why buy second hand

Estate sales have become my favorite way to treasure hunt for clothes. This Burberry trench once belonged to a wealthy European immigrant who passed away last year. Her closet had patent pumps, fur coats, teeny-tiny beaded evening bags and checkered trousers.  Her silk blouses had mother-of-pearl buttons and were all beige in color.  She read books on American history and politics. She liked tea pots and had a large collection of wine glasses. I felt like an intruder for going through the private contents of her home but she left behind a lot of “stuff” that needed to be cleared out. The next owner of this trench coat was supposed to be my aunt. She wanted it until she came to pick it up. She could not get over the iffy feeling of a second hand garment and refused to even try it on. Hence this blog post. ( Its also time for me to stop buying second hand garments for my friends and family. More often than not, I am stuck selling these items … )

Isn’t it iffy ?

Have you eaten with a spoon in a restaurant ? Have you seen how they wash the beer mugs in a bar ? Have you tried on clothes in a store ? Have you slept in the sheets in a hotel bed ? Haven’t you shared germs on the subway but washed yourself after you got home? The phobia of second hand garments feels unjust to me. I also get asked about how I avoid items from people of certain cast/religion. I am still flabbergasted by that question. Its going to be fine. My quality of life has increased from wearing a second hand garment. I wish you the same.

To start off

I get asked about my clothes a lot. I have cousins/girlfriends who borrow my jewellry and dresses. I get asked a lot about how I can afford the Celine & Stella McCartney. “Second hand”, I proudly announce.


There is also this sad realization that we have a long way to go before recycling becomes a mainstream concept. I have seen people cringe. I have seen people force a fake smile to hide their disapproval. At this point, I am wary of talking to people about second hand clothing because I have to listen to them in return. All of these opinions. If I met the 23-year-old me fresh-off-the-boat, she would have said these things too and I would like to punched her in the face. Grow up faster, I would tell her. Anyways ….

Lies :

  1. I shop second hand because I want to save clothing from being wasted.
  2. I shop second hand because I am trying to reduce my carbon footprint.
  3. I shop second hand because I have no other ethical options. ( I have Everlane. )

I could write about it from the view point of I-am-holier-than-thou and I-am-busy-saving-the-planet-f***er. But that would be a lie.

Truth :

  1. I am trying to change the way I consume.
  2. Saves me money.
  3. It feels good to wear beautifully made clothes that some one else paid the retail prices for.
  4. This process is rather easy in urban America. There is so much stuff everywhere.
  5. I do enjoy a mix of unique pieces mixed with my everyday staples. I follow fashion and am a tad aware of whats currently in stores. And more often than not, I always want something else.
  6. I never knew the kind of good quality my budget can buy me, until I started shopping secondhand. For x amount of dollars, I try to get the best quality, design and fit. ( Instead of taking x amount of money and buying something new. People do this with cars all the time. )
  7. Its the way I can afford the quality I desire and the quantity I need.
  8. I enjoy it (a lot more than going to store in the mall). I like going to estate sales and flea markets. Clothes from the past have a fascination to me. Harsha and I go to a thrift shop in every new city we visit. We go to a flea market in every country we visit.
  9. I enjoy fashion. There are a few designers whose vision I admire. I am glad that I too can wear the Stella McCartney mauve funnel coat which costs as much as rent in Arizona if I purchased it in store. ( I paid 15% of the retail price.)
  10. Every garment is fair game irrespective of if its fast fashion. Save those garments from being wasted by wearing them.
  11. I want to prove it to the world that it is possible to build a great closet without going the fast fashion route or spending a fortune. That is the sole purpose of my mentioning the words ‘second hand’ in my outfit posts. Ethical fashion is equated to spending capacity. Yes, we need to invest in the few things we buy but we don’t need to be in the top N% earners to do so.
  12. Ethics of production absolutely matters. I don’t think humans can afford more dead rivers from toxic dyes dumped into them. Brands that spend the dime to do the right thing cost more but they can be found on the second hand market. I want to wear ethically made clothes.
  13. If a high quality item is rotting in the back of the closet, please give someone a chance to use it. I get to wear these beautiful clothes because someone decided to let go of their unused stash. I tag my outfits ‘second-hand’ because I want to give humans the credit for being generous enough to not hoard their unused clothes.
  14. If we have to donate something we dont really need or use, I want to associate it with a positive happy act. And not think ONLY in terms of my loss. Giving a usable item to someone else is an act of kindness.
  15. It takes some pressure off those of us who invest in our clothing. If I change size/shape, knowing that I can sell it gives me the confidence to spend the money on well made things.
  16. Going overboard with second-hand clothing is also excessive consumption. My hoarding second hand items prevents other woman who actually need these items from finding them. Same rules apply.
  17. I want to encourage recycle economy. Its associated with disgust and looked down upon. I want that stigma gone. My clothes dont stink. I am your every day woman who works, cooks, has a family and pets. I dont mean this in a snobbish way but most people I know in real life respect me. I am hoping that if I publicize second hand, I can reduce the stigma a little in my inner circle of humans. Words like “It came from a thrift shop” should be said with the same pride as “I bought it from Nordstrom”.
  18. Bloggers. I want us to change the world for better in some way and not be ads in disguise. If you ask “suggest a black turtle neck cashmere sweater”, my answers should not be random items I can affiliate link from my network and praised incessantly to make a sale. Cashmere has been in such demand that its destroying echo systems and has a huge carbon footprint. The answer needs to be a responsible one. I should try to find a few second hand garments and share the links. Second hand shopping needs to be encouraged. It needs to become a mainstream concept.

