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.

Things That Have Gone This Week – 6

Here we are, week 6 and the clear out continues! I took 2 of those massive charity plastic sacks to a charity shop this week- they contained yet more clothing, from both me and my OH. Plus board games, footwear and a whole stack of books. These were all things I hadn’t been able to sell, so I hope the charity shop will have more luck than me! I also took another big plastic sack of clothing that was too worn to a textile recycling bank. I had been planning to hold onto it for rags etc, but at the end of the day there was more than I was ever going to re-use and we don’t have the space to keep it all for years. I understand that it can be recycled into padding for car seats and the like.

Add to all this the 8 items I sold on eBay this week and I’d say it’s been a pretty good week 🙂 I got £92.45 for this little lot which I am pleased enough with, for stuff I don’t want the responsibility for anymore. This is the net figure, not minus postage etc but it’s still pretty good. I didn’t buy any of these items new and I ended up in profit on most of them.

  1. 2 sacks to charity
  2. 1 sack to textile recycling
  3. Turquoise Monsoon Skirt
  4. Vintage Laura Ashley Velvet Ballgown
  5. Vintage Laura Ashley maxi skirt
  6. Laura Ashley shirt dress
  7. Clarks Silver Ballet Flats
  8. Tu Pink Dress
  9. Juicy Couture Jeans
  10. Ice Skates

Another 2 items have bids on them too, so they’ll be included next week. But this was probably my best week so far for getting rid of stuff! Are you decluttering? If so, how’s it going?

A Short History of the Second-Hand Clothes Market

Anyone who knows me well will know that I love to shop second-hand, be it charity shops, jumble sales, car boots, eBay or anything else! During the many years I have been a part of the second-hand market, I have built a working knowledge of the value of items and particularly those which are sought after (hint: it tends to be the good brand names, as people know those are quality items). I also have been able to develop my love of vintage style, as I find genuine vintage items in the charity shops. One of my great loves is vintage Laura Ashley garments and I hope to be able to share a little more of that on my blog soon. I recently discovered a book published by Laura Ashley in 1983 and it’s a really fascinating read. It’s called Fabric of Society – A Century of People and their Clothes 1770-1870 by Jane Tozer and Sarah Levitt. You can pick up a hardback 1st edition for 1p, plus P&P on Amazon so it’s a real bargain!

I was very interested to come across this information about the history of the second-hand clothes market. As still is the case nowadays, second-hand clothing provides a way for poor (and financially savvy) people to buy the essentials. Then, as much as now, people were often too busy to sew or make their own garments. The Primarks of the day were known as ‘slop’ shops! I’m not sure if that’s where we get the word sloppy from. But just as today, the quality was poor and the garments did not last. The savvy people knew to buy second-hand, high quality garments that had come from the large houses. People who knew the market were very shrewd and able to judge which were the high-quality pieces. This meant if you were buying through a dealer, you’d pay a higher price than if you found the bargain yourself. Nothing changes eh?

Certain items of clothing were only worn by the gentry, such as dress coats and so, there was no second-hand market for these. They had to be turned into other garments, so they could be sold on. So, people either bought them and turned them into wool hats or caps, or traders did. These coats were also used to patch other garments. If a waistcoat began to wear, then it would be cut down into a smaller size or used to create cloth tops for boots. I think we could learn a thing or two from those days, don’t you?

Woollen garments which were so worn, they could no longer serve as clothing were sent for recycling. They would be ground down and mixed with new wool, into a fibre known as ‘shoddy’. I wonder if that’s where we get that word from also? This fibre was used to make cheap, mass-produced clothing. They didn’t waste anything and the dust from the mills, was used as manure on the hop-fields of Kent. This of course is safe with natural fibres, unlike the plastic micro-fibres that are clogging up our oceans today because we like to wear micro-fleece garments.

Old boots and shoes were patched up with anything they had to hand, even cardboard! Although that can’t have been great for anyone concerned, as it’s hardly durable or waterproof. Then they would be blackened to look good as new, if only temporarily. For this reason, people who worked outdoors often purchased new boots, even if they had to save up for them because they knew that quality footwear was essential to do their jobs safely and well!

In the 1700s and 1800s, women’s dress was less subject to change and this was because they knew how to sew! They would carry out any alterations themselves if fashions changed, or either repairing garments or cutting them down into child-sized ones. They would also tend to sell garments on themselves, after cleaning them. Old silk garments were used to line new clothing, or work boxes or dressing cases. They could also be turned into childrens or even dolls clothes!

