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I want to stop buying fast fashion, but most slow fashion brands are light years out of my price range. Thankfully thrift stores exist. Do you have any tips on finding good pieces in either a brick and mortar or online secondhand store? — Julie, Portland, Ore.
Welcome to the age of re-commerce. It’s one of my favorite new terms.
Thrifting — indeed, the whole secondhand market — is probably going to be one of the biggest fashion phenomena of the 2020s, whether it takes the form of vintage shopping, upcycling or swap meets. According to a report from GlobalData Retail and thredUP, the secondhand clothing site, the market will grow from $28 billion last year to $64 billion by 2024.
The drivers are multiple: the growing cost of both designer fashion and independent fashion, in which companies can’t achieve any economies of scale; the environmental and human cost of fast fashion, now broadly recognized (even by fast fashion companies themselves); and a new generation of consumers that finds creative and political satisfaction in reinventing old stuff.
It’s no accident that Depop, the social secondhand shopping site, has 27 million users in 147 countries — and 90 percent of them are part of Gen Z. Or that brands like Stella McCartney and Gucci are getting in on the game with their own shop-in-shop on TheRealReal.com.
As you point out, though, it can be hard to navigate this brave new world, especially when you can’t feel or try on a used garment for yourself. So for some concrete suggestions, I turned to two expert advisers: Brynn Heminway, the founder of Display Copy, a magazine dedicated to covering used fashion as if it were new fashion; and Sarah Sophie Flicker, the artist and activist — and one of the most stylish proponents of vintage fashion I know. Here’s what they said.
Brynn recommends skipping eBay “unless you know what you’re looking for. Etsy is easier and has amazing hidden gems, but you still have to like the thrill of the hunt.” She suggests you search by brand or specific item type and make sure to include “vintage” in the search “so you know you’re getting pre-owned.” She also recommends Depop.
Then, she emailed, once you’ve found something you like, look at all available photos and ask the following questions: “Are there any stains or tears? Can you see a close-up of the stitches? Does the thread look synthetic and thin and poorly sewn? You can see good craftsmanship in the stitches. Same thing with notions/hardware.”
Also check the label. “You can often determine an impostor by how new the tag looks,” she wrote. “It shouldn’t be too bright and shiny. There should be a bit of discoloration and age.”
And finally, she noted, “a general rule for finding quality pieces is to look for natural materials over synthetic.”
Sarah Sophie favors sites like the RealReal, Depop and Poshmark, as well as vintage fairs like Pickwick and A Current Affair, which have now gone digital because of Covid. She also suggests combing through flea markets and Goodwill. “That’s where the best deals are,” she emailed. “And garage sales are always great too,” especially ones outside urban areas.
Finally, she suggests that you record your measurements properly and keep them written down. “Vintage sizing is often wonky,” she wrote.
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