My Year Of Learning To Shop Second Hand

By Rachel Lankester, Founder of the Magnificent Midlife Movement

I spent a whole year not buying any new clothing. I still can’t quite believe it! When I started the year it seemed like a big ask but actually it was pretty easy. Setting myself this goal at the beginning of the year would radically change the way I view shopping and new clothes in general. If I buy any clothing at all now, I still mostly shop second hand except for underwear and sportswear.

I was first motivated to try this when I saw Stacey Dooley’s documentary about the impact of the fashion industry on the environment. It was shocking and a real wake up call showing in stark detail how our desire for cheap fast fashion in the West is destroying whole countries in other parts of the world.

She visited a lake in central Asia which had completely dried up because of water being siphoned off to factories downstream, to feed our desire for cheap cotton. I’d always thought cotton was one of the more environmentally friendly fabrics. How wrong was I.

I decided I could no longer justify buying clothing I didn’t really really need. And let’s be honest, what more clothing do most of us we really really need? I moved countries with only a rucksack worth of clothing and other items in my youth! This aim was of course made easier by me now being a 54-year-old woman and having a wardrobe of items that will fulfill all my requirements.

I have party clothes, I have casual clothes, I have professional clothes, I have sport clothes, I have wedding and funeral clothes, I have all climate clothes – heck I even have ice grippers to put over my shoes.  I also have one very glamorous dress that I wore to an awards evening. So I do not need any more clothes.

That year I bought a tiny bit of new underwear (rather than a new bit of tiny underwear) and a couple of heavily reduced pairs of shoes, but no other new clothing all year. I decided I could get away with buying the shoes! And who wants to wear second hand underwear?

Did I feel deprived? Not at all. I used to be the kind of shopper who spent hours online checking out the new seasons clothes each change of season. I’d buy a few items in the spring/summer and a few items in the autumn/winter. I’ve never been a big clothes shopper but I would like to ring the changes each year to have at least a few new items.

Not buying anything new was my goal but I didn’t set a time limit on it –  I was up for seeing how it went.  How long would it be before my buy something new impulse kicked in? I am fortunate enough to now have a wardrobe of clothes I really like, so I knew there was plenty there to keep me going.

Since I had my colors done four years ago I’m also much more circumspect about what I buy. If it’s not my color and a hell yeah I don’t bother anymore.

At the beginning of the year as the season started to change, I found myself getting itchy fingers to buy something new.  I received many emails I’d signed up to from my favorite stores promoting their wares often with a nice discount. So I unsubscribed myself from all those and as I knew I couldn’t buy anything, I stopped browsing for clothes too, which saved me so much time as well as money!

It was shocking to me to realize just how much time I had wasted looking at online shopping sites. It was my go to relaxation/procrastination technique. And I was still sorely tempted to buy something to feed my desire to have something new in my wardrobe.

But then, when I talked about what I was doing in my private Magnificent Midlife Flock group on Facebook, one of the members suggested I try buying second hand clothes on eBay and setting up searches for my favorite brands on there. What a revelation!

I’ve never liked shopping for clothes in charity shops. I can’t explain quite why. So I had never before shopped second hand for clothing. I know some people really like it.

Similarly I don’t enjoy shopping in big bargain shops like TK Maxx. I think it’s having so many different items all bundled in together that puts me off. I don’t like spending time searching.  I’d rather walk into a shop and see something that immediately catches my eye.

But the idea of being able to search for used clothes from my favorite brands on eBay in my exact size seemed perfect. So I set up a number of searches on eBay instead. My new favorite relaxation/procrastination technique became browsing the search items on eBay!

The search would come in on email too, so every day I would have hundreds of red dresses size 12 to rummage through metaphorically of course. I managed to wean myself off that over the course of the year too fortunately. Otherwise I’d never get off eBay!

The dress I took up round the middle.

I also quickly found that I loved the auction aspect of finding things on eBay. Goodness me, I am late to that particular party! I discovered that if I waited until the last minute to put in my highest bid I could often buy something at a very low rate.

