the year of second hand

AT: Why did you decide to start buying only second-hand clothing for a year? What was happening in your life at the time?

DM:I had just come back to the U.S. after living abroad for two years. Before leaving the U.S. I had basically purged my entire closet, and when I came back I really only brought the clothes I was wearing, so I had a blank slate to start with. I was feeling increasingly icky about the fashion industry; I just didn’t want to participate in it and as someone who has always loved thrifting, I realized there wasn’t any reason I couldn’t go completely second-hand. There’s really nothing you can’t find second-hand.

AT: What have you learned throughout the process?

DM: I’ve learned a lot about my own personal style. While I always liked to stand out with my clothes and was always a little quirky, I’ve realized that I’m more influenced by trends than I thought I was. When I’m drawn to something trendy, I’m more conscious of it now because I can’t just walk into a thrift store and expect to find the latest thing on display. So I think it’s been a growing process, which I like because I am also heading into the second half of my twenties and would like to think I am slowly but surely evolving into a real adult woman, style included. Shopping thrift has allowed me to learn what I truly like and what makes me feel good, regardless of trends, in a more authentic way. Plus, I never show up anywhere wearing the same thing as someone else. I’ve also learned that sizing is so arbitrary and such a silly way to measure bodies. I don’t even look at sizes anymore, I just hold the piece of clothing up and if it looks like it might fit, I try it on. I have a pair of jeans that are a size 2 and another pair that are a size 14, and they both fit like a dream.

AT: What has been the hardest for you?

DM: Finding pants that fit nicely. And even that isn’t that hard – it’s just that the jeans and pants sections are always the most overwhelming and it takes a LOT of trying on.

DM: What are your thoughts on fashion and consumer culture?

AT: Oof. It’s a bit of a love-hate relationship, to be honest. I have always loved fashion and dressing up, ever since I was a little girl, but in recent years have started to think more about the broader systemic issues inherent in the fashion industry, as you mentioned. Namely, the horrible effects on the environment, like water pollution. I’m a vegetarian for the same reasons–not because I think my choices will have a huge impact on the entire meat industry, but because I believe there is a way that our relationship with industries like these can become more sustainable and I want to lead by example, at least to some degree.

AT: Has buying second-hand has made you see consumption differently?

DM: Yes, it’s made me more aware of myself as a consumer of everything. Even when making purchases that aren’t clothes, I find myself thinking about where whatever it is came from, and what kind of waste it will create when I’m done with it, and if there’s a better way to buy the same thing. It is really hard to do and I make no claims of being the best consumer, because there is also a certain amount of privilege in being able to make those decisions – so many people have very little choice in where and how they can shop – so while I try to be a conscious consumer, I also try to be conscientious about it. The small choices I make, at the end of the day, are about my own personal sense of contributing as little as possible to a problem, but that problem requires a greater change at the systemic level.

DM: What about you? Have you changed as a consumer? What influences your consumer philosophy?

AT: Similar to you, I’ve become a lot more aware of when things are a trend, rather than a lasting style I’ll be able to pair with other things in my wardrobe. I’ve also become more realistic in my expectations for what I’ll actually wear–I’ve donated too many pairs of bright colored heels to trick myself into buying any more. I’ve realized that there will always be items at H&M that I want to buy and that might even fit me well, but buying them isn’t necessarily going to make me happier. If anything, I’ll get a lot more use out of a warm, woolen coat, living in cold places all the time.

AT: Do you think this year will have lasting effects on your consumption habits long-term, or do you see it as more of a fun challenge?

DM: It’s definitely a long-term thing – I started the challenge as a way to shop ethically until I could afford to buy from ethical brands, which tend to be too expensive for my lil student budget (rightly so, that is a part of what makes them ethical). At this point I am used to the thrift life and the few times I’ve gone into normal stores, I’ve found myself overwhelmed and stressed *laughs* so I think I’ll probably just keep thrifting and maybe buying something new every now and then to supplement.

DM: Where do you like to shop? How much of what you buy now is second-hand?

AT: I would say that 80% of my wardrobe is second-hand, at this point. Even before I did my ‘second-hand year,’ I was buying and inheriting a lot of pre-worn items because I found they were just better quality. My favorite place to shop might just be my grandmother’s closet. :) So although I’m now allowing myself to buy some new items, I, too, feel a bit overwhelmed when I walk into stores full of “virgin” (aka unused) clothing, clearly mass-produced to keep up with some Instagram trend. The main things I don’t buy second-hand are shoes (I have big feet) and underwear, and for those I like to at least look at where the clothing was produced. If it’s a big brand but made in the EU or North America, rather than Southeast Asia, chances are the labor conditions are a bit better. Plus, less transporting involved.

I’ve been lucky enough to live in some of the best cities (I believe) for thrifting: Stockholm, New York, and Portland, OR. There is a huge vintage and second-hand culture in all three places, and I was a bit sad when moving to London because I didn’t think the quality would be quite as high. While I’ve had to find new favorite stores, I’ve been happy to discover that there are “charity shops” on most high streets in London, which are always super cheap.

AT: Do you have favorite places to shop, second-hand or otherwise? For good-quality (albeit a bit spendy) designs I love Selva Negra, which is an independent clothing brand employing women in Los Angeles. Weekday and Summersalt both make their swimsuits out of recycled plastic (and are super cute).

DM: Ooh I hadn’t heard of those, I’m excited to check them out. To be honest, the giant warehouse-style stores are my favorite, because the thrill of a great find is that much more, and they have everything from the cheap basics to the designer and high-quality brands, all on the same price scale. I get annoyed when I’m in more curated thrift shops because I find myself thinking I could have found exactly the same thing at Goodwill for a third of the price (but then again it’s important to support small businesses!). I also just enjoy the act of browsing; I usually give myself a couple of hours, put in headphones, and get into it. It’s like a hobby.

As I said before, I don’t really have a desire to buy any clothes new at this time, even though my second-hand year challenge is almost up. In terms of bath and body, household things, and accessories, I love BLK+GRN which is an online marketplace for black women-owned businesses that sell natural products. I bought these Mahnal paddle rings and this amazing toxin-free nail polish through them. I also love Public Goods which makes bathroom and home products using natural, ethically sourced ingredients. I really love the ayate washcloth, it’s equally smooth and exfoliating at the same time.

DM: You always look fabulous, tell me about your style. Who or what inspires you?

AT: Colour, colour, colour! I learned at a fairly young age which colours look good on me and which simply make me feel good, which has also probably saved me a lot of time digging through racks at Goodwill. I’m also tall (nearly 5’11”), so small patterns end up looking like a tablecloth on me. As a result I’ve mostly stuck to simple, clean-lined cuts in bold colours and black with a few statement accessories. I like to be comfortable and I’m often wearing sneakers or boots, so sometimes my style veers on the androgynous side. Very Scandinavian, in a way.

I’m probably most inspired by artwork and musical artists. I may not be able to sing like Solange Knowles or Florence Welch but I can borrow from the color palettes of their music videos. Even certain painters influence my wardrobe through color usage. Right now I’m digging reddish orange, royal blue, and mustard yellow with a lot of gold earrings. Oh, and red lipstick.

DM: What is the best thing you ever bought second-hand?

AT: Such a hard one! It would probably have to be an old men’s leather jacket that I found at a hipster thrift store in Stockholm. I was hesitant to buy it because it was about $40 (which isn’t cheap for second-hand), but I wear it all the time. It’s really heavy and the belt loops clang when I walk, so it makes me feel untouchable wearing it. I love how fashion has that transformative power.

Words: Anneli Tostar & Dichaba McGinty

Illustration: Anneli Tostar