going secondhand first
It’s easy to be fashionable when you have money; when you don’t it takes resourcefulness, knowledge, and street smarts.
At this stage in my life, I have plenty of everything, which is why I like to shop my closet before I buy something. If I do have to head out to the shops, I try to buy what I need used, or secondhand, first. Save the planet!
I don’t have a competitive bone in my body, but consignment and thrift shopping is a blood sport for me. Maybe it’s a cultural/New England Yankee thing, a pride in getting something of quality for a great price, in recycling and reusing, in not letting things go to waste.
The trick is to find a thrift shop or consignment boutique that you love in a wealthy, upscale area.
At the risk of creating competition for things in my size, my two favorite consignment shops are Redress Boston, (“wardrobe atonement on a budget” – click here to read their witty blog by Redress’ Nicole Coakley), and Designer Consigner in downtown Hingham Center. STA and The Closet are also pretty good.
I’ve had fun eavesdropping on the drag queens in the dressing room at the Buffalo Exchange in Allston.
I suspect I will soon succumb to the siren song of super-upscale Kiki D Design & Consign in Newton Center…it’s only a matter of time.
You want me as your wingman at that sample sale: I snag the sweetest deals, thanks to my shopping sixth sense, strengthened by years of self-taught fashion training.
As a child, I pored over copies of Vogue, Elle and Seventeen magazines (with the occasional Esprit catalog thrown into the mix), until I could spot an Alaia from a Valentino from a distance in three seconds or less. This was well before models succumbed to fake breasts and rampant airbrushing. I developed an acute fashion sense along with just a touch of dysmorphia.
The Unitarian Church in the Massachusetts town where I grew up (nicknamed Deluxbury) had epic secondhand clothing sales in the ’70s and ’80s. They would be twice a year, and we would line up early on the steps waiting to get first dibs on the best threads. I’ll never forget the time I nabbed a like-new tomato red Halston dress for $10.50. Score!
I spent many a Saturday at Filene’s Basement (the real one in Boston’s Downtown Crossing), where my mom and I would wear leotards so we could try things on by stripping down in the aisles. If there were any changing rooms, I don’t remember them; maybe we felt they slowed us down.
My mom taught me how to hide things in a different section of the store so they’d be there after the markdown date. She also taught me it’s better to grab first, then sift through a big pile later. In the cashmere-eat-cashmere world of discount shopping, you don’t get a second chance to have it first.
Nowadays, I like checking out blogs like The Sartorialist and the Fashion & Style section in the New York Times for inspiration. I still love Vogue, plus Vanessa Friedman’s column in the Financial Times (her FT blog “Material World” is here) along with FT’s How to Spend it/a Passion for Fashion magazine supplements, which are lush and awesome.
In fact last week FT’s column: “Past Masters: Secondhand but not Second Best,” ran a piece about the hot market for vintage (read: used) Gladstone (“sometimes erroneously called doctors'”) bags. Heaven help us.
I smiled when I saw the headline, because I recently purchased an Eileen Kramer crocodile bag at Redress:
As millions of Americans choose simpler, downsized lives—opting for city living, bicycling and tiny houses over McMansions, suburban commutes and malls—buying and selling used clothing and gear has become a big business.
There’s a lot less stigma associated with wearing used clothing than when I was a kid. Consignment and used clothing stores have gone national, like the chain/franchise Buffalo Exchange. The start-up thredUp.com is a popular and fast-growing online consignment shop for kids’ clothing that raised nearly $8.5 million in its first round of VC funding in 2011.
New, cheap fashion from places like H&M and Forever 21 comes at a heavy cost for our society and our environment. Low-cost fashion spews massive amounts of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, generated by manufacturing and shipping poor quality clothes that aren’t designed to last. People and children work in terrible conditions for low wages. Suddenly that $9 sundress doesn’t look so good.
In her 2007 article “Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry,” Dr. Luz Claudio writes about the impact of globalization on the ready-to-wear industry and its effect on the environment, concluding that “Consumer awareness about the fate of clothing through its life cycle may be the best hope for sustainability in the fashion industry.”
