“There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, ‘Do trousers matter?'”
“The mood will pass, sir.”
― P.G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters
This gentleman is a fabulous steampunk Cossack pirate, and I buy clothes from him.
I do not buy too many new clothing items these days. Exceptions are things like work clothes; I am in the process of building a small arsenal of work dresses and investing in high quality tailoring with the aim of building a capsule work wardrobe. But other than that, I have not bought new clothes in a long time and have instead bought things almost entirely vintage or second hand. There are a few reasons for this.
First, I’ve mentioned before what an impact reading this book made on me. Even though it was now several years ago, it has had a lasting effect on my shopping habits. More stuff, cheaply made is not good for anyone. Not the planet, not the below-minimally-paid garment workers of the world, not me. Too much bad stuff is suffocating society and the clothing industry is a major culprit.
You might not think it to watch my social media feed, but my closet has actually gotten significantly smaller over recent years as I’ve winnowed out cheap clothes and bought fewer but better pieces. Learning to be more intentional about my spending habits has been one of the primary mental shifts I experienced transitioning out of university, into work, then into freelancing, and finally into my current role. Even though what I buy is now more expensive per capita, I’m getting significantly more wears out of each item, replace them less frequently, and buy better quality in the first instance. More money but less shopping overall, and a surprising amount of money saved as a result.
Second, I love vintage clothing. Not the head-to-toe look that only someone like the incomparable Dita Von Teese can pull off, but individual, well made, well cared for pieces that will never go out of style. It’s how I bought an excellent British tweed jacket, for instance, that I will probably own for the rest of my life.
But shopping vintage or second hand also has a secondary benefit to overall quality: you are much, much less likely to see someone on the street wearing the same thing as you. In a society where fast, cheap fashion is everywhere and the same handful of retailers provide a huge majority of clothing to the general population, wearing something different can set you apart. It can also help you find amazingly fun items that really speak to your personality or sense of fun. The Cossack pirate sold me a vintage kimono that functioned as menswear in its original form, but now is my “opera coat” or going out jacket. Occasionally, on the advice of the Great and Good Caitlin, I flip it inside out to show off the hand painted panel. Why not?
I did not buy this leopard print fur jacket, but that’s strictly due to reasons of poverty.
I tried to be a good little Londoner and wear mostly black for a long time (and still occasionally do go monochrome for convenience and/or laziness), but eventually gave up. I love color and personality in my clothes too much and always need a punch of something on my person. Second hand or vintage shopping allows me to hunt for things like this that would cost me my firstborn child or a kidney to buy new. And because I no longer buy clothing on a whim; rather I spend time hunting for things that I really want, that really fit, and that I genuinely love. I spent a year trying to find a Sukajan jacket with a fun design (this one is actually reversible–two jackets for the price of one!) that actually fit me before finally forking out any money for one.
The third reason to not buy new clothes ties to my second. Because my industry is so image conscious, the clothing that people wear telegraphs messages constantly. The best sales agents I have ever seen can take one look at a man and accurately estimate his income based on his watch or shoes. They can make a pretty decent guess about a woman’s industry and even educational background by her accessories. It’s scary how much people can tell at a glance of you.
When I say I’ve been investing in a work wardrobe, I mean it literally. Some brands or items or even stylistic looks carry a certain cache that I in turn want to tap into when presenting to external companies or meeting with clients. I want to be in control of the messages my appearance puts out about me or whoever I happen to representing at the time. “Power bag” or “power heels” aren’t buzzwords, I have been treated very and noticeably differently based on which shoes I have chosen to wear to client or investor meetings. It may sound frivolous, but it’s anything but. Buying secondhand allows me to spend less on items of clothing that would otherwise be utterly beyond my price range, but are very real tools in my trade. Living in a city like London where fashion flows constantly, pre-owned doesn’t even necessarily mean used! Last winter I snagged a gorgeous Miu Miu coat in a beautiful wool (incredibly warm) with an embellished collar and spiked belt (again, why not!) that still had the tags of its original purchase on it.
Having bought clothing almost exclusively second hand for years now, I don’t really see myself going back to buying new except in a handful of instances. Not only are the perks of saving money and finding wholly unique items too good to give up, I genuinely enjoy the hunt for bargains or stellar finds. It makes getting dressed more fun and gives me a story to tell with nearly everything I put on. I’ll take it over cheap fast fashion any day.