Green is the new black - why secondhand clothes are in fashion

Posted by Victoria Lochhead on

There is a welcome trend emerging – more and more people are turning to secondhand clothes as a way to bring new things into their wardrobe.  With the rise of online preloved stores such as Depop and Vinted, what’s fuelling our new  love affair with secondhand fashion?

secondhand clothes in a charity shop

When I first started my dress agency and eco shopping trips back in 2014, I’d often get that strange stare from a few folk who clearly thought I was barking mad.  For them, the idea of me taking them to shop in my favourite charity shops is not something they would ever have considered, let alone enjoyed.

Fast forward nearly 7 years (and throw in a global pandemic to boot) and attitudes are definitely changing.  More and more people are open to the idea of preloved clothes, clients seek me out BECAUSE I offer secondhand styling services, not in spite of it, and I’m even beginning to meet a few more stylists like me who use preloved clothes to help their clients create wardrobes they love.

So, what’s fuelling the trend, and is it set to stay?  In pre-COVID days we were sending some £140 million of used but still wearable clothing to landfill in the UK every year.  In addition, we donated and recycled enough clothing annually to fill 459 Olympic sized swimming pools (source:  Clothes Aid).  That’s a lot of clothing, and the trend was set to overwhelm status:  Each week we were discarding 11 million items to landfill but buying 38 million items (source:  TRAID).  It’s not hard to guess where all these purchases were likely to end up.

However, during lockdown what we wore went way down the list of priorities, and with the closure of many high streets fashion retail took a huge hit; sales of new clothes slumped for all but a few established online retailers. 

On the flip side, we began to see a growth in online secondhand shopping; eBay report 30% more secondhand sales in June 2020, compared to March, and 1,211% more preloved sales than at the same time in 2018. (Source;  FashionUnited.UK)

Why Now?

Thanks to an increased media focus, more consumers are becoming aware of the environmental impact of fast fashion on the planet, and are looking for ways to switch to more sustainable planet friendly shopping habits.

As we’ve had more time at home during the pandemic and shops have been closed, many people shifted shopping habits and bought less new clothing.  It was also found that more people engaged in thrifty hobbies such as mending, gardening etc.  Opting for second hand over new is one such hobby that has grown, with 70% of women now saying they’re open to buying secondhand products (source: ThreadUp 2020 Resale Report).

As well as being more environmentally aware of the true cost of new clothes production, economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic means many families are tightening their belts and looking for ways to save money.  When you consider that the average person spends over £500 per year on clothes and shoes (ONS Family Spending Report), and buying second hand pieces can cut that bill by well over 50%, this is a bit of a no-brainer money saver for many families.

Our love affair with secondhand clothes is set to grow as new habits adopted during lockdown continue.  According to ThredUp, growth estimates for online secondhand clothes sales could rise by as much as 39% by 2024 as consumers switch buying habits to secondhand options for either economic or environmental reasons.

So what’s so good about buying second hand clothes?

The average life span of clothes is around 2.2 years, and if we can extend the life of these clothes by just 9 months we can reduce the waste, water and carbon footprint of those items by as much as 30% (source:  WRAP).  So it makes environmental sense that the longer we keep clothes in useful circulation rather than sending to landfill or recycling the fabric, the better it is for the environment.  Having a buoyant active secondhand clothes market is a great way of doing this.

Buying secondhand clothes over new helps keep clothing in use for longer, potentially reduces then volume of textile sent abroad or to landfill, supports charities and other organisations, and reduces the demand for new clothes production.  All great stuff.  But for us as consumers, what’s the argument for buying secondhand over new clothing?  Are there any benefits, other than saving money?  Here’s a few pieces I have bought in the past as examples of the benefits of secondhand shopping:

  • It feels like finding something special: If you walk into a shop and there's only one of something, it instantly feels more special than walking in to a shop and seeing a whole rack of the same thing.  This chinese jacket I found on a shopping trip with my sister, I paid £7.99 for it, and it feels to me like a piece of treasure - something I value far more than it's price and will look after as I know I can't just go out and get another one.

secondhand clothes example - the chinese jacket

  • It feels more individual: Building a wardrobe of treasures from different trips and experiences creates a feeling of individuality.  I love this Sweetie dress I found in Oxfam as it feels really individual and different

secondhand clothes example - sweetie dress from Oxfam

  • Quality: The quality of what you can buy preloved is amazing.  My Jigsaw suede jacket is a great example which I got from Thrift for about £27.  It’s in incredible condition and looks like it has never been worn.

secondhand clothes example - Jigsaw jacket from Thrift

  • Helping a charity: Knowing you are spending your money with a charity or recycling organisation helps you feel good about your purchases, like this green shirt I got from the British Heart Foundation which I absolutely love.

secondhand clothes example - marks and spencer shirt

  • Less of a fashion season influence: This may seem an odd thing to say, but if the fashion of the moment dictates a certain colour or style that doesn’t suit you, it can make for a frustrating season when shopping new.  Shopping secondhand means you’re buying across seasons and decades and you’ll find more choice in terms of colours and styles.  This silk skirt is a good example which I got from the clothing warehouse for about £7.  It’s in dark sludgy colours which suit me but just weren’t available in the spring time when I was shopping.

secondhand clothes example silk skirt

  • Feeling StylishIt’s completely possible to wear styles and trends that feel modern from preloved sources.  The animal print dress I got from Topshop on ebay is a great example as it’s current, relevant and cost me less than £20. 

secondhand clothes example - topshop animal print dress

  • Price: It is absolutely possible to find amazing things preloved at crazy prices, like my pringle cashmere jumper I got for a pound.  My best all time purchase is a red leather bag I found in a jumble sale for 20p.

Secondhand clothes example Pringle Cashmere JumperSo, I'd love to know, are you a charity shop aficionado or a preloved beginner?  Leave a comment and let us know.  And if you've enjoyed reading this blog post and you're keen to get started in your secondhand style adventures, you might like our blog about how to charity shop and what to look for.  Ready to jump in and start hunting?  You can use our dress agency as a good browsing point!

Share this post

← Older Post Newer Post →

  • I find that many of my preloved items become firm favourites that I wear and wear. My challenge is knowing when they need to be moved on!!

    Jennie on

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published.