I’ve always liked picking up clothes second hand. Mostly because of the price, the part of your brain that loves a bargain lights up when you find something for $5 that would have been $50. But recently I’ve been actively trying to shop second hand more and more. This is due to a variety of things. The emissions produced by the production and distribution of new clothes seems something I would like to not contribute to. Clothes shopping in the developed world can be more of a hobby than a sourcing of vital necessities and our perception of what is vital to have in our wardrobe is ridiculously skewed.
My resolve was strengthened by watching the True Cost, a documentary that explores the hidden costs of the fashion industry on people and the environment – something I wrote about in a previous post.
Knowing about the fast fashion industry and the waste caused by our overproduction gave me the push I finally needed. Since December of 2016 I have been attempting to buy all of my clothes second hand from charity shops – or opp shops (opportunity shops) if you live in Australia.
This was hard. I think what I noticed most was how it changed my enjoyment. Shopping could still be fun but it in a different way. Like I was setting myself a mission. This is probably a good thing. We enjoy buying clothes far too much and we buy way too many of them. Shopping for me now is a big deal and if I need something in particular it may take a while to find.
After I moved overseas with just a rucksack I started applying for jobs and soon I had an interview. When packing only my favourite and most versatile clothes my priorities had been more outdoor travel and comfort focused. Office appropriate hadn’t really played a big part in the decision. So basically I had nothing to wear. A panicked trip to the centre of Melbourne the day before landed me a blazer which I reasoned would make me seem smart no matter what I was wearing. After being offered the job I spent the week and a half before my first day trawling the city’s second hand outlets to get myself a suitable work wardrobe.
In a way this was kind of fun. I felt like a treasure hunter. And it wasn’t non stop. It just meant that wherever I happened to be going I would check if there was an opp shop nearby and then I would go and scour the rails as thoroughly as possible looking for shades of corporate. I bought pencil skirts and blouses and slacks and another blazer and before I knew it I was set. The only hurdle was that I rarely could buy an outfit at a time. I had to rely heavily on visualisation and then try the clothes all together at the end to see if they worked. Some things ended up going back in the pile to be returned to the opp shop. As a result I got rid of clothes I’d never worn but these clothes already had a past life and returning them to the charity shop made absolutely no difference.
Coming out of that week felt good. The main difference was the amount of time I had had to invest. Clothes shopping has become harder. But if you turn it into a goal-oriented activity then it’s quite rewarding. Although I’m discouraged from shopping generally because of this and don’t buy much, when I do find something nice it’s difficult not to grab it even though I might not need it. Partly because of the price and partly because of the impulse to snatch up the good stuff when you find it. Luckily, needing to be able to pack everything back up in a rucksack helps me keep it minimal.
I hate waste and I hate the idea of contributing to waste. This is just one more way I can avoid doing that. And one more way I avoid financing disreputable companies. The fashion world is full of them but if you can buy clothes and give to charity then that feels like a win-win. And it doesn’t have to just stop at clothes! But one step at a time. That’s a challenge for another day…