Does using the term ‘vintage’ free you from the stigma or does buying second-hand clothes make you feel like a second-class citizen?

Milan to London

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?

By Mariangela Bruna
Instagram: @maribruknitwear

My view of second-hand clothes changed over the years and when I moved country.

I grew up in Italy between the ’70s and the ’80s. Second-hand was definitely associated with second-class, poverty; not being able to afford new stuff was considered a kind of failure. My mum always bought new clothes for my brother and me. Although we had older cousins we very rarely inherited any clothes from them. I suppose my parents’ generation was still too close to WW2 (that some of them had experienced directly as children) and the poverty and hardship associated with wartimes. Plus, in the ’70s the economy was still growing, people had discovered consumerism only in the previous decade and it was now in full swing.

I think the relationship with second-hand clothes hasn’t changed enormously in Italy in the present days. “Vintage” has become cool in the meantime, we use the English word, which makes it even cooler! It’s great if you get your hands on a rare find, on something a bit special, preferably by a prestigious label, but I think ‘normal’ second-hand clothes have still got a stigma.

In my opinion it’s because, on average, we Italians love our clothes, we care a lot about appearance, we want to be stylish and on trend, we spend quite a lot of money on fashion, we love brands and labels, we love to show them off. Probably many of us also have hygienic reservations about buying something that has been previously owned by someone unknown. Nowadays we buy more from cheap high-street stores but we still prefer to buy new.

I saw the first second-hand shops in Milan in the early 2000s but they were only for children’s clothes and babies’ items. Buying second-hand for your kids was becoming acceptable because they grow out of things so quickly, but the items on offer were all nearly new and very good quality. 

I bought second-hand quite a lot for my daughter and started to buy for myself only when we moved to London. Personally I never bought a lot but always favoured quality over quantity.

Living in London now I love popping into my favourite charity shops in my area and, although I don’t buy much altogether, when I need or feel like something new I first check my favourite charities. It goes without saying that when I go for something new it’s high quality that will last me for a long time, and natural fibres!

My daughter is now in her teens and she likes changing clothes often and buying from high-street chains (in spite of my attempts at discouraging her!) but I have to say some of the seeds I’ve sown are bearing some fruits, because she also wears some of the things that I kept from my youth (well, they are vintage…!) and also looks for second-hand stuff herself, especially online.

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