How should I shop in today’s world? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, particularly in the aftermath of Fashion’s Dirty Secrets, a BBC documentary that aired in October and revealed that in the U.K. alone, we dump 300,000 tons of clothes in landfills each year (that’s the weight of a small family car every two minutes).
When The Guardian’s fashion editor, Jess Cartner-Morley, recently debuted a new column, she told her readership: “I’m going to change what I wear and what I write about. Every week’s look will include old favourites from my wardrobe and discoveries from vintage stores. There will still, always, be gorgeous hand-picked pieces that are available to buy. But we won’t pretend that’s the whole story.”
Up until that point, and certainly during my tenure as a fashion columnist at a competing broadsheet, The Sunday Times, there was an idea that if your readers couldn’t buy something, you shouldn’t shoot it. What kind of service were you doing for the audience if they couldn’t shop your solutions? But when I left the newspaper, I decided I wanted to make vintage clothing not only a part of my wardrobe (it was already a large part of that) but part of any fashion journalism that I did. My intention: to take things out of the retail cycle as much as I put things in, to inspire personal style interpretations of these vintage pieces and to encourage the hunt for one’s own unique version of what I’m wearing.
Of course, not all vintage comes cheap. Pre-owned designer clothes — seasons old rather than decades old — can be expensive (just look at old Celine). Part of the fun for me, however, is unearthing “steals” from the vintage shops I frequent, like this Gucci wool blazer you see here — my favorite, would-save-it-in-a-fire piece of clothing, which was £50 ($61) from Portobello Market. I found the balloon-sleeved Aran knit cardi in the slideshow above for £30 ($38) from there, too. My pearl-strewn beret, £15 ($19), is from Beyond Retro. This suede skirt, £20 ($26), is from ASOS Marketplace. My suede and sheepskin coat from eBay (bought in 2010) was £65 ($83). I have an electric blue kilt from eBay that I bought for £5 ($6.40) and a lace T-shirt from a flea market in the South of France that I found for £1 ($1.28).
(For what it’s worth, I’ve learned that the best way to find said gems is to have specific pieces you’re looking for in mind, and to keep your eyes out for anything you buy on repeat. I, personally, buy suede coats and white frilly blouses over and over again.)
This is not me saying that I am winning at sustainability. I still shop more than I should; I am not immune to the “new in” section. But I do have a rule that if I see something new that I like, I have to see if I can find the vintage version of it first.
It isn’t an entirely altruistic endeavor, either. Whether it’s clothing, furniture, art or crockery, I love vintage shopping: the hunt (trawling through market racks and web pages, eyes the size of saucers, refusing to give up until I find what I am looking for), the score, the bargain, the knowledge that no one else has that piece.
I love it so much that I’ve done a trawl for you to give you a head start on your own hunt. Here are some of my favorite bargains online at the moment with a similar luxury counterpart to show how you can still shop “in fashion” at a fraction of the price.
You have no idea how much I wanted to keep those finds to myself. But then, I can’t be too selfish about them, given that I found, and bought, a Burberry kilt on Etsy while writing this…
Photos by Frances Davison.