'I owned a shop that sells vintage. These are my 6 rules for shopping second hand.'

Secondhand shopping has come quite the way since I used to run my online and pop-up vintage boutique, Chez Charlotte. Nowadays it's normal for people, especially if they're Gen Z, to source their best wares from op-shops and Depop, eBay and Etsy, no doubt due to the climate crisis and increasing awareness surrounding sustainable fashion.

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I've since closed that business but have written an upcoming book about how to find your style through wearing more secondhand. As it transpires you don't need to be in the throes of your youth, live in a big, fabulous city, look any bit old-fashioned or even know a single fact about fashion history to embrace styles from the past. Instead, all you need to know is what you suit, what you fit and be open to the treasure hunt that comes with it.

1. Know your style.

Before you get started on your secondhand style journey, it's important to decipher what kind of look you're actually trying to embody. Because op shops are so affordable, it can be tempting to go on the wrong type of sartorial tangent, buying up all kinds of bits that actually won't work in your wardrobe.

If you don't know where to start with this, I suggest first figuring out your ultimate style icon then when in the changing room reference their look, asking yourself would so-and-so buy this? If it's a no, it goes back on the rack, if it’s a yes, plus you love it and can afford it, then you have full permission to purchase and take your new old piece home with you.


2. Know your measurements.

A key component to shopping for vintage (especially online) is knowing your measurements. Now numbers can sometimes feel jarring, bringing up bad memories of antiquated diet culture, but don't feel discouraged. Simply knowing your vital statistics will mean you can be more discerning about fit before you buy.

Stick to knowing your bust, waist and hip measurements as a rule and write them down somewhere handy like in the notes app on your phone (also note them at different points in the month as these can fluctuate). Then, as you shop online or in store (stores usually have a tape measure behind the counter you can ask to use), you can compare your measurements to that of a piece before you even hit the changing room. If you're a full nerd like me, you can even carry a mini tape measure on you to save time (and to show off)!

3. Learn about history, then forget it.

There's so much we can learn from the history of fashion and design. Every design period showcases stories from that era which correlate with trends, popular influencers (in a different century these could have been members of a royal family in lieu of an Instagram star) and even be telling about the economy (ever heard of the hemline index?) from a different time.

It's really great to educate yourself on what you're wearing, in the process also finding out how items were originally worn, however it's just as important to forget the rules. Frankly, you're a modern day person and in that it's important to remember that just because you're dressing in vintage doesn't mean you need to look like an extra from Mad Men. I encourage you to break the rules, combine eras and wear all kinds of secondhand styles in a way that feels right to you rather than the rulebook.


Image: Supplied.

4. Get better at hand washing.

One more off-putting element when it comes to wearing secondhand is the cleanliness factor. Whilst no charity store nor vintage vendor should sell things which are soiled, it's common for vintage to come with a certain, slight dusty, musty scent. The good thing is you can easily get rid of this, and generally care for your clothes, by adopting more old-fashioned methods of cleaning them.

Whilst it's a little too intricate to explain here, there are all kinds of amazing online resources detailing how to hand wash certain fabrics (if I were you I would head straight to YouTube for a full demo). You don't need a fancy laundry either - I often do my hand washing from my humble bath tub - but investing in some hand-wash specific detergent can help. I also recommend asking the vintage or secondhand seller how they recommend caring for a piece and following their lead.


5. Swap it for souvenirs. 

Vintage clothes are so evocative as they embody stories of the past. Another thing that reminds us of past chapters is the souvenirs we bring home from our travel.

When I travel I often try to find a special, secondhand trinket to take home with me. I then proud display or wear my found item and happily share the story of where it came from - not just of the era and potential previous owner, but also of the faraway place I found it. In these layers of storytelling come more layers of interest, and frankly feels a lot better sharing a secondhand tale over sharing that you found it on sale from Zara (yes, even if you were in Spain or Singapore at the time).

6. Open yourself up to a treasure hunt.

Lastly, be sure to open yourself up to the pure joy of shopping vintage. Unlike high street shopping, sourcing secondhand will take you to hidden corners of your local shopping strip or of the internet. It might not be as obvious a process to the average consumer, but embracing the hunt and the unconventional shopping habits you'll need to adopt is actually really fun (I think so anyway). Not only does it mean you'll find clothes nobody else you know has, but you'll be helping the planet, likely supporting a small business and building your personal style in the process.

Interested in more shopping advice? Listen to What Are You Wearing? below.

You can pre-order Charlotte’s secondhand style guide, How to Be Fabulous, here.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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