Is it possible to change your appearance without purchasing new clothing? I am not asking for someone else, but for myself. That is what I desire at this moment – something new to see when I look in the mirror. The illusion of a fresh me that comes with a new outfit can be surprisingly powerful. A wardrobe update can also provide a psychological boost, increase confidence, and give energy. These are all positive things. However, there is a downside. While these may be good things, the environmental impact of a shopping spree for new clothes is not so positive. Additionally, I already have perfectly suitable clothing in my wardrobe, so I cannot justify the carbon footprint or expense of going to the store.
However, let’s pause for a moment. Perhaps there is a solution. What if the new clothes were actually old clothes? Opting for a new style from secondhand clothing could be a win-win situation, correct? Not only are pre-owned clothes more environmentally friendly than new ones, they are also significantly less expensive. Plus, they are considered more stylish than new clothes, as the trend of secondhand fashion has become popular in recent years. Saying “It’s vintage/secondhand/pre-loved/my mom’s” is now seen as a fashion statement that surpasses any designer brand.
We have consulted professionals for their expertise. The increasing popularity of buying secondhand fashion has created a new type of industry insider who is dedicated to pre-owned clothing. These experts include stylists who specialize in secondhand purchases, personal shoppers who are knowledgeable about all aspects of the trade, from where to shop to how to find great deals. It is now important to have these contacts on speed dial.
We gave three stylists a task to revamp my appearance by using exclusively secondhand clothing. We enlisted Chekii Harling, an expert in sustainable fashion, to find an office-appropriate outfit, sustainable stylist Becky Barnes to dress me for a party, and Natalie Hartley, the founder of vintage store Chillie London, to put together a weekend ensemble. All items had to be secondhand but still give off a modern vibe. I didn’t want a retro or vintage look, nor was I seeking a sense of nostalgia. Instead, I desired the excitement of a traditional shopping spree without feeling guilty about its environmental impact.
The outcome? Impressive. These ladies are skilled at shopping, discovering valuable finds such as a lace-up, high-heeled ankle boots that closely resemble Phoebe Philo’s currently sold-out version, and a Zara party dress that outshines anything currently available in stores – all at a fraction of the cost. And according to Harling: “The coat that you can find for only ten pounds at a car-boot sale is of better quality than most coats found on the main shopping street.” Don’t make any purchases before reading their expert tips.
Look 1: work
Reworded: This source and presentation was done by Chekii Harling, a sustainable fashion stylist, writer, and consultant.
A paparazzi snap of Gigi Hadid in beige tailoring – and the snake print detailing in Stella McCartney’s AW23 collection – inspired this outfit. “Nothing beats tailoring for giving you confidence, and that makes it the best place to start with work clothes,” says Harling. “The last few seasons have seen a return to tailoring, with many designers ditching busy looks and embracing a pared-back, more wearable approach. Tailoring is back, and it’s here to stay.”
Try to find pants as your starting point, if possible, as Harling suggests that they serve as the foundation for building an outfit. She acquired the Calvin Klein pants from a temporary store at Selfridges, although she did not end up purchasing the accompanying jacket. Keep an eye on @loanhood for updates on future events. She then added a snake-print shirt, which she purchased for £20 on eBay, stating that pairing a patterned, silk, or textured shirt with a minimal suit adds some flair.
The blazer was purchased for £10 at the weekly car-boot sale held at Princess May school in Dalston, London. The buyer mentions that this is one of their preferred car boot sales, along with the Battersea Boot, as they are enjoyable experiences. The black DKNY tank top was found at a charity shop called Fara, located on Elgin Crescent near Portobello Road in London. The shoes were borrowed from the buyer’s mother, who had bought them at a vintage fair.
According to Harling, the most efficient method of purchasing secondhand items depends on your specific needs. If you have a particular item in mind, browsing through physical racks of clothing may not be the most effective option – it would be better to shop online. When using eBay, Harling’s first step is to filter for “used” items, as there is often a lot of low-quality, mass-produced items on the site. Additionally, she typically sets the filter to only show items from the UK, as this is more environmentally sustainable due to avoiding overseas shipping.
When it comes to essential items, physically going to a store is unbeatable because you can try them on. For well-made clothes, visit a thrift store in an affluent neighborhood. It’s certainly true that you can find the best items in upscale areas. Joseph and Karen Millen are brands worth keeping an eye out for in thrift stores, as their construction is top-notch. However, Harling suggests focusing more on the fabric rather than the brand itself. Avoid polyester as it is harmful to the environment and does not provide warmth. Essentially, wearing polyester is like wearing plastic.
I would certainly don this outfit. The pointed shoes are exceptional, reminiscent of Phoebe Philo’s style. Initially unsure about the snake-print blouse on display, I am now a fan of how Harling has incorporated it as a subtle accent or accessory. Additionally, the gold chain (found on eBay) adds a touch of elegance to the entire ensemble.
Look 2: weekend
Natalie Hartley, the founder of Chillie London vintage store, is responsible for sourcing and styling this content.
According to Hartley, bomber jackets and leather flying jackets are universally flattering. For a versatile weekend wardrobe, Hartley’s top tip is to invest in a high-quality jacket. It can be thrown over any outfit and instantly elevate your look every day. This is a much wiser fashion choice than splurging on a party dress. For my outfit, Hartley selected an £85 Schott jacket with an orange lining for authenticity, paired with Levi 501s for £45, a classic white shirt from CP Company for £45, a pair of Swedish Hasbeens boots for £35 (slightly distressed, which adds character), and a black bum bag worn as a shoulder bag for £15 – all available at Chillie London.
