Tips for buying second-hand + preloved clothes.

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Last London (re) Fashion WeekEnd Challenge* post we talked about key trends for 2016. Noted that what was shown on the catwalks is actually a reinvention of something that already been proposed. Every season we see designers inspired by one or a few decades. Fashion doesn’t need to be disposable. You can still be on-trend by refashioning items you have already in your closet or getting them second-hand. Preloved clothes sometimes carry a stigma that they weren’t good enough, but that just isn’t true. There are great pieces out there made with good quality materials waiting for a new home. I want to also encourage you to shop from your wardrobe. I bet you will find an old favourite that you haven’t worn for a while and will excite to wear it again.

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TIPS FOR BUYING SECONDHAND CLOTHES

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Groundwork: Retail merchandisers do an incredible work creating an environment that is inviting, with seasonal items and colours as well organised. Charity shops work with volunteers and although they do fantastic work with the selection of donations available it’s quite difficult to focus on what to buy while rummaging the rails. If you have a good idea of what you’re hoping to find in advance the chances of you finding great quality pieces increase exponentially. Just visiting a store this week I was able to find every piece of my key trend list. Dresses were most likely to be bought for a one-off event and then discarded, with wedding and holiday outfits topping the list so they are always a good starting point. Location Location Location: As most of the stock of a local store comes from its own community. You will notice that each area will have a different selection with more more affluent areas, making it more likely to come across designer clothing while at countryside and smaller villages great for unique items and vintage clothes. If there isn’t any local charity shop where you live why not try Oxfam’s online shop.

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Some of the larger charity shops have items freshly delivered and it is worth to have a little chat with the shop assistants to know when they normally make new stock available which takes me to my next tip. Timing is everything. For the best chance in finding unique and interesting pieces is to pop in during your lunch hour. If you can shop during weekdays you probably increase your chances in finding unique pieces. Visit regularly as stock gets rotated. Is worth to ask if they have the item you are looking for, even if you don’t see it at the shop floor because they may not have enough floor space to put everything out. Which means you need to be prepared for a good rummage around the store. I have lost count of how many times I found sewing patterns hidden in baskets under stockings and other bric-a-brac. Very often they are ‘hidden’ behind the counter. Sometimes you won’t find anything on the ‘ladies’ section, so don’t ignore the rest of the store. Men’s clothes are easily refashioned specially cotton shirts.

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Examine items carefully. Look for quality materials. I found a great waxed Barbour-style jacket that the outer fabric was perfect, so changing the old lining would be easy. Always check for faulty items and how much time-investment you are willing spend  refashioning it. Real leather is always a good investment, but sometimes you will find a hole, stain, or other problem. So just be aware of  the amount of work may be required. Always check the label for care instructions as clothes can sometimes shrink or stretch in the wash. Dry Cleaning only? 15 years ago I bought a SATC shearling and fur coat with dry cleaning label on. It costed me 5x times more to have it professionally cleaned. The cleaning process also revealed some unremovable stains which proved very frustrating. Always check clothing stress points like elbows, underarms, knee seams, run zippers up and down, inspect snaps, buttonholes etc. You get the drill!

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Liked it? Try in on. Sometimes a brand you’ve never heard of can yield a favourite piece of clothing. Consider trying on a variety of sizes specially vintage clothing. Bought it? Good for you. Don’t forget to clean each item before refashioning. Lastly Give back!  

*London (re) Fashion WeekEnd Challenge is a collaboration with Oxfam and Nectar.

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  • Good tips! 2nd hand shopping is notoriously difficult in Germany (people don’t seem to like the idea of donating wearable items…) but I’m spending a few days in London and Glasgow this month and I’m looking forward to exploring the charity shops!
    Any tips on which areas/charity shops to try, while I’m in London?

    • Shop stocks vary so much but you can try a few locations in general. If you like vibrant, arty try Shoreditch.. avoid soho and other tourist places. Nothing hill, Kensington, Canden are all good places to try. Just walk around and pop in on the ones on your way.

  • Kat

    Love this post. I know many seamstresses sew because they are conscious of the fashion industry, but I think buying secondhand is just as important as well. Plus, refashioning is always a ton of fun, and a stretch for your creativity. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Kat, Thank you for commenting. I think refashioning is super fun and a quick sewing win too. Happy sewing

  • Emilie – NeedleCandy

    Love this post, really insightful, thanks for the tips! I never have the patience to rummage through the stocks, but I’m keen to give it a go with your sensible advice..!

  • kat

    I come to London a few times a year and I always pop into the local charity shops whenever I see them… do you have any tips for higher-end consignment shops? I hardly buy clothing, so I am certainly a quality over quantity person. I always find tonnes in Paris and Stockholm but I never seem to have any luck in London.. I must be hanging out in the wrong neighborhoods!

    • London is so fast moving that it’s not only a matter of where but when. It’s visiting often for the best finds which it’s difficult when visiting. I hope next visit you find something you love and good quality.