Conscious fashion

words lauren bravo
photography dunja opalko
styling rachel blake

The planet, your wallet, your wardrobe… everybody wins with a preloved purchase 


Can you feel it? There’s a new mood in the air. Once, spring’s first warm breezes would have sent us flying to the high street to restock our wardrobes, but times are changing – and our habits are too. 

In a climate of growing concern about waste and consumption, recent figures have forced us to think more about the way we buy, wear and dispose of our clothes. Recent studies claim as much as 50 per cent of our wardrobe remains unworn, yet we’re still shopping like never before, and global clothing production has doubled in the last 15 years. The garment industry is the world’s second biggest polluter, with more than 300,000 tonnes of clothing a year ending up in UK landfill. It’s enough to kill anyone’s appetite for fast fashion. 

But the solution has been under our noses all along. Whether it’s designer cast-offs, vintage treasures or cheap and cheerful charity shop finds, there’s never been a
better time to shop secondhand. 

The resale clothing market is also booming, with one in three women now shopping for pre-owned items. There’s a raft of sites, such as Vinted and Vestiaire Collective, to help you sell on those barely-worn outfits and shed some capitalist guilt in the process. Meanwhile, sustainable fashion influencers like Mary Portas and Caroline Jones (aka @knickers_models_own) are helping to shift stale perceptions of secondhand clothes as musty throwbacks (be honest, when I said ‘under our noses’, you thought ‘smell’). In charity shops these days you’re as likely to find a Whistles dress as a St Michael blazer, often with the tags still on. 

Once you overcome the squeamishness, there’s something lovely about wearing an outfit with a little history sewn up in its seams. Not to mention the smugness of replying, “Oh, this? It’s vintage.” But secondhand shopping doesn’t mean committing to a retro aesthetic, either. It’s completely possible to look on-trend in old threads. For SS19 we’re talking canary yellow, double denim, boxy blazers, delicate lace blouses, printed maxis and silk scarves. 

Here are a few tips to help you sort the duds from the diamonds.

Crawl, don’t trawl

There are secondhand retailers to suit every taste and pocket, so take time to find the best stores for you. If you’re wary about old things, try resale shops like The Dress Agency in Widcombe or Grace & Ted in Kingsmead Square, which both
stock barely-worn designer pieces. Meanwhile, charity shops these days run the whole gamut from jumble-filled junk emporiums to well-lit, well-curated boutiques. The chi-chi labels are usually found in the most upmarket postcodes, while areas
with lots of elderly residents are often goldmines for 1960s and 1970s vintage. 

Focus... but not too much

To avoid being overwhelmed by choice and accidentally leaving a secondhand shop with an armful of taffeta ballgowns, it’s good to narrow your search to just one or two items, prints or trends. But at the same time, those perfect, one-of-a-kind buys need to be snapped up when you stumble across them – so don’t be afraid to let a wildcard turn your head. 

Use your imagination

Just like house-hunting, with secondhand clothes you have to look past the flaws and see the potential. Seasoned charity shoppers can do this as though they’re wearing a pair of X-ray goggles, mentally turning up hems, adding belts and removing Dynasty-sized shoulder pads before they’ve even slipped something off the hanger. Cardigans can be buttoned up backwards, dresses turned into tops and skirts, jeans cut off into shorts… the upcycling possibilities are endless. A tiny tweak can be the difference between style that’s straight out of 2019 – or 1989. 

Cut corners (in a good way)

You don’t have to be a whiz with a sewing machine either – the internet is full of hacks to help get more wear out of your clothes. Discover Wundaweb hemming tape, the lazy seamstress’s best friend, which can be ironed on in seconds without even threading a needle. Remove bobbles from old woollens using a sweater stone or disposable razor (no really) and fix stiff zips by running a pencil along the teeth. If DIY doesn’t appeal, alterations by a professional tailor can cost as little as a tenner.

Give clothes some TLC

Like all of us, secondhand clothes just want to be loved. If your clothes are clean and properly cared for, you’ll wear them more – but older clothes are more delicate, so invest in the right kit. For knitwear try Soak Wash, an eco-friendly detergent that doesn’t need to be rinsed out. Meanwhile, Day2 Spray is the holy grail: dry shampoo for clothes, which removes smells and creases without washing. 

Size up your vintage

The older the garment, the smaller it will be in comparison to modern sizes. A 12 from the 1960s will be closer to an 8 today, so always judge by the measurements when buying secondhand clothes online. And never be tempted to spend money on something that doesn’t fit, however gorgeous – it’ll only taunt you from the back of the wardrobe. 

Choose quality, not quantity

Premium fabrics like cashmere, silk and 100% cotton make the best long-term investments, as do heritage brands like Burberry and Jaeger, so read the label and look up any names you’re unfamiliar with. But remember, it’s only a bargain buy if you’re actually going to wear it. One person’s Prada is another person’s Primark. 

StyleKate Monument