The Biggest Challenges of Buying Second-Hand and How to Overcome Them

Guest Post by: Declan Wiseman, Content Manager for Green Heart Collective 

Fast fashion can be terrible for the environment. Not only does a brand new T-Shirt take 2,700 litres of water to produce and manufacture, but it also costs the equivalent of driving 35 miles in a car (Oxfam).

Thankfully, if you love fashion and still want to change up your wardrobe, you can. The best alternative if you’re looking for new-to-you eco-friendly clothes is to shop preloved. It saves a lot of virgin materials, water and CO2 emissions simply because no production or manufacturing process is involved. 

We probably all borrowed something from a friend or family member. But to commit to only shopping at your local charity shop, second-hand store, or online can take some getting used to. And there are a few challenges you’ll face, including sizing, quality and price.

Let me introduce myself as a 24-year-old from Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, who has been shopping properly second-hand for over a year now. I had never really been that interested in going clothes shopping, but I still appreciated something nice to wear (and eventually, things wear out or don’t fit anymore)! This changed when I challenged myself to look for a pair of Dr Martens second-hand.

I couldn’t justify the price of buying Docs brand new, and I wanted to make use of some that already existed on the planet. After a long time, I finally secured a pair of DMs for around £50, including postage. I was delighted! Since then, I have come to enjoy slowly reshaping my wardrobe since I’ve grown out of many smaller shirts that I own. Poking around in charity shops or browsing the likes of eBay, Depop and Vinted have been surprisingly good fun. I do feel as though I am almost there now in terms of finding everything that I wanted. It feels particularly great to know that I can change or add to my wardrobe with a negligible environmental impact. 

So without further ado, let me share some tips on some of the challenges that I still face when shopping second-hand. 

Finding something in your size

Shopping second-hand doesn’t really take the frustration out of clothes shopping. By that, I mean having to try clothes on and returning them if they don’t fit. So ideally, you should try to visit a local second-hand shop with a changing room to make things super straightforward. This does cut down your options a little, which is why it is still worth looking online as well. 

You have to be a little more patient when browsing online listings, and it is best to take some caution regarding the size. As we all know, sizing between brands can vary, even more so when shopping for older or vintage clothes. Some of these clothes may not even have their original size labels still attached. 

The trick here is to make sure you check any listing for measurements. You may even have to privately message the seller or contact the company to ask for some measurements. Usually, they will be able to give you the information you need to ensure that you’re buying something that will fit you. Even then, mistakes can be made! 

Despite the measurements, you still might not like how something fits. That’s okay, but make sure you can return it. Otherwise, you’re giving yourself a load more work to resell the item.

Getting the best price

Just like when you’re buying new clothes, it pays to shop around. You should definitely try to pop into different kinds of shops. Charity and second-hand shops vary drastically in the quality and price of clothes depending on the area and just how well-curated they are. So it is always worth popping in when you see one on your travels. 

If you’re shopping online, finding the best price is relatively quick and simple. Start with eBay, Depop and Vinted. You might be able to snag a great deal by watching an item and seeing if a seller reduces the price. Or you can jump in with a last-minute bid for something that caught your eye. 

Also, try shopping at dedicated second-hand sellers like Go Thrift, Beyond Retro and Green Heart Collective. The difference is that these organisations may be able to pass on cheaper prices during sales. 

Another great way to find the best price is to shop at weird times on auction sites like eBay. Sunday evening is usually the busiest time of the week on the site because more people are plonked down on their sofa after Sunday lunch (in the UK, that is!). So if you keep an eye out during the week, maybe during a lunch break or late into the evening, you may be able to win an auction for much less. 

A final money-saving tip is to be a little bit cheeky. Sometimes you need to politely ask for the best price, whether you’re at your favourite shop in town or browsing online. You might be able to get a small discount or free shipping.

Find your favourite brands.

Shopping second-hand is a great way to find top brands for much less, giving you a quality item that will last much longer than brand-new fast fashion. It means replacing your clothes less, which means buying less stuff overall. Did you know we already have around nine generations’ worth of clothes on this planet (Patrick Grant, Great British Sewing Bee)? They’re just sitting in our wardrobes, crying out for new homes where they can be loved and worn again!

Not only did I find one pair of amazing second-hand Doc Martens, but I have also recently found another pair of boots, this time for just under £50. Another bargain. I found these on Vinted, and to tell the truth, they are slightly scuffed and worn. Interestingly, when I researched the “Crazy Horse Leather” model, they were made to look worn-in from the outset. I am planning on giving them a little TLC to restore them slightly. 

My best tip here is to set up search alerts so that you can find whatever brand you love the most, in your size. Most platforms should let you do this, although the process works slightly differently on each one. 

It is worth experimenting by using different keywords in case of typos. You can sign up for email updates as often as you like so you know exactly when new items matching your search alert get listed. This gives you the best chance of being able to snag a quality item before someone else gets there first.

Don’t be afraid to explore other brands, styles and colourways. This is easier in a shop with a changing room. Some vintage shops are a gold mine for unique, one-of-a-kind styles you would never look for elsewhere. If you approach these shops like a treasure trove, you may discover a new brand you like.

Changing up your wardrobe

It is hard to be immune from the world of shiny new things. This includes the rise of micro-trends, where celebrities and influencers suddenly demand a new fashion item, only for it to go out of fashion just months later.

We don’t need to be led by trends. But some people may find confidence in mimicking the style of their favourite celebrity. Reality TV Show Love Island has recently proven that people will shop for second-hand fashion inspired by the celebs on the show. eBay saw a 700% increase in searches for preloved fashion, which is really positive to see. It means people can follow trends or celebrity styles more sustainably by using the heaps of clothes that already exist on our planet.

The most sustainable outfit is, of course, the one that is already in your wardrobe. People buy 80 billion garments worldwide yearly (Dana Thomas, Fashionopolis). In the UK alone, the value of unused clothing in wardrobes has been estimated at around £30 billion (WRAP). 

Ideally, this means we should all stop buying and use whatever clothes we have in our homes. But for many reasons, we might want to change what shirts, tops or dresses we wear daily. Our bodies change and grow. Clothes can wear out. Or you might not enjoy wearing a particular garment anymore. That’s okay. It’s all about what you do next. You could resell some trousers, donate a dress or upcycle a jacket. Maybe your friend or family member could wear your unwanted clothes. 

The popularity of second-hand fashion is on the rise, which is great for buying and selling clothes. It means you can change your mind and refresh your look by quickly taking a few pictures and uploading them to eBay or even to clothes swapping websites like Dopplle or Untagged.

One Final Tip

When you shop second-hand, you’re taking part in what is called ‘slow fashion. I think this is good to keep in mind because you do need slightly more patience. You might not find what you’re looking for immediately, or even for a few months. It’s all about taking your time and also allowing yourself to be pleasantly surprised when you stumble upon something a bit different. In this slowness, we can decide whether we want or need to buy something. Patience is a lesson I have learned and has helped me keep a wardrobe full of clothes that I love to wear. So here’s to shopping second-hand, where we can all still enjoy fashion responsibly while looking after the environment and our wallets!

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