Is it Vintage or is it Second Hand?

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These days second hand clothes are not always a bargain. The vintage label seems to come with a hefty price tag. Since when have hand-me-downs and cast-offs become ‘vintage’? Is there any real difference? Today I am going to explore this further, with the help of a new series on BBC Radio 4 – From Rags to Riches.

Second-hand is no longer seen as the poor man’s choice and is becoming quite mainstream, with the rise of the likes of eBay. People who bought vintage clothes up until  the Millennium tended to buy only the rarer or more collectible pieces. In more recent times, there has been a real shift and almost anything goes, so long as it is a unique one-off or fits current trends, but without the large price tag of buying new. But with this sweeping change, should we be concerned about true vintage items dying out? This seems likely with the rise in poor quality, fast fashion pieces which are not made to last or even cut well in the first place. I cannot see them enduring in the same way, as items from 40+ years ago.

I have mentioned in a previous post about the history of the garment trade. But what is vintage? Is it simply a garment that is too old, for you to have worn the first time round, in your lifetime? Or is vintage about having a connection with the past? Sometimes people have the luxury of knowing a garment’s original story. But often they are bought anonymously, in a shop or online. I know that I am attracted to clothes from certain eras. I particularly love a lot of the styles that were around in the 1970s, the decade just before I was born. But I can’t really explain why that should be so, it’s probably just personal preference. There certainly seems to have been a lot more meaning attached to certain types of clothing in the past; like flapper dresses, the ‘new look’, mods and rockers or teddy boys, are just a few examples. I am certain that the rise of the term ‘vintage’ has concurred with the rise of the internet and various online marketplaces. Perhaps this is because search engines rely on people searches for certain labels or definitions?

Vintage fashion is quite possibly a counter-cultural movement, a reaction to the fast fashion of the high street. Around the turn of the Millennium,  vintage began to step outside the wardrobes of Punks and students and onto the red carpet. It even found its way onto the pages of high fashion magazines, starting with British Vogue in May 2003. Perhaps some people still adhere too strongly to labels, even when buying second hand. Certainly some people may only buy second hand designer labels. Others may stick to labels that they know suit them, or they like the style of and there’s nothing wrong with that! Still others will actually just like to purchase something second hand, from your common charity shop and just enjoy wearing something that they love, that no-one else has.

So perhaps now, buying vintage or second hand is not an alternative lifestyle choice and has become mainstream in itself? It seems to me that the label vintage is simply applied to any garment over 20 years old, in order to inflate the price artificially. Although I admit that some people have an eye for finding the nicer pieces and perhaps this curation is worth paying a bit extra for. But I love the thrill of the chase. I certainly think there is good vintage and bad vintage, but again perhaps that is a matter of perception. This modern fashion concept called ‘vintage’ just rebrands everything in the same way, whether it’s a Regency gown or a pair of 1990s Adidas Gazelle’s. That is an unhelpful paradox to create.

Certainly, if you head into any fashion design studio what you will find are rails of old clothes (or shall we call them ‘vintage’ darling?) As my Grandad used to tell me, there is nothing new in this world and he always swore that if he kept clothes long enough, they’d be back in fashion again. Not that he truly cared about that, it was just an excuse to never go shopping, well except at jumble sales. (See where I get my love of second hand from – ha!) Anyway, the point is that designers use them as reference points for the ‘new’ trends that they create – whether it’s copying a button, a hem-line, a frill or a motif.

Vintage carries a prestige now because you have the garment and no-one else can. I suppose when people made their own clothes, there was far less likelihood of someone else wearing the same thing, as you chose the material, the pattern and cut it to fit you. Whereas nowadays there is a real fear of turning up in the same thing as someone else, at least for some people. But clearly, the word ‘vintage’ means different things to different people. I still prefer the rummage at the charity shop, along with the generally acceptable price tag. Although even some of them are now offering vintage boutiques, with prices to match! You just have to remember to check the condition of the items, as I often find that they don’t check and have been left with an imperfect, or sometimes unwearable item due to staining.

If you’ve enjoyed my blog post today, you will enjoy listening to the Rags to Riches podcast.

Second Hand Rose – The Beauty of Buying Second Hand

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My family call me Second Hand Rose! I’ve earnt this nickname over years because of the huge proportion of things I buy second hand. Be it charity shops, eBay, jumble sales, car boots, Facebook selling groups, friends, friends of friends- you name it, I’ve probably bought an item that way! Above is an Ercol hoop back chair I picked up for £2 on a Facebook selling group. I don’t think the seller had an idea of its value (but I did!) It needed sanding down as it had a few paint splatters on it, but nothing structurally wrong and look at it now, good as new and looking fantastic!

