Wearing an 80’s-inspired, red fringed jacket, 21-year-old Kendall Jenner is praised for shopping at London’s Portobello Road Market after walking runway after runway at New York Fashion Week. Vogue commends her decision to go thrifting at the popular London flea market, noting how the retro jacket paired with classic 80’s Aviator sunglasses showcases a mature, grown-up approach to fashion. But Jenner isn’t the only young social influencer to be highly regarded for opting for vintage inspired clothes rather than new trends, as the younger generation today has started to show appreciation for pre-loved couture. Secondhand shopping is not exclusive towards grungy Seattle thrifters, but has included and inspired all types of secondhand fashion shoppers, including luxury enthusiasts as well. The reason behind this secondhand clothing trend is not only because of the cheaper alternatives to new couture, but because buying clothing secondhand represents a wearability to the clothes that showcases an understanding and respect of fashion’s cyclical nature that a new, one-time purchase doesn’t showcase.
“There’s a nostalgia factor,” Carrie Peterson, the founder of Beacon’s Closet, said in Vogue, “People find comfort and familiarity in pieces they saw in the pop culture of their youth. 20-to-30-somethings want to relive some of the things they adored as children or weren’t really old enough to partake in the first time around.” When people wear vintage inspired clothing, they respect the fashion they weren’t around to interact with, paying homage to the fashion choices of the past. Creating a new look out of secondhand fashion also represents style, a differentiation that is significant according to Marc Jacobs. He said in Vogue that “The ultimate customer is stylish, not fashionable. To be fashionable all you need is money.” And although buying clothing secondhand is the cheaper alternative to runway fashion, sifting through racks of worn pieces that might still slightly smell like the previous owner’s Chanel no. 5, according to Vogue, showcases a certain type of style that’s respectable. Owning fashion pieces from generations people barely remember suggests an old-soul maturity to fashion, implying that someone has a real sense of style rather than simply following the modern department store trends of today.
People have become so interested in the cyclical nature of secondhand fashion that it has become a kind of art form in itself. Individuals don’t have to buy secondhand clothing themselves, but they can appreciate the beauty of what happens after clothes are well worn by taking a look at artist Maja Weiss’ installation at the Copenhagen International Fashion Fair. The installation, as depicted by Vogue, featured 17 tons of secondhand clothing. Weiss discusses her inspiration for the installation in Vogue, stating that “Everybody is looking at how clothes are made, from zero to the catwalk, and for me, this was about going in the opposite direction: looking at what happens to clothes when they’re discharged.” It’s going in the opposite direction, as Weiss puts it, that creates this cryptic mystery to clothes that doesn’t accompany a new purchase. There’s a story behind every pre-loved item that allows the wearer to feel that their piece had meaning to someone once, long ago.
From the respect secondhand clothing represents, it’s no surprise that consignment shops and online platforms such as Rent the Runway and eBay have become the go-to way to acquire couture clothing for millennials. The clothes are pre-loved, creating an even more special bond to the purchase than a one-time wear would foster. Lynn Yaeger, a contributing fashion editor to Vogue who has long searched the endless database of eBay to find the perfect piece, said in Business of Fashion that eBay’s “very uncurated quality is what makes it so appealing. [There are] designer clothes from 10 years ago you thought you'd never see again, strange vestiges from other people's childhoods that resonate with your own.” It’s also interesting for luxury brands themselves to see which of their pieces remain timeless to consumers; if these products are bought pre-loved, it implies a demand for pieces high fashion brands can possibly bring back to sell in retail stores once more. Benjamin Seidler, a designer and illustrator for clients such as Acne Studios, Prada, and Asprey agrees, saying in Business of Fashion that buying clothing secondhand is “recycling in its most glamorous incarnation. It offers second chances at missed sartorial opportunities. From a fashion point of view, it's also an interesting tool to see what doesn't lose value over time.” Seidler also mentions the nostalgic aspect to buying clothes secondhand, adding that “There are always other fashion enthusiasts out there who, like me, feel they missed out on a season and are then given a second chance by eBay.”
Clearly secondhand fashion represents more than just a desire to find cheaper clothes. There’s a reason individuals opt for hunting through racks of chunky sweaters and mom jeans to discover the one overlooked, high fashion diamond in the rough. It shows a fierce determination for true style in our instantly gratifying, fast-fashion era. And besides, as Vogue.com Fashion News Editor Alessandra Codinha mentioned, even “if you never wear it again, unlike that crazy expensive dress you ordered, you really won’t feel guilty.”