I didn’t exactly mean to swear off fast fashion for good, though it was something that had been playing on my mind for a while, for sure. Long time readers will know that shopping has always been a major vice of mine and that was something I wanted to change. I love my wardrobe and shoe collection – they are both lovingly curated and bring me great joy – but I can’t pretend they aren’t excessive and sometimes that does make me a little uncomfortable. Even more so, the bags and bags of clothes gathering dust in the spare room that I keep putting off listing for sale or donating. I have far more garments than anyone could ever really need, and while I do make a definite effort to make sure it all gets worn, every now and then I look at the sheer volume – and let’s face it, the sheer cost – of it all, and shudder a little. I dread to think of what I’ve spent over the years, and what I could potentially have spent that money on instead, especially as an awful lot of it either no longer fits me or suits my new Mum-bod. These days I’m a lot more selective about what I buy, ensuring they are styles I think of as timeless or that work with my existing pieces, but the same cannot be said for the old shopaholic me, and I can’t help but feel alarmed sometimes at how much I’ve wasted over the years on dresses or shoes that at the time I thought I couldn’t live without, but have worn probably only once, if at all.
That wasn’t the only thing bothering me. The more I learned over the last couple of years about the impact the fashion industry was having on the environment, the sicker I felt about how much of my own resources I’d plunged into such a damaging system. For years I was obsessed with scoring a bargain, never once thinking about the true cost, and that it just wasn’t really possible to make a quality garment for the pennies I was paying, at least not if the people making them were to get a fair wage, anyway. And then Covid hit and the message was drummed home even harder. It angered me so much to see huge international corporations reporting record sales online, all the while cancelling orders or refusing to pay for goods via their supply chains. And so the seeds were sown – something had to change. Would I change the world just by no longer handing over my hard earned cash to these companies? Unlikely. But I just felt more and more that I could no longer justify buying yet another dress I didn’t need when the person that made it wasn’t earning enough to survive.
So yes, it had been playing on my mind for a while, but it still wasn’t an active choice at first. I didn’t draw a line in the sand or pick a date to begin this quest. It just kind of happened. To begin with it was out of necessity – shops were closed and I was trying not to buy things unnecessarily because of pressure the postal service was under. So at first I was simply abstaining from shopping full stop. And it was actually surprising to me how easy it was now that there was a genuine reason not to. I fully expected that once the shops reopened I’d be desperate to get out there and hit all the tantalising sales designed to tempt shoppers back, but it seemed something had already switched on in my brain, because the desire just never came. It helped of course that shopping was no longer the relaxing, fun experience it used to be – mask wearing, constant hand sanitising, one way systems and queuing outside seemed to sap all the enjoyment out, as well as feeling weird about touching anything that may have been touched a hundred times before and all the new social distancing etiquette that had to be learned! It made me realise that so much of my shopping was simply habitual. Wandering around the shops on my lunchbreak, popping into town with Bailey for the afternoon when I was bored on maternity leave, or swinging into Primark to see what was new before meeting a friend for lunch – it was all just something I did as something to do, and buying things was almost just a byproduct. Once it became impossible to do those things, acquiring new things was eliminated, just like that!
Of course, I could have simply shifted those habits to online shopping instead, but I figured if I was going to miss out on the joy of seeing those perfectly colour coordinated racks and feeling the luscious fabrics between my fingers, I might as well at least see if I could get what I wanted via eBay instead. I was already a fan, tending to use it when something I lusted for had sold out, or for replacing much loved items that no longer fitted or had given up the ghost, so it didn’t seem like a huge adjustment to make, and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it actually was to find just what I was looking for each time. And from there there was no going back! Soon I was also using Vinted and Depop, and never failed to be both surprised and alarmed that so many of the ‘must have’ pieces I’d been seeing on Instagram were readily available here, sometimes not even worn, and at a fraction of the price! Soon I found that if I made my search a little more vague – for example ‘pleated leather midi skirt’ instead of looking for the Topshop one I’d fallen in love with – I could find even more options that I hadn’t previously considered, and it didn’t take long before I realised that second hand shopping made almost no difference at all in me being able to feel as though I had the wardrobe I wanted – in fact I found there were actually benefits. Firstly, as time went on I became less and less affected by the ‘Insta Effect’, in that I found if I didn’t find that dress everyone was wearing straight away, it wasn’t long before I lost interest and realised I couldn’t have actually wanted it that much. Secondly, my attentions shifted from impulse buys like pretty skirts and high heels that simply caught my eye to staple pieces that I knew would fill a specific gap in my collection. I was no longer distracted by sequins or a pretty print, because I was channeling my attentions on more specific purchases like a red or camel coat, a neutral fine knit jumper that I could tuck into my midi skirts or a houndstooth blazer. The things I was buying were getting genuine wear instead of languishing in the wardrobe with the tags still on, because I had gotten them with a specific purpose in mind. Finally, and most surprisingly, I found it actually helped me to overcome some of my body image issues – for years I have stubbornly insisted on picking up the same size in stores over and over only to be frequently disappointed that they didn’t look right. Now, because I really wanted something, I was more willing to take a gamble on a larger or smaller size and found quite often my perception of what styles or shapes would look right was completely skewed. These days I have a much better idea of what suits me, and have learned to assess what the sizing is like across different brands so I know I’ll be getting something that’s right for my body – because, let’s face it, even without the various gaps in consistency across labels, not many people are a perfectly proportioned dress size, and I am no exception!
And so, a new me was born. When restrictions began lifting again post Christmas it was the charity shops I couldn’t wait to get back to, and I never would have imagined that a few years ago! Am I completely cured of my fast fashion addiction? No. I still lust after things I’ve seen my favourite bloggers wearing. I still consume too much stuff, even if it is second hand. There is still an ever growing pile mounting up in the spare room that I really MUST get listed on Vinted! And I am still very much guilty of feeling like I need something new and pretty when I’ve had a bad day or I’m not feeling great about how I look. But my habits have most definitely changed, and I’m confident they’ve changed for good. I rarely go into high street stores these days, except for essentials like underwear and pyjamas. When I do even I am surprised at the restraint I can muster when faced with racks upon racks of new, cheap pretties! I have bought the odd new thing – normally when I have a specific need short notice, like the time, my wedges broke while I was in Birmingham visiting family! And if it’s not for that reason I at least spend some time trying to find it second hand first. But I can count on one hand the number of items I’ve bought brand new in the last 12 months and that feels good. Better, in fact, than the buzz I used to get from a Primark spree!
I hope over the next few months to write a bit more about my experiences of second hand shopping, so feel free to let me know if there is anything you want to know or if you have any questions!