According to Hartley, the key to modernizing secondhand clothing is to avoid dressing in a strictly decade-specific style. Just because one item is from a certain era does not mean you should match it with other items from the same era. In fact, it is better to mix and match styles from different eras. For example, if you are wearing a jacket with an 80s shape, pair it with contemporary jeans. Many vintage stores tend to focus on specific decades, but this can make you look like you have stepped back in time. Another tip from the stylish Hartley is to not go overboard with color. If you are trying out a new silhouette, stick to your usual color palette so that you still feel like yourself.
Hartley, aged 45, aims to appeal to individuals of her own generation. In particular, she targets women in their 30s, 40s and 50s who were exposed to the peak of fast fashion. As a result, many of these women lack experience in shopping for secondhand items and may find it intimidating. With her brand Chillie London, Hartley strives to encourage this demographic to embrace pre-loved clothing. The store layout is designed to make these women feel comfortable and at ease, with color-coded sections resembling a boutique. For those who prefer black clothing, there is a designated section to cater to their preference. Hartley and her business partner Lydia Mcneill are present on the shop floor daily and enjoy conversing with customers about what may suit them, even suggesting ways for them to step out of their comfort zone. However, they never pressure anyone into purchasing items they do not genuinely like. Every piece in their store is cherished and they strive to find the perfect home for each item.
According to Hartley, effortless clothing is the key to weekend chic. She believes that wearing oversized pieces can instantly elevate a look and give it a modern edge. The goal is to appear stylish without appearing like you put in too much effort. Hartley dislikes the term “vintage” as it gives the impression of clothing meant for display in museums. Additionally, she notes that many stores near Portobello use the term as an excuse to mark up prices. She finds joy in dressing women in amazing secondhand pieces and recalls a satisfied customer who received compliments on her jacket while wearing it for a casual gym outing. According to Hartley, secondhand clothing adds character to a look.
I felt uncomfortable wearing this jacket at first because it seemed too urban for my style. However, when paired with jeans and a timeless shirt, I actually enjoyed wearing it. The jeans were also excellent. You can never go wrong with a pair of vintage Levi 501s. This specific jean style is referenced by many denim brands for a reason.
Look 3: party
This was curated and designed by Becky Barnes, an eco-friendly stylist and wardrobe advisor.
A slinky black dress is timeless, but sheer panels, pleating and an asymmetric shape make this one contemporary, too. “Contemporary is a better mindset than on-trend,” says Barnes, who is based in Bristol and takes her clients on pre-loved shopping sprees to help them find their style, sustainably. This mint condition Zara dress cost £12 from her local Cancer Research shop. The vintage magazine-style clutch was another charity shop find – £3.99 from a branch of St Peter’s Hospice – while the classic red courts were £8 from Vinted, with a matching bag. A stack of pearl bracelets was picked up for 50p. “A classic dress with unexpected accessories means you have a timeless piece, but a vibe that feels right for now. Also, think about updating your party makeup and hair look – that makes a huge difference,” she says.
According to Barnes, it is important for your attire to match your reality. He has noticed that many women express a desire to wear high heels and figure-hugging dresses, but in reality, their daily activities involve walking the dog and taking their children to school. Barnes assists these women in determining how they want their clothing to make them feel. For example, the woman who wants to wear heels and a wiggle dress may want to feel sexy and confident, so Barnes helps her find practical yet stylish options. Prior to working in fashion, Barnes had a 20-year career in the corporate world where he enjoyed mentoring and supporting other women in achieving their goals. Now, he uses his skills to help women express their true selves through their clothing choices. Plus, since all of the clothing options are secondhand, women can feel good about their sustainable fashion choices.
Thrift stores are where Barnes often finds her best items. She advises being strategic and considering the demographics of a particular area when shopping. For trendy pieces, she suggests looking in neighborhoods with a lot of students, while high-end designer dresses can be found in upscale areas like Clifton Village. For more traditional styles like tweed jackets and cashmere, she recommends heading to the Cotswolds. Barnes is a strong advocate for secondhand fashion as a sustainable choice, highlighting the positive impact on carbon footprint and water usage. Additionally, shopping secondhand can also be budget-friendly. In fact, Barnes recently took a client shopping and they were able to purchase 15 items from well-known brands such as Brora, Hush, Lacoste, and Phase Eight for only £120. Barnes estimates that if her client had bought these items new, it would have cost at least £650.
According to the speaker, sizing in clothing has evolved significantly over time and should not be relied upon. Instead, she suggests holding the garment up against oneself for a better fit. In the fitting room, Barnes pays attention to nonverbal cues from the customer’s body language. When an item fits well, the customer’s shoulders will straighten, their chin will lift, and they will smile at themselves in the mirror. This is all about personal feelings. Many women seek her help because they have lost confidence in themselves, and clothing can be a means of rediscovering self-love.
This is the nicest Zara dress I’ve seen in ages and, at £12, it’s about a fifth of the price of the Zara shop floor. This felt like a chic, upmarket outfit – for a total cost of under £25.