A Secondhand Wardrobe

How to grow a secondhand wardrobe | Litterless

"Twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five...". Counting under my breath yesterday morning, I worked my way down my closet to make a note of how many of the items in it were secondhand, ethically made, or handmade, as a way to chart my progress on moving away from fast fashion. The verdict: just over half of my closet is comprised of secondhand items, and about two-thirds of my closet is in some way a secondhand or ethical purchase.

If I'd seen those figures three years ago, I might not have believed them. Back then, I had the best intentions for shopping mainly secondhand, but I wasn't finding the things that I wanted to wear in the thrift stores I tried. I would read the stories of women who'd made the leap before me, women who said things like "I only buy secondhand clothing" or "I mainly buy secondhand clothing," and I would think, "But how???"

Happily, I now find myself on the other side of the equation, with a comfortable routine for finding things I love on the secondhand market. Inspired by Slow Fashion October, a month of taking time to be thoughtful about stepping away from fast fashion - whether to secondhand items, handmade things, mended garments, or ethically or locally made clothing - I'm excited to start sharing more of my secondhand finds here, as well as thoughts on how to grow the percentage of your wardrobe that's secondhand, in a new series called "Secondhand Wardrobe."

I hope to demystify the process a bit: secondhand shopping isn't just for people with heaps of time on their hands to browse thrift stores. It isn't just for folks who live in areas where the thrift stores are nearly as good as the regular stores. It isn't just for that mythical person who just has an eye for combining older items with new ones, who walks out of the vintage store in a leopard-print coat that should look terrible but somehow just doesn't. That person is decidedly NOT me - and yet, here I am, solidly in secondhand world.

When I think about zero waste done successfully and well, I don't necessarily think about keeping trash to the bare minimum. Instead, really the crux of it is that all of our consumer choices need to be looked at more holistically. In other words, purchasing a cheap fast fashion t-shirt can be technically zero waste if you refuse the bag at checkout and recycle the paper tag. But in the true spirit of reducing one's impact, saving up for a higher-quality, ethically made piece, finding a similar t-shirt in a secondhand shop, mending the small hole in one you already own, or hosting a clothing swap with friends is another way to achieve the same end.

That's not to say that I'm perfect at this, by any stretch. Two weeks ago found me hobbling around San Fransisco on blistered feet and dashing into a big department store to buy a more comfortable pair of sandals, provenance unknown. The jeans I wore on repeat this summer were white Levi's, not ethically made nor secondhand, and yet beloved nonetheless. I still own many items from that time, three years ago and before, when I was just beginning to look at what a slower approach to fashion might look like and thought finding what I needed secondhand to be nearly impossible. You might be at that point, too. But, that's always been the ethic of this space: start where you are, do what you can. Hopefully this series will give you some new tools to do so.

If you have specific questions about secondhand or ethical shopping, I'd love to hear them (and take a stab at answers) in the comments below. Otherwise, this past post of mine on my method for secondhand clothing shopping is a good place to start. Back soon with more, on this and other things zero waste.

Pictured above, two new-to-me (but not new), clothing items for fall.