A style guide to shopping secondhand clothing

With clothing becoming cheaper to buy than ever before, we as consumers are increasingly detached from our purchases. The cost to the environment from water usage and chemical contamination during production is something that we cannot ignore, especially when it’s estimated that three quarters of the textiles produced each year end up in landfill.

For me, transitioning from fulltime study and working at a running store meant an entire wardrobe overhaul. I couldn’t afford the sustainable designer investment pieces of my dreams, so I decided secondhand was the only way to go. It was quite daunting in the beginning, it certainly isn’t as easy as walking into the mall and being enticed into a store with bright lights and sale signage, but I promise you it’s worth it.

I started by unpacking my wardrobe and laying everything out, so I could assess what I had and what I thought was missing. As we were going into winter, I found that a lot of the knitted running tops I had could double as a layering piece. I decided to only shop for what I needed for the season, which were another pair of jeans to rotate and some chunky knits. Narrowing it down to one garment per shopping trip made it much less overwhelming, and I found that I was happy to search more than one secondhand store to find the perfect fit.

Once I knew what I wanted, I had to decide where to go. Crushes – formerly known as The Bread and Butter Letter, was where I landed after some very stressful attempts in larger, overcrowded stores. Crushes is owned by some awesome gals, and their ethos strongly aligns with my own. They stock an incredible range of vintage clothing, accessories and homewares, as well as a wide range of gift-worthy New Zealand made products. Everything is carefully curated, which makes it much easier to find the perfect new statement piece or wardrobe essential.

Tatty’s is a winner because it has more than one location, great quality clothing and generally friendly staff. I do find the stores a little intense, as they are often packed to the brim with not only clothing, but also other customers. This is one of the places I find it is most important to go with a particular piece in mind, unless you have the time and energy to browse for hours. I found one of my high rotation winter pieces here in under 15 minutes, spending under $40.

The Hospice op-shops are a personal favourite, particularly the one in New Lynn. The staff are eclectic and always seem to be having fun, it gives off an Empire Records vibe. The money raised goes to a great cause, which is enough of a reason to shop there, but they also have a great collection of homewares, small furniture items and knickknacks. Beware – they are priced ridiculously cheap, which makes it easier to leave with more than you intended, stay strong.

Most of us tend to get stuck in patterns when it comes to our wardrobe, buying multiple variations of the same piece of clothing. For me, I’ve collected more activewear than one person could wear out in a lifetime, but for you it could be blue denim jeans. For this reason, I love the concept of clothes swaps. Sometimes there are public ones organised on Facebook but they are easy enough to do with your own circle of friends or even at the office. My workplace had one last month and I was able to send some of my near new running gear to loving new homes, while resisting the urge to adopt the novelty Christmas socks left behind at the end.

One of the struggles I had most frequently with finding the perfect second hand garment is that it is only available in one size. This is the only time my high school design skills – paired with my beginner’s sewing machine that I got for Christmas a few years back - get the opportunity to shine. Taking a pair of jeans in at the side seam can turn a hideous pair of $30 Levi’s into a wardrobe staple in under an hour. I’m slowly building up my repertoire with every new project, experimenting as I go. If this feels way beyond your scope, find a friend who can help you out, and maybe exchange for use of one of your skills.

Ultimately, the lesson I needed to learn is that less is more. While I have focused here on how to buy more, we really need to work on being content with acquiring less. You don’t have to wear something different every day, because the truth of the matter is that no one really cares. It feels empowering to make the choice every morning to put on something that makes you feel great, not only because you look great, but because you are making a conscious decision to work towards a more sustainable future.


Chanelle is a vegan, amateur athlete, social advocate, environmental enthusiast and blogger at mynameischanelle.com