Second Hand September

I love clothes and, as a result, I have a lot of them. Although they are essentially practical items, designed to protect me from the elements (and the unwanted attention that going without would bring!), I don’t really buy them for that purpose. I’m pretty much a collector of garments, the way some folk collect Pokémon. I have a set of criteria and will often make a purchase when those have been met, whether or not I actually need another item in my wardrobe or have an occasion in mind to wear it to. First of all I subconsciously ask myself, “is it visually appealing?” then, “Can I afford it? Does it fit? Does it need no more care than I’m willing to provide?” and sometimes, “Does it have pockets?” I mentally tick things off this list and, when I get to the final stage, which is willpower, I inevitably cave in to temptation and add another piece to the collection.

This isn’t all bad news for the planet though because, since I was a child and was given hand-me-downs, I’ve loved the thrill of second hand clothing. As a teenager, I was buying vintage before it was even called that. Charity shops, flea markets and car boot sales were a source of joy and I loved discovering new (to me) garments that none of my friends would have. But my love of second hand clothing, and repairing garments and footwear to extend their useful life, sadly did not halt my purchasing habit. I still bought clothes on impulse as often as I bought books (although my unread pile is much larger than my unworn pile!) and, even though every now and again I tried to buy less, I always somehow ended up being tempted again. I’d blame Instagram, but I know that my own inbox is to blame because of all the brand mailing lists I’m subscribed to!

So, in an attempt to break the cycle of mindless scrolling, clicking and purchasing, at the start of this month I pledged to join Oxfam’s Second Hand September campaign. I heard about it from Daisy Buchanan and Lauren Bravo (whose #notnewyear Instagram posts I have been following since January), and it’s a great way to break that impulse buying cycle. Spend one month not buying any new clothes, but buying second hand if you feel the urge. Another great way to stop impulse purchases will be to buy Lauren’s next book How to Break Up with Fast Fashion. Out in January next year, it promises to “help you to change your mindset, fall back in love with your wardrobe and embrace more sustainable ways of shopping – from the clothes swap to the charity shop.” Until then, I need to remind myself of a few things that I usually tell other people. A handful of tips for buying less, and loving what you already own:

  • When thinking about shopping, ask yourself if you want it or if you need it. If you want it, consider whether you already have something in your wardrobe which will fill that gap. Maybe you could pair it with different accessories or footwear to make it feel like a new outfit? If you decide you really need something, consider whether it has to be new. Often, a quick search on eBay is enough to show you whether filling that gap with something second hand might be possible. It’s even possible to find bras on eBay, as someone your size may be having a clear out of unworn impulse purchases that they’ve had for too long to be able to get a refund.
  • Step out of your comfort zone once in a while. Visit an actual shop (obviously, this month and wherever possible, it should be a charity or vintage shop) and try on things you wouldn’t normally choose. Go with a friend and pick things out for each other. If it doesn’t work, it’ll be funny, and if it does, you might end up with a surprising new outfit. Also, unless you have a very strict dress code at work, there may be one day when you can throw caution to the wind and wear the item(s) already in your wardrobe that are a bit different to your usual style.
  • Just because it’s on sale/cheap/limited edition doesn’t mean you need to buy it. My tactic is always to try and wait. Leave the shop or close the browser tab and see if you’re still thinking about buying that garment tomorrow, or next week. If you are, think about what you would wear it with (that you already own) and try to plan a couple of outfits around it. You need more of a reason than “OMG, it was only a fiver!!!”
  • Try not to save clothes “for best”. If you absolutely love a garment and it makes you smile every time you put it on, see if there’s a way you can wear it to work, or for a night out with friends. If a dress feels too glamorous or formal, a pair of opaque tights and some stompy boots might fix the problem. A bold patterned shirt that you bought to wear with a suit might actually work with jeans and trainers. Be bold. Be brave. Hopefully the resulting compliments will provide some encouragement!

We’re nearly at the end of September now and I have managed to buy… no clothes at all! In fact my last two clothing purchases in August were from eBay, and they reminded me how much fun it is to give other people’s unwanted items a new lease of life. Sadly, I’ve not yet worked out how to integrate the floral Doc Martens (that I bought to wear with a bridesmaid dress) into my everyday wardrobe, but I suspect I’ll have fun figuring it out.