Relieve your wardrobe of the unwearable tat and make way for some pre-loved gems.

There has never been a better time to shop for pre-loved and vintage clothing. What’s more there’s no elbow sharpening required, just a lot of social distancing and patience. During lockdown most people have had a clear-out and now have bags of clothes waiting to go to the charity shops… which means there’s going to be a wealth of hardly-worn loveliness to choose from!

Shakaila Forbes-Bell, Fashion Psychologist and founder of fashionispsychology.com says, “Lockdown has made a lot of people think about the value of their clothes. Not the monetary value but the value they add to their life. We’re all spending so much time indoors with half unworn wardrobes causing us to ask questions like: Is this comfortable? Does this make me feel good? And how many wears can I get out of this?”

Bridget Duffy, a vintage specialist with an Etsy shop What The Butler Wore adds: “This pause on life has given people the opportunity to go through their drawers and cupboards and rediscover long forgotten threads. Nostalgic notions are running high”.

Post lockdown is, it seems, the very best time to be getting into vintage, as I discovered when I legged it to the local Shelter Boutique as soon as it opened to check what was on the rails. Still can’t believe I spotted a beautiful layered chiffon Chloe dress. Occasionally you’d get Whistles, LK Bennett or Hobbs in Shelter, but never designer.

And I’ve had a much needed wardrobe clear out too. After a long cold, hard look, I realised there were many items in my wardrobe that I have shockingly only worn once and honestly will never wear again. As a former magazine fashion editor, this is perhaps not surprising. Clothes from labels such as All Saints, Rixo (Ouch, that hurt, but it no longer fitted me), French Connection and Whistles have all found their way onto eBay, or to local charity shops as soon as they opened.

For me, getting rid of things I no longer loved or wore was cathartic. The guilt I was harbouring over that dress bought for a wedding but which never saw the light of day again could at last be assuaged.

I’ll even confess that while working on a busy celebrity weekly, I’d often get a last minute invite to an evening event, and would think nothing of dashing out to buy something new and the shoes to go with. The whole kit and caboodle would then end up squashed into my packed wardrobe, never to leave its dark confines again, along with the Cinderella shoes that left me with blisters after one night only. At last I can put all that guilt in a neatly tied up bag and take it to the charity shop.

During lockdown I found clothes I’d forgotten I even owned. In some cases this was pleasurable – it was like finding treasures in a vintage shop. For example, the Celia Birtwell For Topshop blouse, the Kate Moss For Topshop star embellished chiffon top and Hysteric Glamour T-shirts from the 90’s – all of which I’ll enjoy wearing again.

As the lockdown weeks went by, I unearthed the decades. It was like a fashion version of an archaeological excavation.

Packed away I found the Betsy Johnson dress with matching elbow length gloves I bought in LA on a fashion trip, a Vivienne Westwood pirate shirt, and an early John Galliano skirt. I found my Mum’s beautiful Harrod’s garden blooms print silk shift dress that she’d worn on her honeymoon, my sister’s 80’s electric blue leopard print dress which she wore to the school prom and frothy white Victorian petticoats which had belonged to a great aunt. The list goes on.

In a post-Covid world, attitudes to shopping have shifted and there’s an increased focus on sustainability. People are realising that they don’t need as much new stuff, as it’s already in their wardrobe, or it’s reached a charity shop via someone else’s. As Patrick Grant said on The British Sewing Bee, ‘We have enough clothing on the planet right now to clothe the next six generations of the human race: we have to find ways of using what we’ve got.’ A sobering thought, and one that resonates with most of us, never more so than now. 

Says Forbes-Bell: “By buying vintage, you’ll be lightening your environmental footprint while experiencing psychological benefits. Neurological studies have shown that the reward networks in the brain activate during acts of generous giving, even when we benefit from these acts via reciprocity. Furthermore, buying vintage enables you to engage in more mindful consumption. You’ll be able to make a conscious decision about what styles truly suit you, your values and your lifestyle”. 

Duffy continues: “Over the last few years people are much happier buying vintage clothing and greater numbers recognise that fashion is cyclical so a new look on the catwalk may well have its roots in a classic 60s shift or a 50s prom dress. Sourcing from the originator rather than the imitator is far more satisfying. Buying vintage and second hand is now appreciated for the ethical aspects and its low impact on the environment and this will have a renewed focus after lockdown. There are a lot of interesting pieces arriving at charity shops and at vintage stalls and shops right now”

According to Oxfam research over half of 2,000 women polled scaled down fashion purchases during the pandemic, while one in three of these women, aged between 18 and 55, haven’t bought any new clothes since lockdown. They hope that the trend towards ethical shopping, already underway before lockdown, will accelerate.

Thinking of binning it? Oxfam even take odd socks for recycling and bra bundles go like hotcakes on eBay, while swimsuit bundles are popular too. (I know, right? Eeeew!)

A spokesperson for Oxfam said, “If you’ve had a lockdown clear-out and have got bags of things you no longer need, your local Oxfam shop would love to have them. Please just call ahead or pop in first as some may be tight on storage due to the extra precaution of storing donations for 72 hours before handling them”. 

From now on I’m shopping vintage and operating a ‘one in one out’ policy. I’ll treasure the special vintage finds more than ever!

Shopping for vintage: tips from Bridget Duffy from What The Butler Wore
*Look for things you will feel wonderful wearing. Nothing is better than a 70s Indian cotton block printed dress on a hot summer’s day, while a classic 70’s novelty print blouse can cheer up the darkest of days.
*Classic vintage handbags are worth keeping an eye out for, especially tooled leather saddle bags, a wardrobe staple.
*Vintage knitwear is also worth seeking out. 50’s and 60’s St Michael pieces often can be found in wonderful colours. If you’re lucky, a nice cashmere piece may cross your path. It’s worth looking for vintage Pringle, but do always check for moth damage .
*Be careful on the shoe front. Look for leather soles and uppers as often the glue in old shoes with plastic soles has given up the ghost.
*Facebook Market place has had a lot more vintage since lockdown, but the downside is that many amateur online sellers mistake their eras and even confuse today’s modern Biba pieces which were created for House Of Fraser, with the iconic 70s pieces – so beware! 

Words: Wendy Rigg, fashion director and brand consultant.
Main image: Wendy modelling her treasured Celia Birtwell blouse.