second hand clothes before, or if you've been doing it a while and would like to explore shopping online, we'll tell you what to look out for and how to get the most from your online experience:
I’ve been buying preloved clothes for as long as I can remember, and I love nothing more than an afternoon rummaging around my favourite second hand shops. However, since lockdown, all the local shops have been closed, including our own dress agency, which I run through pop up shops and events in Newbury. So, we decided to take our shop online and this week we launched our dress agency as an online shop for the first time. We had some great feedback and lots of people said they’d try it out, even though they’d never shopped for second hand clothes before.
So, if you’re new to preloved clothes, or if you’ve never tried shopping for second hand clothes online before, this blog shares our tips on what to look out for:
Why shopping for second hand clothes online is different from buying new
If you’re used to shopping online for your clothes, you’ll know already that high street stores work hard to promote their offerings. My inbox has ‘latest must have’ type emails from stores almost daily, presenting me with beautifully shot images of women looking effortlessly glamorous in their outfits. In the world of second hand shopping, that marketing sheen doesn’t happen so much. Items are not usually co-ordinated into outfits and there’s much less of the photo shoot style photography. This can make it more challenging to picture something as part of an outfit, or how you might style it and wear it. If you can find a site that make suggestions as to what an item might go with, that’s a great way of getting ideas as to how an item might work for you when it arrives.
Another difference is the scarcity factor. Often with second hand clothes, there’s only one of something, whereas high street stores carry lots of stock in a range of sizes. This can be useful to give you more time to think about whether you really need something, but in the second hand world, if you don’t act fast, it may well be gone forever. Great for excitement, not so great for possible buyers remorse, and so disappointing if you fall in love with a dress only to spot that it’s several sizes too small.
When you’re buying new, you know that you’re getting an item that’s never been worn. However, after a few wears and washes, the way different fabrics age and wear can vary dramatically. Buying preloved clothes inevitably delivers mixed results in terms of the quality you can expect. There’s no set benchmark – and I’ve seen things with the labels still on and brand new, and I’ve also seen things that are bleach marked and have holes in. Quality varies greatly, so it’s good if you can find a site that has some kind of quality control checks, or tells you if an item is less than perfect in any way.
Sizing can very greatly, but I don’t think that only applies to preloved clothes. Sizing for new clothes in high street stores can vary so dramatically across brands, and even across different fabrics of the same brand that often the number on the label isn’t the best guide as to whether something will fit you. I always advise trying things on, but online you can’t do that so if possible look out for a garments actual measurements. In the world of second hand clothes, this is even more important, because washed fabrics may have slightly shrunk or stretched, so getting a more accurate idea of size is key.
If you buy something from a high street store online, you know that you can return it and often returns are free (according to consumeraffairs.com, up to 50% of new clothes bought online get returned). In the second hand clothes world, returns policies vary dramatically, and many don’t accept returns at all. Check before you commit to buying.
So, if those are the key differences, what are the benefits of shopping second hand?
Individuality and Creativity
I would say the first thing is that it’s fun! You never quite know what you’re going to find, and it give you an opportunity to experiment, be creative and explore your own unique style. Many of my customers are often complimented on their look or their style, and it’s often because they’ve been confident to mix preloved items to create a style that feels good to them. Shopping in this way can help you feel more individual, and I personally love the fact that I’m not picking something from a rack where there’s another 20 of the exact same thing for other people to come along and buy. Mixing things up with preloved treasure helps ensure you don’t wear the same things as everyone else, which helps you feel more confident to explore your own style rather than be dictated to by the fashion industry.
The price has to be a benefit. In my dress agency right now, we have a beautiful Damsel in a Dress suit, the jacket of which still has the £169 price tag on, and the dress we can assume was roughly the same price. It’s online for sale for £100 for the suit, so a potential saving there of well over £200 from the original price. Buying second hand clothes means you can often pick up real bargains that are a fraction of what they would have cost new.
For me ultimately, I get so much pleasure from taking something that is unworn and unloved from a clients wardrobe, and finding it a loving new home through the dress agency. Shopping in this way is the ultimate sustainable purchase because we are extending the life of those clothes, and buying less new clothing as a result. By squeezing every drop of value from the clothing already produced and in circulation, we are reducing the waste, water and carbon footprints of those items (3 months more use of an item can see reductions of up to 10%). As we all become more aware of the environmental impact of fast fashion, this is an enjoyable way of bringing in new things to the wardrobe, without increasing new clothes consumption.
So, if you’re shopping for second hand clothes online, what should you look for?
Lots of photos – ideally from different angles
Have you ever ordered something online that looks like a lovely olive green only to receive it and find it’s more like pea soup green? I have. Even on new clothing websites, it’s hard to get a good handle on the true colour and texture of a fabric, so my first tip is to look for a site or listing that has lots of images (ideally from different angles) to get as good an idea of colour as possible.
A description of measurements
As I said earlier, often with preloved clothing the number on the label may not be a failsafe guide as to whether something will fit, often it’s better to go by measurements. Look for sites that offer to measure the clothes, or ask sellers for more information on the measurements before committing to buy.
If you’re anything like me, how a garment feels plays a disproportionately large part in my purchasing decision, and when you’re buying second hand clothes online you can’t feel the fabric before you buy. Look out for photos of fabric labels or information on what the fabric is made from to be sure you’ll like it when it arrives.
Details on shape, or pictures of how it hangs
Some brands cut differently from others. Boden it seems has a greater hip to waist ratio on clothing than say Jaeger. If you already know which brands suit your shape, that’s great, but if not look for any notes on shaping or pictures of how it looks on a person or a mannequin so you can see more of the shape and how the garment hangs.
Check returns policies
As I mentioned earlier, often with second hand shops online, there is a mix of policies on returns. Check the returns policy carefully before you commit to buy.
If you’re ready to get started exploring the delights of preloved clothes online, then find a site or a store that has a good range and perhaps just do a search for your favourite brand and see what comes up – you may just find your next treasure for your wardrobe.
If you enjoyed reading this blog, please share it with friends and family, and don't forget to subscribe to our monthly newsletter.