Up up to a point I can trace my life in clothing stores. M&S and Asda as children; New Look and Tammy Girl as a pre-teen, then Topshop, surf shops and our local ’60s hangout for huge cord rockets – the complete addition to my rural hometown offering. When I moved to college, I reveled in Gap and Zara, terribly exotic (to me); during my 20s, London has offered the untold riches of Cos, Monki and & Other Stories.
After turning 30, that infallible feeling of adjustment wore off. I was probably too old for Topshop’s cropped whole, plus I found its owner a bit gross. I felt jaded by Cos’s austere dental hygienist gowns. And the emerging, age-appropriate uniform of a floral midi skirt, cute sweater, and heeled boots looked like a millennial update to M&S ‘old Classic collection, aka the untimely death of fashion. Where next?
In case the aforementioned array of pedestrianized boutiques doesn’t make it obvious, I haven’t really been a fashion adventurer since I was a teenager, when chaos was my MO style. (Mismatched Converse, mismatched knee-length striped socks, skirt that looked like a trash bag.) These days I find shopping for clothes demoralizing (Zara, with your so-called XL that doesn’t go over a size 12 – I am looking at you .)
I had tried vintage shopping but never had the eye or the patience. My wardrobe was haunted by my only second-hand purchase: an 80s gray silk jumpsuit with padded shoulders, bought in Berlin at the encouragement of a friend who can indeed pack that sort of thing. What was exciting in the locker room made me feel like a blousy mechanic at home. On the hanger he stayed.
Aware of the climate crisis and the misdeeds of fast fashion, I wanted to test second-hand marketplaces like Depop. But when I first searched, it seemed to me that I only found an avalanche of fleeces – the kind I would wear after a swim lesson in 1998 – albeit personalized and cropped. I don’t have the appetite to rehash this look, nor the abs for its reinvention. Another dead end.
Earlier this year, I was researching an interview with 21-year-old British pop star Holly Humberstone. Like many of her generation, she loves to save money, for creativity and the positive aspects of the environment. In her shows, she runs a clothing exchange initiative where fans could even trap one of her old outfits. Inspired (not to mention sensing an opportunity to procrastinate), I re-downloaded Depop.
I don’t know if the site’s offer had grown or if my mindset had just changed: the potential and the pleasure to be had were suddenly evident. I saw a coworker wearing cool white pants and wondered if I could find something similar: still with their tags, in my size, half the price of new? Sold, to the woman sure she will put some jam in weeks.
My pre-pandemic jeans were skinnies that I never want to see again; I researched cuts for generous stockings and learned that a fancy Swedish brand I would never have splashed on was apparently the answer. And here they are, my size, in perfect condition: Â£ 15. (Turns out they were right about that tramp stuff.) There is a certain slot-style fun in finding exactly what you’re looking for. Beloved, rubbed-to-the-string M&S polo collar in a new color? Jackpot.
This wave of sartorial success has encouraged me to commit to not buying new if I can help myself (I make an exception for pants, pajamas, and athletic wear). As well as making a small contribution to the planet, to my delight, it also unlocked a desire for self-expression that has been dormant since that weird era of striped socks. Walking into a store and being confronted with outfits you never dreamed of wearing, at least deters me from looking for hidden gems. (The & Other Stories near Work currently has a display that I would describe as “Cyberpunk Sloane Ranger,” and more power for you if you can pull it off.) Plus, taking risks on new generic stuff is prohibitive and potentially. useless. But on Depop or eBay, getting started with a new personality comes with less pressure. Cherry pink velor shorts for Â£ 8? I could be that person – and if I’m not, I can sell them to someone who could be.
I started selling my own sloppy items, quietly excited that they were seemingly desirable: maybe I had a coveted style after all. I even sold this German suit. Its new owner – a vintage demon – told me he liked the way it hangs and the uniqueness of the details; whether they would wear it anywhere, “dressed or not”. It makes me strangely happy that this article that I might never like turned out to be exactly what someone else was looking for.