It's #SecondHandSeptember ! How I buy my clothes almost exclusively second hand

I've been planning a post about shopping second hand for absolutely ages but you know what I'm like - why write 200 words when you could write 2000? So here I am just managing to squeeze this into the end of #SecondHandSeptember.

The main reason I've been wanting to write about buying second hand clothes for so long because these days, I buy probably 90% of my clothes second hand (and try to buy the other 10% from independent shops as much as I can!), but I didn't really get into second hand shopping until #SecondHandSeptember in 2019.

If you haven't heard of #SecondHandSeptember, it's a challenge from Oxfam to buy only second hand clothing in the month of September - exactly what it says on the tin. And one of the biggest challenges of #SecondHandSeptember is that September is traditionally the time we all start thinking about our winter wardrobe - a new coat or boots or knitwear, so it's the perfect time to challenge yourself to buying second hand.

Before I took on the challenge, I dabbled in second hand clothes - I'd bought a Liverpool shirt I couldn't find anywhere else, a Ted Baker dress a few seasons out of date for a wedding and a dress I already had in another colour, but I'd always shopped second hand for a purpose - to find something I couldn't get anywhere else. But my first #SecondHandSeptember really encouraged me to shop second hand for the kinds of things I would normally buy new.

My first year, I got myself winter boots originally from ASOS, the Uniqlo coat I'd wanted for our honeymoon in Canada for a fraction of the cost and barely worn, and Adidas trainers for £10, all from Depop.

My second hand padded jacket and Adidas trainers in Canada

I got particularly into second hand shopping after reading Lauren Bravo's How to Break Up With Fast Fashion, which is an absolutely brilliant book which I refer back to a lot. While I don't buy from places like Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing who tend to be the shops notorious for "fast fashion", we all know the impact of the fashion industry on the planet, and the book really opened my eyes to my impact, and that even though I don't buy from so-called "fashion fashion" places I'm not immune to my shopping having an impact on the environment.

Another reason I got really into second hand shopping in the last 18 months was due to lockdown - with all the shops closed, Depop and eBay became the only place I could buy things! This really helped me to appreciate second hand shopping, and I loved that my purchase would give money to another individual, not a big corporation (mostly - sometimes businesses sell on eBa,y for example). Also while I don't mind the odd charity shop dip, the reality is I'm not very good at it, so I buy pretty much all my second hand clothes online.

I'm not going to talk here about all the reasons second hand shopping is brilliant and the impact of fashion on the planet, because there are much smarter people than me doing that on the internet (here's a guide to Second Hand September from Oxfam, and a brilliant piece from Lauren Bravo). Instead, if you want to try second hand shopping or if you want to shop second hand more, these are the tricks I've learned from my 2 years of shopping second hand online...

1. Know what you want

My Number One Best Piece of Advice when shopping second hand is to know what you want. It doesn't need to be a very specific item (although it is possible to find specific items with a big dose of patience) but knowing you want a long sleeved floral midi dress in a size 8 is going to be less overwhelming that just searching for a floral dress in a size 8. The more specific you can be the better. Which leads to...

2. Try lots of different keywords

Floral midi dress size 8. Long sleeved midi dress 8. Pleated midi dress 8. Print midi dress 8. Floral dress sleeves 8. You get the picture.

A long sleeved floral pleated midi dress from eBay after many search terms

3. Know a fair price

I recommend having a look around to figure out the going rate of the kind of item you want. Prices can vary wildly depending on the quality of the item and of course the brand, but it's good to set your expectations.

4. Know when you've hit your price

Particularly on bidding sites like eBay, it's also good to know what your top end price is so you don't get over-excited in a bidding war.

5. Don't be afraid to haggle 

I rarely buy an on Depop or Vinted without haggling. I always ask for a quid or two off in my intro message, but I make sure I'm happy with what they're already offering in case they say no. I especially always ask for free postage on Depop. Hey, if you don't ask you don't get!