Vintage as a way to distance myself from sweatshops

Its a great option. But there are 9 billion humans on this planet at its current state. My shopping vintage wont make a dent in the rotten system. Will distancing myself from the problem solve the problem ? Even if few of us shop second hand, its not going to change the way fast fashion industry make their clothes.  The people who care the most are dropping out of the race. The way to change it is to get into it and clean it from the inside. By influencing governments to implement standards. By supporting companies who are doing their best to make a change. There is no perfect company but lets not use that as an excuse to support fast fashion.

Terminology :

Vintage – Often used to refer to clothes made in an era when construction and quality was much higher. Nobody interchanges the word vintage cars with second-hand cars. Somehow, the fashion crowd seem to call old clothes vintage interchangeably. Vintage clothes can be found in charity shops but not all clothes in there are vintage. They can cost more than your average new fast fashion garment and have been known to start bidding wars from collectors.

Second hand – Any item of clothing from the past that is up for sale.

My way to build a closet

T-shirts from brands with good ethics that make affordable basics. Jeans have to be new because once they stretch, I may not be able to get them to stretch again to fit my body.

I have bought second hand bras in the past. I buy my underwear new during the thanksgiving sales.

Most of my workout wear is second hand – hand me downs, gifts and eBay finds. Sports bras have to be new.

Everyday dresses and shirting need to be second hand finds from mid-tier brands.

Jackets and coats should be acquisitions from luxury houses when the price is too good to be true.

I have learnt that cheap cashmere is just that. I will never buy my cashmere new again considering what its doing to the planet. Treat it like playing the stock market. Wait and watch. Buy when you find a thick and sturdy one from brands known for their knitwear.

Shoes should be made by craftsman & purchased second hand. They have to be gently used because leather moulds to the feet. Let them break it in a little so that I don’t get the blisters.

Accessories should be vintage and flea market finds. Interesting fabrics can become scarves. Embellished scarves are welcome. Men’s scarves give the most scarf per dollar. Vintage Native American jewellry – YES ! Tooled leather bags were well loved in my closet. I am open to costumes for the past but they seem to have too much print on them. Peasant blouses, worker wear, cowboy hats, military duffel bags, French officer coats, aviator jackets,  …. yes to all if I can find them.

Evening wear gets worn the least and has to be second hand dresses found on deep discount. Cost per wear is a very important concept. I wont spend money on clothes I wear so little.

Inherited clothes have a value. Its easy for me to use shawls and jewellry. But have no idea as to what to do with the sarees. I will figure it out with time. My mother, grandmother and great-grand-mother saved a stash of them for me, to be cut into cloth diapers for my future baby. That’s a zero waste mindset !

I want my style to not be stagnant. If I want to try something new – a trend or something out of my comfort zone, it has to be a second hand find.

NEXT in the series …

Assessing quality of second hand garments.     

My first.

Shopping on ebay.   

Shopping on Realreal.

Shopping on Depopp.  

Shopping In-store.

Shopping on Etsy.     

Recommended reading

My Ten Commandments of Vintage shopping .