The fit and fashion revolution in online used clothing
The most environmentally sustainable garment is one with a previous owner
As awareness of the environmental burden of fast fashion spreads, the vintage and used clothing industry is booming, with newly customer-friendly websites that aim to get fit and fashion right.
Second-hand clothing shopping no longer means rifling through other people’s fusty clothes, or finding someone else’s mustard stain on an otherwise pristine garment. Peer-to-peer fashion marketplaces and full-service consignment shops, often with each item painstakingly photographed and cataloged by size and brand, take a lot of the labor out of vintage shopping. Here's what you and your family need to know to buy sustainably, but stylishly.
Check your measurements
Sizing varies, even within a brand. Instead of looking for a medium or a size 6, record precise measurements from two or three garments that fit well and average the measurements: from armpit-to-armpit; across the waistband and hips; the rise of a favorite pair of pants; your inseam.
Use new-clothing websites to sharpen your used-garment search
Suppose you need new jeans, but the stats alone make you wince. (A pair of jeans consumes more than 2,500 gallons of water and around a pound of chemicals, and is notoriously hard to recycle.) By looking on the websites of favorite brands, which tend to have much better photographs and even videos to check the fit, you can be sure that you’re hunting for precisely the right thing.
You might know, for instance, that you want a pair of black, unfaded Ralph Lauren jeans. Looking through the listings on the website should help you narrow down whether the pair you have in mind are the Slim Fit Selvedge Jean or the Varick Slim Straight Jean.
With a few exceptions, you’ll find what you’re looking for — though it may require having a little patience, setting up alerts for a given item or sometimes settling for a previous model of the same item.
Where to look
For bargain hunters with time on their hands, Etsy and eBay still have an abundance of clothing and sometimes the opportunity to haggle or win something great at auction. But those bargains are hard to come by, with poor quality control.
Newer peer-to-peer sites Tradesy, Vestiaire Collective and Poshmark offer a more fashion-oriented approach and greater attention to detail, better filtering options to help you find the right item. The catalogs are enormous — Vestiaire Collective boasts some 30,000 new items a week — so it’s usually only a matter of time before the item you’re looking for pops up.
At the other end of the scale, The RealReal offers high-end designer clothing: Sellers mail their clothes to the service, which checks them for stains or damage, authenticates the label, then individually photographs and catalogs them. The returns process is somewhat more streamlined and clothes tend to be higher quality. It’s not cheap, though it still offers savings of as much as 70% off the item new. ThredUp, which only offers women’s clothing, works in a similar way.
Rebag focuses on pre-owned luxury handbags. Grailed mostly caters to men, with a focus on streetwear and sneakers. What Goes Around Comes Around boasts “the finest luxury vintage,” generally with prices to match.
What to watch out for
Beware of fakes on lower-end sites. As is generally the case with online shopping, be especially cautious if an item seems too good to be true for the price or a given seller has no reviews whatsoever. And don’t be afraid to ask for more information, including a better photo of the label or of zippers and buttons (which can be a giveaway of a fake).
If you’re shopping for vintage from the 1990s or earlier, be especially careful with the sizing. Vintage sizing, especially for women, is generally much smaller. If your seller hasn’t listed measurements, ask them to double-check. Sizing from foreign sellers can also trip you up, European sizing differs across the continent: An Italian women's size 42, for instance, is two sizes smaller than a German size 42.
Buying second-hand shoes online from brands with which you’re unfamiliar also requires caution. Without trying shoes on in advance, it can be hard to check the fit accurately. Moreover, the extra weight could leave you paying almost as much to return a given pair as it cost to buy them. Instead, if you’re looking for sustainability, consider getting beloved shoes re-soled to give them a new lease of life.