I don’t think I’ve ever paid more than £25 including postage for any item all year including a lovely woolen red coat from Boden. I’ve even rediscovered some long-forgotten sewing skills and have adapted a couple of items I bought.

First was a Boden dress that was a bit too long and skinny across the middle. I managed to take up the middle section giving it a much more modern shape that looked way better on me. It took me three attempts to get it right but it pretty much works now.

A blue Fat Face tunic was just too long for me reaching mid thigh. It did nothing at all for my substantial backside. So I bought myself some hemming tape and sewing clips, having decided that might be a quicker option after the three attempts with the dress, and shortened it to the top of my thigh. Altogether far more flattering!

Because I know what colors suit me best, I’ve restricted my searches to my top colors and have succeeded in buying some excellent items. And I’ve been really impressed with the quality. I decided I would only look at brands I knew would generally hold their quality better.

I’ve only purchased two jumpers which were less than £5 each, as I know jumpers can look old quicker than other items. I haven’t yet bought any trousers because I can’t better what I already have. But shirts, jersey tops, dresses, tunics and a coat have all served me very well indeed.

I’ve also rediscovered clothes in my wardrobe that have rarely seen the light of day. And now I know what colours suit me and go together, I’m also more adventurous about putting things together in different combinations.

shop second hand
I even managed to find a second hand medieval dress for a themed wedding. Here’s me with the bride and another guest!

I reckon I have a lot more fun with the clothes I already have as well as finding some great new second-hand bargains to help ring the changes over the year.

One day I found myself on Oxford Street in London and I went into the main branch of Marks & Spencer. When I was younger, going to this flag-ship store would’ve made me very happy. I’ve been trying to wean myself off Marks & Spencer‘s for years, but there’s usually something in there that catches my eye.

But since I did my year of shopping second hand, I find it an entirely different experience. I really wasn’t bothered that day. I just walked through the store and out again.

I’ve decided I would much rather work with what I have, add to it with excellent value and good quality secondhand clothes and do my best to reduce the quantity of new clothing being produced on the planet. I now longer want to feed the monster of consumerism. It has been a truly transformational experience!

Top tips for how to shop second hand

  • Get your colors analyzed – preferably by a professional but here also is a fun starter quiz.
  • Go through your wardrobe and categorize items by type and color so you can clearly see what you have available to work with.
  • Unsubscribe from any fashion emails you may receive including all the special offer emails.
  • Set yourself up with an eBay account and set up a few searches for your favorite brands in your size. These will come to you on email unless you tell eBay not to. It’s a good way of starting to see what is available on eBay but can be a major time suck!
  • You may also like the app Depop which is similar to eBay but just focused on fashion. My stepdaughter introduced me to this. I haven’t bought anything on there yet but it seems quite good.
  • Have some fun bidding on eBay items. Set yourself a  spending limit for each item and don’t go over it unless you really really want the item – otherwise you can get very sucked into the bidding process.
  • Check out your local charity shops if you think you’d like this way of buying clothes (and when the pandemic is over). Depending on where you live, you can find some great things there.
  • Enjoy your new second hand clothing items!
  • Feel great and rather smug about not adding to the rampant fashion consumerism destroying our planet.

This post first appeared on the Magnificent Midlife blog.

You may also like: We Can All Make A Difference (And Help Save The Planet

shop second hand

Rachel Lankester is founder of the Magnificent Midlife Movement, host of the Magnificent Midlife Podcast, a midlife mentor and editor of the Mutton Club online magazine. After an initially devastating early menopause at 41, she dedicated herself to helping women vibrantly transition through the sometimes messy middle of life, helping them cope better with menopause and ageing in general, and create magnificent next chapters. She’s been featured in/on BBC Woman’s Hour, The Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Authority Magazine, The Age Buster, Woman’s Weekly, Prima Magazine, eShe, Tatler HK and Woman’s Own amongst others. She believes we just get better with age.

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