Our penchant for what Elizabeth L. Cline calls “disposable clothing” in her 2012 book “Overdressed: the Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion” is behind her call for a new “slow fashion” movement (inspired by Italy’s “slow food”) where we “make, alter and mend” before mindlessly shopping for more and more stuff.
While well over half of the clothes we recycle are shipped overseas, there’s still plenty of clothing, shoes and accessories getting a second life here at home—instead of ending up unworn, unloved or in a landfill. Maybe it’s time more of us realized that secondhand can be first rate.
ha! thanks JB 🙂
PS…do you remember Sheila Johnson?
The name sounds very familiar, but being that I’m so “old”, my memory fails me….so tell me is she that famous Black model?
Yes – she was one of the first black girls to hit the big time…Beverly Johnson and Harry Belafonte’s daughter (I can remember her beautiful face but not her name) are a couple of others. Sheila was in Eddie Murphy’s movie “Coming to America.”
I love, love, love this article on consignment shopping! However, I was already a convert,.
aw…thank you, Helena! *Pee Wee voice* “I know you are, but what am I?” xo
Yeah, I want you as my wingman for sure. 🙂
hahaha! You know it! When are we gonna shop????
I’ve worn out most of my 2nd hand clothing I’d purchased, or scooped from the streets in Berkeley and Oakland, before moving to the village where I now live in Israel. The only store with clothes near us is our friend’s 2nd hand shop, which has kept us going for 7 years. I did not grow up with Vogue, but in a bathroom break during seder in Jerusalem days ago, I read about Oprah and Lady Gaga’s American women’s fashion event in Vogue. That article and the accompanying pictures, a few of Oprah in an Oscar de la Renta dress, had me giggle at how far off topic my break reading was.
*GASP* What?! YOU didn’t grow up with Vogue? Honey, why am I not surprised? Love how you’ve got a friend in the schmatta biz hooking you up with the best deals in the village — nice one.
You made ME giggle with that visual of you reading up on Gaga & Oprah in the bathroom…zissem Pesach! (did I just totally mangle that?) xo
You did great. Keep the language coming.
I might have been the only one in the world contemplating Gaga & Oprah’s new friendship at the time of the Israelite exodus, the very same one that my 4-year-old son had been anticipating all year long.
Great post! I want to add that Poshmark is a consignment site that makes selling from your closet (and buying from others’!!) a snap. I have already purchased a couple pairs of Tom’s wedges and a white cashmere Calvin Klein Cardigan. I sold three pairs of designer maternity jeans in under a week and the buyer dropped a quick $240 in my account. Online consign has just gotten easier than the local stores, and they take a far smaller cut!
Hey Dawn – thanks for the awesome tip about Poshmark. I was gonna mention a similar service from a site called style.ly, but when I started the research for this post I discovered that they were out of biz. Your comment is perfect and very timely — I’m getting ready to tackle our closets over here and do a major spring clean, so I’ll check Poshmark out.
I do wonder though, about the return policy for online consignment shopping – brick & mortar 2nd hand stores here are tough about returns (most don’t do ’em, as you probably know) – and I’m the type who needs to try everything on before I buy. Sizes are so inconsistent, and seem to be getting more so (or maybe it’s just my bod not the clothing manufacturers, who knows). It seems like trad stores are going the way of the print newspapers, books and dinosaurs (thanks in large part to Amazon). Anyway, thanks for reading babe. See ya over in the next aisle…xxx
Great article, Jen! Send it to Susan F. – she’d love it. She’s another finer consigner.
Nice! thanks, Ginny, I’ll do that now. Good excuse to get back in touch…
Jen, you rock, and this column is so much fun!
Aw! thanks for reading, Eliza. You’re sweet.
I thoroughly enjoyed this article. In this one you have combined vibrant language and the fun subject of fashion with a larger socially relevant message.
thank you so much, Karen! As usual you sum up my mission succinctly. Glad you enjoyed it.