6. Make the first move

If you are shopping on Depop or Vinted, I highly recommend sending a message before you purchase (especially if you want to haggle). I've had sellers ghost me loads of times, purchased from inactive sellers or been told the item isn't available any more. I always go for a friendly, "hi! Is this item still available?" and as frustrating as it is to wait for a reply, it's better than being disappointed.

7. Shop around

Quite often when I'm second hand shopping, I have an idea of what I want, if not the actual item. But sometimes in my search I come across a dream item, which allows me to narrow my search to something specific. 

I'd wanted a floral bomber jacket for months and never found "the one", until earlier this year when I found the perfect one on Depop. Rather than buying it straight away though I found the exact same one cheaper on eBay.

My floral jacket of dreams thanks to eBay

8. Use different sites for different needs

Depop is my most-used site for second hand browsing, I use a combination of eBay and Depop when I want something specific, and I've recently used Vinted for the first time (which I loved). eBay definitely has the highest number of products (but I find a lot more dodgy-looking listings and a lot of non-second-hand-sellers), Depop is pretty good but sellers can be slow to reply, and so far Vinted seems to have less items, but I find the functionality the best of the three. Try as many apps as you need to until you figure out your patterns.

Jacket second hand from Depop, dress second hand from eBay

9. Google Images is your friend

If I find something I want to buy, and particularly if the item isn't shown on a person, I always search Google Images to see what the item looks like on (and it can also be good for finding out how much it originally cost which can help you find a fair price). As most places online won't accept returns, this is a great way to get more of a reality than a photo of an item hanging up on a door.

I used Google Images loads to decide on this dress

10. Utilise saved searches (and alerts)

If you want something really specific, most sites offer alerts and saved searches, so you can get emails whenever an item in your chosen category or search terms is added to the site. I would recommend using this particularly when you want a really specific item as otherwise the email alerts (particularly from eBay) can get a bit overwhelming.

11. Be patient

I've been known to wait months and months and months for an item I want to be come onto eBay or Depop (see, saved searches are your friend). Particularly if something is new or in season or if you want a very specific item (I waited months to find this Joanie sweatshirt), sometimes you've got to wait.

I am literally wearing this jumper as we speak

10. Be prepared to make mistakes

I bought a gorgeous pleated leather skirt off Depop last Christmas and I hate to admit that it's too big. I also got a leopard dress a few weeks ago which doesn't quite fit how I would like. But in years of buying second hand online, those are my only misses, and they weren't expensive and I'll probably eventually put them back on eBay or Depop (most second hand websites won't let you return things). It's worth a few mistakes for all the amazing other things I've bought!

On this, we all know sizes can be wild, even between brands, so I quite often try to buy from brands where I already know what size I already am, although as we know, this can be a complete minefield as it is!

Still can't decide if I like this dress!

11. Know your limits

When I look back on the items I've bought this year that have not been second hand, I've had my reasons. One was my dungarees - I'd never bought dungarees before so I wanted to make sure I knew I could send them back if I hated them. Another was some new workout leggings - I wanted to buy them from Contra as they are an ethical company I wanted to support, and I didn't fancy buying worn workout clothes. While I have bought all my Adidas trainers off Depop, for some people other people's shoes is too weird. It's okay to set your own limits.

12. Be mindful of scammers

I've been fortunate to only have this happen a few times and if you stick to the rules of sites like Depop and eBay and only buy through them, you should be able to get your money back. Check seller reviews and ask for more details or photos if you're not sure. If it sounds too good too be true, it might be.

13. Remember it's still consumption

This can be a tough pill to swallow, but it's important to remember that even buying second hand is still buying more stuff and still feeds into the machine. It's easy to impulse-buy on sites like Depop where you like an item and before you know it you get a message saying "I'm posting today, hun". As with all purchases, I always recommend a) making sure you know what you want and b) sleeping on it before you make a purchase. There are so many items in my Depop saved list that at one point I really thought I wanted and in the end realised I didn't actually need. I think one good thing with second hand shopping is waiting for a message back or a listing to end on eBay can force you to reevaulate and sometimes you don't need that item after all.

I hope this post was useful - let me know if it inspires you to try second hand shopping!

Charlotte x


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