My family think I inherited a double-dose of the second hand gene, as my maternal grandfather used to love rooting around at a good car boot sale and my paternal grandmother was a definite charity shopper, along with the good old church jumble sale! Friends have pointed out that I have a nose for a bargain and can spot a good brand a mile off! I think this is down to years of learning to spot the good stuff and also knowing what I am looking for. This doesn’t necessarily have to be item specific because I think it’s important to keep an open mind when shopping second hand, as you never know what you might find. But, you can know what you’re looking for in terms of good brand names, quality material and manufacturing, condition and style. There are Antiques and Collectables Guides which you could consider borrowing from your local library to gen-up. But they will usually only cover furniture, crockery and that kind of thing. I’ve tended to learn from experience and by spotting a good-looking item and then reading up about it or the brand online afterwards.

For example; I’m often buying ladies clothing for myself- if you keep an eye out for the higher end brand names (and occasionally designer pieces. Yes really, get to know your designer labels!) you will often find a good piece. To be more specific, I would be looking for Hobbs, White Stuff, Seasalt, Phase Eight, Laura Ashley, Whistles, Lands End and that sort of thing. A brand name doesn’t always spell quality, in my humble opinion White Stuff make some real cheap tat these days- really thin, poor quality cotton items. You also want to check out the condition of the garment – has it been washed too many times or incorrectly and is the fabric starting to look pilled, bobbled, misshapen or even shrunk?

Always try on your garments before buying, just as you would do in a shop. There’s often a reason why an item has ended up in a charity shop – it may be an oddly fitting or unflattering garment. Sometimes you don’t notice a flaw until you try it on; like a zip that doesn’t work, or a stain that only shows up in the bright changing room lighting. Most charity shops these days do have changing rooms, but if not – make sure that you can return an item for a refund if it doesn’t fit. Beware the charity shops that will only give you a credit note, as that probably won’t be much use – you can’t guarantee that there will be another item you want to buy. Another way to mitigate against potential disasters is to carry a tape measure with you and know your own body measurements off by heart. That way you can quickly and easily ascertain whether an item is likely to fit.

I buy a significant proportion of my wardrobe second hand with most pieces only costing a few pounds. Much of the time (because I look out for good brand names, in excellent condition and won’t pay over the odds), I can sell an item on after I’ve finished wearing it for the same or more than I paid for it. This only works if you also take care of the items whilst they’re in your ownership – so don’t stain them or shrink them in the wash! But it works out as a zero cost per wear! How many people can say that?

My general advice is that you don’t want to pay more than £10 for an item like a jacket, coat or dress, no more than £6 for a skirt and no more than £4 for a pair of trousers or a top. Occasionally I might go a little bit higher, say £12 for a  really nice dress and £15 for a proper, winter coat. But charity shops that ask any more than that for High Street names are trying to take the mickey and over inflate their prices. I see this more and more these days, and to be honest you might as well just look on eBay where you’ll often find things for less. Personally I dislike car boot sales and jumble sales for clothing because you can’t try items on, but the advantage is that items are usually so cheap (we’re talking anything from 10p up to about £2), that you can afford a few mistakes! Always remember to check the care labels before buying clothing – you might love the item, but you’re not going to love paying to dry clean it all the time! I try to stick to machine washable items only and that’s probably better for the environment too.

Whilst I’ve majored on clothing in this post, we’ve bought a significant amount of our furniture and homewares second hand. The only thing I’m slightly squeamish about buying second hand are mattresses and sofas, or easy chairs. Soft furnishings can easily be harbouring nasty bugs, you don’t know if the previous owner has had pets (fleas!), or basically what bodily fluids are on the items. Ewwww. That said, I have purchased 1 upholstered chair second hand and it has been fine. It’s a bit different if you’re going to re-upholster something and just keep the frame. Mind you, some people are squeamish about second hand shoes, but as long as they’re in good condition that doesn’t bother me. And no, I’ve never caught anything nasty! The fact is you can shave a significant portion off the price of new by buying second hand. If you stick to good brand names, you’ll probably break in or even profit (so long as you check, for example, sold prices on eBay beforehand to make sure you don’t bid over the top). I’d recommend looking at items made by John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, Ercol, G Plan, Laura Ashley and similar.

Sometimes it’s helpful to go to a specialist retailer that deals in a particular item, or group of items. For example, for a musical instrument, sporting equipment, sewing machine. They may also service the item before sale and possibly give a guarantee with it. You’ll also benefit from their expertise. This is particularly helpful if you have children who grow out of items quickly, as you’ll often find barely used items for a fraction of their original price.

You can buy almost anything second hand and it can really help your budget to stretch further. I’d love to hear stories of your second hand bargains. What kinds of things do you buy second hand and why? Where do you like to shop for them?