Wool and cotton were recycled into shoddy thread and linen rags went to paper mills, but silk was not salvageable once damaged or worn. Cotton gowns were the most popular as they stood the test of time well and could be cleaned. Woollen dresses were less popular, as they did not last so well- probably prone to bobbling. Then of course, there were the furs. Any second-hand furs were mostly sold to prostitutes, as most people could not afford them – even second-hand! So much of this bears true today, if you buy a quality cotton garment it will be very long-lasting, as opposed to cheaper man-made fibres. I suspect that wool is more long-lasting today, as we know to hand wash it to keep it looking good.

The items that were most worn, such as trousers obviously tended to wear out and that’s why we don’t see many of these types of items, or working-class items at all in museums today because people actually wore their clothes out in those days. That really is a testament to the thriftiness and historic success of ‘the rag trade’, which really abhorred waste. A story that really is so relevant today!

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?

CEX- A second-hand/trade-in store

I don’t know if you’ve heard of CEX? I hadn’t until about 3 years ago, I think. CEX stands for Complete Entertainment Exchange. I thought it was about time I wrote about them, since I now mainly use them to trade in old DVDs as there is no minimum amount required and the payment is instant. That is if you trade-in, in-store. Please check out their website for online trade-ins because I’ve not used it.

We tend to treat CEX a bit like a library in our house, as they allow you to buy, sell and exchange technology products. According to their website, they have stores in the UK, Spain, USA, Ireland, India, Australia, Portugal, Netherlands, Mexico and Poland. So there might be one near you? We mainly use them for DVDs, but they will also take CDs in some larger stores. They also deal in computer games for various games consoles, mobile phones, computers and associated peripheries, laptops, iPods, iPads and more! I once traded in my old iPod with them and it was very straight-forward. They check all electrical items like that, so you get a ticket and leave it with them for 30 minutes or so- to protect them and the next person who comes along to buy your old stuff. Everything you buy comes with a 12-month warranty, so you’ve got additional peace of mind. You can choose to either receive cash or a voucher when trading-in. The voucher is worth more and valid for 1000 years! So you have plenty of time to spend it!!! You can even now choose to donate your money to charity- how fab is that.

I love the fact that one of the founding principles of CEX was to save the environment. They really got on board with zero waste about 20 year ago! They saw built-in obsolesce as a business opportunity as they recognised the need to recycle. Happily, they also saw that not everyone has the money (or has enough sense!) not to buy brand new and they thought that there would always be a market for these types of second-hand goods.

So you see, I think CEX is proof that second-hand, minimalism (i.e. don’t hold onto stuff that you no longer need) and zero waste really can change the world. They are also a really friendly place 🙂

P.S. I don’t work for them and they have not paid me to write this blog post!

Obroni Wawu

I’m fairly sure that like me, you probably had no knowledge of the meaning of those words before today. The literal translation from African/ Ghanaian is ‘dead white man’s clothes’. Rather apt when you hear the full story.

Again, like me, you probably thought that all those old clothes you sent to charity were sold onto other UK consumers, by the charity shop. What you may not know is that we spend an average of £60 billion a year on clothes here in the UK. Shocking, isn’t it? It should come as no surprise then, that our network of charity shops doesn’t have a big enough market to sell all these unwanted items on to, such is our thirst for the newer, better, cooler, trendier option. Apparently the UK 2nd hand market is dwindling, no doubt that old stigma still persists, but it is the oodles of cheap, disposable fashion that is the real culprit.

Our old cast-offs are sold on to ‘cash for clothes’ type wholesalers, by the tonne. Being as they have exhausted the UK market, they looked for new markets and the clothes are sold to Africa. Ghana specifically is the biggest importer taking £1 million per week! And this is where they get there name. ‘Obroni wawu’ is now preferred over traditional Ghanaian dress and the markets are literally full to bursting point with it. As in this country, there are different quality levels and weirdly, labels still have a big hold over consumers. Designer names and high quality brands like M&S are creamed off first and sold in boutiques. Then there are 2nd and 3rd tiers, the 3rd tier are the most worn, stained and worst condition. These 3rd level clothes are sold in the remote villages for as little as 25p each. But for some villagers, even that is too much and they have to get into debt for them.

Isn’t is shocking that our Western culture is having this kind of effect? Eroding Ghanaian culture because their clothes told stories, through the woven patterns since before they could read or write. Taking away their jobs in skilled, meaningful employment such as tailoring, weaving, dying and printing. Making them become consumers and perpetuating the cycle. Oh the irony of the poorest people in the world, PAYING for our charity shop cast-offs, freely given. The same charities that are probably sending money out to Africa to support these people.

Watching this BBC2 documentary, ‘The Secret Life of Your Clothes’ has only made my resolve stronger to break this cycle. Not only for myself, but to spread the word far and wide. We must only have what we need in this world and no more. Oh how blind we are to the consequences of our actions! Will you join me? Together, we can change the world.