Updated: Jun 15
I was recently asked if I used the word preloved to make second hand fashion sound more appealing. She had a point! I am sure that there is marketing element to the rise in popularity of this concept.
Thanks to the powerhouse that is Mary Portas the charities with a presence on our high streets have wised up to the fact that many people just don’t like rummaging through a load of people’s cast offs looking for treasure. For the record, that’s not me! I have been digging for treasure for as long as I can remember and when I find something, well, the pleasure far exceeds the exhaustion of those ‘shop till I dropped’ days.
In recent years, post Portas you might say, charity shops and dress agencies have become both more prevalent and more complicated. When I first fell in love with second hand clothes, it was just that. You took anything that was remotely wearable to the local charity shop and if you were shopping expected to have to wade through a glorious mishmash. This required time and a willingness to be creative. I spent many happy hours sourcing perfect party outfits, dreaming of precious antique capes and supplementing the high street pieces I already had with what I needed to stay warm as a cash strapped student.
Some entrepreneurs had already seen the potential and vintage stores opened showcasing the pick of the charity shop offerings, finds from jumble sales and house clearances. The choice is so much wider now. At one end there are designer pieces offered on rental agreements and dress agencies with very restricted criteria for what they will accept. Often high end dress agencies are only interested in current season pieces, barely worn and will price accordingly. There are others with a more relaxed policy who are on the look out for anything that is good quality and will attract buyers. Simply knowing the neighbourhood where the dress agencies are situated will give a good idea of what you are likely to find inside.
This wide variety is also visible on the high street in the charity shops. You will find designer jackets, beautifully curated, displayed with sizes visible alongside blouses, sweaters and co-ordinates to complete an outfit. You could be in a small boutique and these outlets can be found right next door to much more old school charity shops. Here you will be checking every item for damage, working out what alterations are needed to upcycle a piece and possibly aware that this shop does not have the budget for a steamer.
Back to my curious friend, she hates charity shops claiming they all smell, she won’t even cross the threshold! To be honest this was the case when this love affair began for me and I did invest in dry cleaners, drawer liners, scented sachets as well as laundering anything that would tolerate it very thoroughly. Now that is mostly taken care of as the etiquette of donors has improved. Although old habits die hard, I would be more comfortable wearing something that has come straight from a second hand outlet than something from a large high street store. The chemicals used to treat new garments and storage methods are certainly questionable and I have more often had skin reactions to new clothes than any problems with preloved pieces.
I even have a confession, this may be a guilty pleasure, from the day I found a simple but exquisite Joseph sweater in an Oxfam shop many years ago. I wore this the same day and the perfume of the previous owner was so lovely I then took it to a local department store to see if I could source it for myself. The perfume counter assistant called her manager, we were all sniffing this knitwear. Eventually, the two women had to confess that it was the loveliest scent they ever smelt but had no idea what it was. I was very careful how I wore this sweater and even after I finally had to wash it the scent remained for many months. I wore this cashmere sweater until it literally fell apart. It was a love story, a preloved story!