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 Annabel Lindsay
To quote the official Wild Child herself, aka Miss Poppy Moore, “If we could just call this stuff vintage and add three zeros to the price tag, I could totally get into it”. This very important pop culture reference, I believe, is the perfect opener for exploring the stigma woven into second-hand clothing.
The term ‘second-hand’ seems irrelevant when buying a car, or a house but when it comes to our clothing, it’s often omitted. Buzz phrases like ‘pre-loved’, ‘pre-owned’ and ‘used’ are deemed more acceptable, but ‘vintage’ is the most socially desirable of them all.
Vintage by true definition, according to Cambridge Dictionary, means of “high quality and lasting value, or showing the best and most typical characteristics… especially from the past”.
Throwing the word vintage out there, it stands apart from the other terms used to describe second-hand clothing, as it suggests a status and stylised significance- e.g. vintage jewellery, vintage jeans, vintage bag… it just sounds better, right? Picture a vintage watch, what springs to mind? Perhaps a chunky gold-plated pocket watch, with intricate mechanics and roman numerals on the face.
Now picture a second-hand watch. What do you envision? Maybe a wrist watch with worn away leather straps. Or a scratched glass face, acting as a constant reminder of the previous watch-user relationship. Suddenly it feels less like it could be your watch, lacking the ability to represent you as an individual with a seemingly unique story to tell.
Or maybe, for you, the two watches you imagined were similar (or even identical), in which case I applaud you. Because, for you, the associations of vintage and second-hand are already somewhat merged in your subconscious. Why does this matter?
Well, according to @ethicalmadeeasy, “only 10% of clothes people donate to thrift stores or charities gets sold, the rest goes to landfill”. Suggesting that fears of social judgement prevail, preventing consumers from choosing to shop second-hand at all. If, for example, the British Heart Foundation charity shops were renamed ‘Vintage Hearts’, with an increased pricing strategy, could they attract those whom like to use clothes to communicate their status or affluence? (A very literal example, I know, but it’s certainly something worth thinking about…)
For me the resell economy, as a whole, is a no-brainer, especially when it comes to charity stores. I’m a massive advocate for a sustainable fashion industry and with charity stores, I’m reducing the need for new clothing production; often finding a steal (ironically, a mint condition pair of vintage Moschino jeans for just £16 is still my proudest find to date), and the proceeds go to a good cause. In my opinion, there’s no down side.
And I’m not alone. Second-hand consumerism is on the rise, with more and more people turning to the resell economy. According to Statista, “During 2018, sales in these stores saw a 9.2 percent rise in value, a notably large increase on the past two years”.
Now, I will admit that ‘vintage’ connotes a sense of luxury, arguably making it more appealing in an economically-fuelled consumer society, where success is measured on ability to flaunt material wealth as opposed to means of greater social cause. However, vintage clothes hold a unique position of relating to those empowered by affluence and those empowered by conscious consumerism, making it a unifying middle ground for the two seemingly contrasting areas.
Whilst we may often look to/at others for style inspo, it’s coming into ownership of something, that cements our style-based decisions about ourselves. Overcoming the need to build identity upon a foundation of social status or peer acceptance, could help to bring all second-hand clothing up to-par with the same social perception we, as a society, give to vintage clothing.
You could argue that anyone using social media is actively seeking affirmation of their lifestyle choices, depicted and merited through visually driven communication. Social media may have intensified pressures to demonstrate our identity and affluence. Meaning that vintage offers personality identification in accordance to perceived affluence, with that subtle nod to sustainability also.
Therefore, the debate of fearing ‘second-hand’ stigmas isn’t as simple as black and white, there are intangible barriers re-enforced by societies values which perhaps cause people to be skeptical around shopping or admitting to owning second-hand clothes. Barriers of which I believe the revolutionary app Depop is kicking down with a vengeance. Depop has embedded cool-hunter aesthetic and attitude within its resell functionality, blurring the expectations of what vintage and second-hand constitutes for its trend-savvy audience.
After all, are they essentially not the same thing; the same principles carried through the consumption of vintage and second-hand? It’s not about belittling those whom only shop vintage within resell, or about shunning those whom thrive on a thrift shop bargain. Instead it’s about allowing the inclusivity of second-hand clothing to transcend across all style and financial preferences. At the end of the day, anyone shopping resell at all is 100% in my good books – it’s the future of retail!
I guess what I’m trying to emphasise here is that labels and newness DO NOT have to be a component of your identity, and for the sake of some environmental justice, they probably should hardly ever be. So, let’s breakdown the walls of confining second-hand stigma and celebrate anyone and everyone choosing old over new, because we’re doing the best we can!
To quote once more the wisdom of Wild Child, regardless of whether you want something ‘elegant’ or something ‘incredibly slutty and available’, the important thing is that you do you! And you do it unapologetically. Viva-la-Vintage? Thrifty thrivers? Charity shop cools? Dreaming in Depop? We are all members of the same team, with each of us playing an important part in resell; contributing to a more sustainable fashion future.