Shopping second hand is a great way to reduce your ecological footprint. Nowadays, fast fashion is the dominant trend in fashion production. You can read about how fast fashion pollutes and drains the Earth’s resources in the intro article to this issue.
By buying mostly second hand and swapping clothes, we extend the life cycle of a product or clothing. As a result, we contribute to the lowered demand for new items, effectively reducing the use of resources.
Yet second hand shopping can be difficult at first. When entering a second hand store, the amount of clothes, the smell, and the small alleys, can be overwhelming. It can be hard to find what you are looking for and without a plan or strategy you might go home empty handed.
After years of shopping mainly second hand I came up with some tips on how to make it as easy and fun as possible. For example, in a regular store the clothes are sorted by collection. In a second hand store the clothing is mostly sorted by style or material.
1. Make a plan
Shopping second hand does not mean the clothing is very cheap or worn out. In some places, you can find great quality items and unique styles- you just need to know what you are looking for. Therefore, it is a great idea to go second hand shopping with a plan. This way, you will avoid buying unnecessary items, overbuying yourself, or going home disappointed and empty handed.
By creating a Pinterest board or Instagram folder with inspirations on your phone, you will always have a list of garments you would like to find, try on, and eventually buy. Or, do it the old school way by making a note and taking it with you.
Another great idea is to clean out your closet and make sure you know what you are missing. Maybe the winter months are coming and you need a warm sweater or a pair of winter boots. Or it is summertime and you need a few light dresses and shirts.
By knowing what you need, you will look for these items instead of searching the whole store for something that you actually do not need or want to wear. However, in some cases you will find treasures accidentally, and they will bring joy to your closet for years. These treasures, however, are very hard to find in mainstream fast fashion stores.
In a second hand store, clothes are often displayed by colour. It is great to know what kind of colours fit you the best so you can look for those. For example, bright yellow or pink colors do not fit my personality nor my skin type. I skip these colors on the racks and go for more earthy colors such as beige, brown, green or indigo.
This, of course, can change sometimes when I find a very unique item that has a different color than what I am used to. It can be a great addition to my closet but I always make sure I can combine it with different outfits as well.
Try on different colors and materials to experiment. Fear is unnecessary, so try on the craziest items you can find as well. You might be surprised how well they will fit you.
Next to categorizing by colour, some second hand stores display their collection by materials. Cashmere sweaters or linen dresses in all colors and shapes might hang on the same racks. It is handy to know these materials and their characteristics. In our Label Lurking article, you have an extended list with materials and their characteristics.
You might already own a sweater that is extremely warm and soft. Take a look at the label and search for that material. It might be made of cashmere or wool. Remember these materials when you shop second the next time.
Some sweaters might be made of synthetic materials such as acrylic. But how do you tell the difference if there is no label? One way to do it, is to rub the sweater against your hair. If your hair becomes static, it is a synthetic material. If it stays flat, it is a natural material. Over time, you will notice the structure of the material and you will be able to spot the difference immediately.
Having a plan and knowing your colours and materials are great starters to find what you are looking for. However, knowing the quality that will last long is a bit different.
When I find a dress or sweater that fits my standards, I take a good look at the garment. I look for holes, stains, and the edges of the garment. If there are some yellow stains around the neck and armpit area, it means the previous owner was sweating a lot and did not take proper care of the item. There is very little chance these stains can be removed, so I would avoid taking this item.
Some sweaters might have a hole in them, making the sweater sensitive to washing and wearing. Besides, the edges of an item can tell a lot about how it was used. If a sweater has unusually wide sleeves, it might have been washed too often at too high a temperature.
Materials such as wool, cotton, linen, and silk are strong and durable. These natural materials will probably last longer, especially if you have checked for stains and holes and found none. A wool jacket or a silk blouse will also look more chic than their synthetic variants.
Synthetic clothes can be long lasting but they are made of petroleum oil. During the wash, synthetic items release microplastics in the water system, and they will eventually end up in the ocean. However, buying a second hand synthetic item is still better than getting a new one. Think of a second hand swimming suit or sport clothing. For tips on protecting your washing machine from microplastics, check our Cleaning Tips article.
Taking a good look at the label to find out where the item was made can be a great indicating factor of its quality as well. Items made in Europe are becoming more rare by the minute. Today, most garments are made in Asian countries where the working conditions might not be safe, or where the workers are forced to work against their will. Making the garment of less quality as well.
Therefore the brand (if mentioned) and ‘made in’ factor are great indicators. Search on the brand name if it does not ring a bell to learn about it more. I have found some amazing gems this way, that sell way more online than in a hidden second hand store.
5. Only buying what is necessary
Second hand clothing might be cheaper than new clothing from current brands. However, watch out not to fall into the trap of overbuying. Overbuying is one of the factors why so much clothing, food and other products end up in a landfill. Instead of spending more on a lot of items try to invest the same amount of money in quality. This ensures you that the item will last longer especially if it is a (timeless) design that fits your personality.
We hope this list will help you the next time you go second hand shopping. In the Tips & Tricks article you can find our favourite second hand stores in Rotterdam.