how to shop secondhand

How to Shop Secondhand

Happy Secondhand September! Oxfam, a charitable organization aiming to end global poverty, started this annual event in September 2019 when it launched a 30-day challenge to only shop secondhand. As temperatures drop and we head back to school or work, September is typically a month when we purchase a lot of new clothing and accessories. A 30-day challenge can be a fun way to disrupt our patterns and force us to re-examine our routines. For me, Secondhand September has become an annual reminder to be thoughtful about my purchases and celebrate the items I’ve scored secondhand.

Shopping secondhand is an important part of the sustainable fashion movement. Globally we have already produced enough garments to clothe every person on the planet many times over. By re-using and extending the life of our garments through secondhand shopping, we reduce their environmental impact and help to slow the pace of fashion.

While I’ve been motivated to shop secondhand, it hasn’t always been my favourite way to shop for three main reasons. First, I value efficiency. Shopping secondhand is the opposite of efficient. Secondhand stock is unpredictable and limited so it requires more time and effort to find the right item. Second, it’s easy to make mistakes. When you’re shopping secondhand there’s often only one item in each style. This means you can’t try on other sizes, there aren’t alternative colours or patterns, and, if you take a few days to think it over, the item can sell out! Third, I define my personal style as modern. I don’t like to wear pieces that feel dated or “retro” and often secondhand clothing made me feel like I was wearing a costume.

Despite my challenges shopping secondhand I persevered and, slowly, started to cherish my secondhand finds. Here are my tips for shopping secondhand well:

Know your personal style: Shopping secondhand well requires decisiveness. It’s critical that you have a good understanding of what works for you and your lifestyle. Take my style personality quiz to get started on this process.

Know your wardrobe: Shopping secondhand well requires precision. You need to know what you already have in your wardrobe to be able to add new pieces that will integrate well.

Have a target: Shopping secondhand well requires you to know what you’re looking for. Maybe there was a pair of shoes you wanted to buy new but they were too expensive, or a dress you wanted to buy new but it sold out too quickly. Keep a running list of the items you already love.

Know your size: Shopping secondhand well requires accuracy. There is no universal sizing structure when it comes to fashion. Every brand can fit differently. It’s important to know what sizes work for you in all your favourite brands, especially if you’re shopping online.

Shop in real life: Shopping secondhand well requires you try things on. It’s ALWAYS better to shop in person, especially secondhand. You can feel the fabric, see the true colour, watch how it moves, and inspect for imperfections.

Know the original prices: Shopping secondhand well requires knowledge. Thanks to the internet it is very easy to confirm when an item was made and what it cost. With very few exceptions, a secondhand garment should be considerably less than when it was new. Getting a good deal is part of the fun of shopping secondhand.

As I’ve defined my personal style more precisely over time, I see myself being less influenced by fleeting fashion trends and more able to pick out specific secondhand items that work for me.

As I’ve defined my personal style more precisely over time, I see myself being less influenced by fleeting fashion trends and more able to pick out specific secondhand items that work for me. In fact, I have really started to like shopping secondhand because:

I have lots of clothes I love: I’ve worked to build a comprehensive wardrobe in the truest sense: a collection of garments that work with each other, capture my spirit and are enduring. I wear and re-wear my pieces for years, decades even, and because of this I don’t need to purchase a lot of new things every season. I’m no longer trying to assemble a new wardrobe every four months, gathering as much as I can as fast as I can. I have more time and inclination to browse and think about what strategic pieces I want to add.

I have more fashion knowledge: My years spent trying different brands, styles, fabrics, and shapes, significantly increased my fashion knowledge. Now, because of this effort, I’m able to make better decisions about what I want to buy.

I can spot “me” anywhere: I know my style and what works for me. My wardrobe is filled with garments supporting my vibe so it’s easier to spot an item that’s “me” anywhere – including from secondhand shops. I’m also able to resist a great deal in my size if it doesn’t work for me. Even if it’s cute!

Now, I enjoy the experience of shopping secondhand. I still buy new pieces, of course, but secondhand shopping has become an equal part of my search. Fashion today is not about accumulation, but curation – can you find the right piece for you amongst all the clutter?

Here’s a list of secondhand boutiques and online sites I visit to help you get started on your Secondhand September shopping!

Turnabout: In Vancouver and online. Turnabout has many boutique locations around Vancouver, but my favourite is their Luxe location on south Granville Street.

Mine & Yours: In Vancouver and online. Mine & Yours has such a great selection of authentic secondhand designer products. I NEED to get to their new shop on Davie Street!

The Sequel Sale: Online. (occasional in-person events). Alice’s knowledge and enthusiasm for her product, and secondhand shopping in general, is second-to-none. She always has something new to check-out.

The RealReal: Online. The RealReal is the real deal. Because they have such a vast selection, I recommend filtering your search results by size so you’re not tempted to buy something that won’t fit!

LXR: Online. This is a great secondhand option to checkout for designer bags and accessories.

Vestiaire Collective: Online. Similar to the RealReal, Vestiaire Collective has a vast assortment of designer secondhand products.

VSP Consignment: In Toronto and online. This one is new on my list but looks like it’s going to be a fave.

Collective Will: In Vancouver and online. Randa brings in unique vintage pieces. I feel like this is the spot to find a signature item no one else will have!

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