Second-hand shopping can help you nav your wallet, relationships, local economy, the environment, and human rights—it’s essentially the shopping spree catch-all we’ve all been waiting for.
Last fall, I went through a rough breakup with fast fashion. I waved goodbye to H&M, Old Navy, and my beloved Zara. After the zipper in a pair of Forever 21 jeans broke (wasn’t too surprised about that one), I decided enough was enough. It would cost more money to replace the zipper than I had spent on the jeans themselves.
I now only buy items that are second-hand. In part, it is a personal challenge. I’ve been an outlet mall lover since the age of 10. I spent most of my allowances on Claire’s magnetic earrings and Limited Too tank tops. But as I get older, I have become more focused on how my spending affects the economy, environment, and human welfare. I always buy organic food or shop small businesses at the farmer’s market. What about the clothes I spend cash on and wear for up to 16 hours per day?
In an effort to align my consumption habits with my personal values, I’ve eagerly embraced the world of vintage. Six months and I’m still going strong. Here’s why I’m not stopping anytime soon.
Money Score: Excellent
I can no longer justify spending cash on items that fell apart after two tumbles in the dryer. I adore Everlane and Reformation, but I just can’t wrap my head around spending nearly $100 on a single Everlane silk blouse. By scouring my favorite consignment stores, I can score well-made clothes at a price that makes me comfortable. For example, one of my favorite purchases is a Madewell button-up denim dress that cost $25 at ReLove in San Francisco.
All the Feels Score: Good
I’ve found that many second-hand shops are small businesses operated by my fellow neighbors. I appreciate knowing my money is going to them. I never felt great dropping $100 at H&M. But after shopping locally, I’m stoked about the fashion and feel like I’m helping my friends out and boosting the San Francisco economy. It gives me a sense of community that I never experienced with fast fashion.
Plus, the customer service is much better at these places. The owner of one vintage store not only remembers my name each time I come in, but also shoots me a text when Everlane blouses show up in the shop. (It pays off to be friendly, navigators!)
Consciousness Score: Excellent
In 2014, The Atlantic reported that Americans recycle or donate only 15 percent of their used clothing. What happens to the rest? Well, 10.5 million tons goes into landfills every year. This means the fashion industry has one of the poorest recycling rates of any reusable material. Shopping second-hand decreases waste and reduces the harmful toxins and emissions emitted from landfills.
When I first started this second-hand challenge, a friend sent me this Vice News report about the Cambodian government’s effort to “help” sex trafficking victims. It started a campaign to rescue and place them in other jobs, like making clothing for Western brands, but after interviews with the women, we learned the conditions and pay are even worse than being a sex worker. I felt enormously guilty for frequenting shops with clothing made in factories that do not treat workers ethically and too often have unsafe conditions. Shopping at vintage stores allows me to hold myself accountable to my values.
Resilience Score: Okay
Perusing the racks at a vintage shop makes me feel like Indiana Jones trying to find the lost ark. When I was looking for a dress for a formal wedding, I discovered a Proenza Schouler maxi for $120. I later found out it retailed for over $400!
Another perk of consignment shopping? You’re less likely to see other women wearing the same clothes as you. I’m all for an occasional twinning moment, but it’s cool having a closet full of unique items you won’t find on a store mannequin or on the woman sitting across the bar. (But if the latter does occur, you can probably guarantee that you paid less.)
Let’s be real: I’m sure I’ll break my fast fashion fast at some point. But for the time being, I’m enjoying only buying consignment.