Second-hand Stigma

Last Nite, She Said

Second-hand clothes are wardrobe treasures passed on from one person to the next and each unique item tells a story – yet they seem to get a mixed review amongst shoppers.
Does using the term ‘vintage’ free you from the stigma or does buying second-hand clothes make you feel like a second-class citizen?

It was 2001 and I was asking people on MSN Messenger (R.I.P old friend!) for music download suggestions. Although, really, you didn’t need to ask. Everyone’s MSN name reflected exactly what they were listening to, and changed almost every three minutes to reflect it. I asked a boy-in-a-band (no higher position in the social hierarchy of the time due to their music knowledge, and therefore fancyability) to recommend a song which I could spend the next ninety or so minutes downloading off of my dad’s new PC and super-fast internet connection.

A good bit of flirting with various boys-in-bands later (which mainly comprised debating the many ways and reasons why we detested the pop music industry, and specifically, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake) and I was able to press play on The Strokes’ debut single, ‘Last Nite’. And forthwith lost my mind, fell in love, and decided that I was never going to wear baggy skater style jeans ever again.

The next day in Business Studies AS level I passed a note to a friend: 

Wanna go 2 town shopping later? 

The hard and fast way that I fell in love as a teenager almost always manifested itself as a complete overhaul of the way I dressed. Only two years earlier I’d tumbled headfirst into the goth scene in one fell swoop replacing my pastel tracksuits from the market with dog collars and chains when a boy with long black hair, eyeliner and black tape over his nipples had deigned to speak to me.

And now, in order for my love for Julian Casablancas to be reciprocated, I needed to dress like I, too, was a 20-something year old musician from actual New York City: stonewashed denim jacket, faded t-shirt, skinny jeans and Converse All Stars. Because then he’d notice me…. *side eye emoji*.

Fast fashion shops were still in their infancy then, in Liverpool in the early noughties. We had Topshop and Miss Selfridge and River Island, a few others, but your Primarks and your Zaras had yet to settle into the city. I worked ten hours a week in a pizza shop and most of my £40 wages went on cigarettes and crisps and one big night out on a Saturday, so my disposable income rarely stretched to clothes anyway.

But with my new relationship on the line, it was time to pull out the big guns, beg my mum and dad for a few pounds, and go off in search of the key items I needed to pull off the look. And this is where I go off in search of my point, too. 

What we were after you just couldn’t get in Next or British Home Stores, and even Topshop was a bit mainstream for a girl who wanted to dress like the male lead singer of a band. So, without a second thought we headed to charity shops, thrift and second-hand stores, and the vintage departments of the major retailers.

There was no embarrassment, we didn’t feel like we were going for a cheap or outdated version of the clothes we wanted – we had no option but to shop in these places. Later we’d visit vintage fairs and jumble sales when our tastes turned to floral midi dresses and cardigans ‘like your nan used to wear’, and tatty brown leather satchels; chiffon dresses to wear over your jeans with those big horrible plastic necklaces in mint green, peach melba and lemon meringue yellow, and baggy ankle boots that had only been made by Ethel Austin’s a couple of years earlier but the inner sole was so worn you could blag they were ‘genuine 80s’.

For me and my friends, there was pride in second-hand shopping. It meant having something that no one else had and even though it constituted a kind of uniform amongst our gang members, no one else in our school dressed like us. We very much defined ourselves by the music we listened to and the boys we fancied, and the clothes we wore identified that before we opened our mouths to tell people. 

Even now, the smell of second-hand clothes takes me right back to being eighteen, drinking £1 beers in a dark basement nightclub, smoking, smiling and sweating. It reminds me of the must and fust of my room in my mum’s house, and the friends I went on lengthy shopping trips with to spend hours poring over second-hand and vintage. The great debate of whether you liked it or if it was just cheap, and the absolute lightbulb moment when we realised we could wear literally any size of anything if we had a varied enough collection of (vintage) belts to cinch it.

To me, no matter if it’s ‘vintage’ or ‘second-hand’ it signals a certain determination and strength of character in a person. It is shopping which takes more thought and effort – even with access to online boutiques, Depop and Ebay – and is accordingly more satisfying. It’s Julian Casablancas and it’s Carrie Bradshaw and it’s me and all my old school friends, all rolled into one. And we were all so cool.

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