The best ad campaigns make you want to be the woman on the billboard. In 2013, I wanted to be Daria Werbowy in a pink roll-top bath, naked except for a rhinestone-studded necklace and bracelets, in Celine’s spring campaign.
I dreamed of this sparkly choker, in particular, for months, even though it was hugely unaffordable – over £2,000 – on my peanut salary as a fashion journalist. Years later, when its designer Phoebe Philo announced that she was leaving the brand in 2017, I thought of the necklace again. Curious to see if I could find one, I hit Google. A quarter of an hour later, I had unearthed a German seller on the French resale site Vestiaire Collective, ready to part with theirs for £481.37, complete with dustbag and original box. Reader, I bought it. And then I bragged about it. “It’s Spring/Summer 2013,” I told admirers who inquired about the origin of the necklace during a vogue party.
It was time for designer items from the previous season to be pushed to the back of the wardrobe or given to willing recipients after their moment in the spotlight. Now, pre-loved, pre-worn, used, second-hand and resale clothing and accessories couldn’t be more desirable. “Vintage” is the term that covers all the bases, even if it makes the finicky shiver: technically, it should only apply to clothes made between the last 20 and 99 years. Be that as it may, the second-hand market today clearly stems from the two categories that “vintage” once designated: an acid-free, fabric-wrapped couture dress acquired at an auction on the one hand, or a scented mothball-nightie dress unearthed on a flea market stall on the other.
For one thing, the pre-loved items that today’s savviest shoppers seek out are often not that old. And the hunt is not taking place in cavernous warehouses or auction houses, but online. Today’s well-dressed fashion fans enjoy lightly worn Alaïa dresses on The RealReal, once-worn Bottega Veneta Cassette bags on Vestiaire Collective, vintage Chanel bouclé jackets on Hewi and second-hand Hermès Birkins on Collector Square. They buy sold-out Zara BNWT (“bought new with tags,” in Internet parlance) leggings on Depop and second-hand Jean Paul Gaultier Cyber Dots fishnet tops on eBay. They go to StockX for like-new Dior Air Jordans and Chrono24 for manned Cartier tanks, making a brief detour to Dotte for Mini Rodini releases for their kids.
They also sell. After all, their original Spring/Summer 2000 Dior Saddle bag has been worth a pretty penny since Maria Grazia Chiuri reissued it in 2018 – making it far too lucrative to pass on to a girl.
“People’s sense of belonging has changed,” says Rachel Reavley, a former vogue staff member and board member of Hewi, a UK-based family resale site with a particularly affluent clientele. (Hewi is short for Hardly Ever Worn It; over 30% of the stock on the site has never been worn.) Then you start looking at things in your wardrobe, thinking, is that Am I really going to wear those Dior boots again? You go online, and as long as you took care of them, they retained their value. It’s a win-win – you have the financial reward, the feel-good factor of participating in the circular economy. Then you could buy something else, and you’ll feel guilt-free.
Resale is big business. According to a report by GlobalData and ThredUp, the second-hand market is set to double over the next five years, growing 11 times faster than the wider retail apparel sector to reach £67bn. here 2025. Why the boom? It must be said that women have been buying pre-loved fashion for decades; as early as 1928, for example, the British vogue advertised 22 thrift stores you could trust to quietly get rid of last season’s Chanel suit. But the key word is “discreet”.
Gen Z, who primarily fuel savings growth, are more likely to brag about their discoveries on social media than to keep the second-hand status of this item secret. “Based on the research we’ve done in collaboration with Depop, if you analyze the younger generation, they don’t have that stigma anymore,” says Claudia D’Arpizio, luxury guru at management consultancy Bain & Company. “It’s clear that they also buy a lot of ‘first-hand’ products. But I think the stigma was more attached to previous generations.
After all, avoiding brand new is cheaper and less intimidating (in the case of luxury items) than heading to Bond Street in London or Madison Avenue in New York, and more sustainable: according to a Farfetch report, buying in On average, a second-hand item saves 1 kg of waste, 3,040 liters of water and 22 kg of CO2 compared to a new item.
Then there’s the thrill of the chase. As Camille Charrière, a journalist and influencer with more than 1.2 million Instagram followers and who regularly buys last season’s pieces on resale platforms, says: “I really enjoy wearing things that no one else has. ‘other has.’ Her most prized trophy is a one-of-a-kind 2000s John Galliano for Dior dress, a present for a recent birthday. She relishes the time spent acquiring unique pieces. “You don’t have to buy the latest thing that comes out to be able to dress well,” she says.
The pandemic has changed our world in myriad ways – but perhaps its greatest legacy for fashion will be the shift in mindset towards pre-loved products. Farfetch, for example, has been selling second-hand clothes alongside brand new luxury stock since 2010, but 2020 was a watershed moment: second-hand views were up 151% year-over-year, with notable growth from March 2020, when the pandemic took hold. Additionally, it noted a 506% increase in sales of used items worth over $10,000 (£7,253) from the first to fourth quarters of 2020. As noted by Tom Berry, Global Director of Farfetch’s sustainable business: “Our favorite curation isn’t necessarily about a low-cost offering. For us, people come for unique items, for great fashion, and it makes them feel better because it’s sustainable. Customers have also taken advantage of the “Second Life” service, where they can resell their luxury bags in exchange for Farfetch credit.
Net-a-Porter took notes. Last October, it announced a resale pilot with Reflaunt, the technology company behind H&M’s “Rewear” program, offering customers the chance to sell well-curated designer items in their wardrobes in exchange for store credit. And at Printemps in Paris, a new 13,000 m² floor entirely dedicated to vintage and second-hand clothes, as well as a new buy-back program opening in October, which would be the largest space ever dedicated to second-hand fashion in a big store. Marie Blanchet’s Mon Vintage, an upscale vintage service, is the star attraction, with its racks brimming with original Versace bondage suits, Yves Saint Laurent safari dresses, and even the Jean Paul Gaultier cameo necklace from her spring/ summer 1998 Tribute to Frida Kahlo collection, once worn by Madonna in the music video for “Frozen” in 1998. “What we’re curating seems to be on the runway right now,” says Blanchet. She thinks the pandemic has fundamentally changed our perception of new clothes. “Now it’s about meaningful purchases. Vintage, in this sense, is an enduring signifier. You’re buying into a story, feeling unique, and wearing pieces that are built to last – the quality of the fabrics throughout is amazing.
Gucci wants in. Hot on Ridley Scott’s Horsebit Adorned Heels Gucci House – which features Lady Gaga and is full of retro Gucci looks sourced from the house’s extensive archive in Florence, as well as vintage dealers, eBay and Etsy – in September he launched Vault. Presented as an online concept store, it is partly stocked with vintage items acquired from Italian grandmas and auction houses, reconditioned by in-house artisans and, in some cases, personalized by creative director Alessandro Michele.
Vault is a no-brainer for vintage-obsessed Michele: the pre-loved pieces reinforce the timeless codes on which he built his Gucci reboot. As he said in an interview at the launch of Vault: “Gucci turns 100 this year, and it’s time to show everyone how beautiful it would be to give a second, a third life and still more to the old things which are the most beautiful. ” Having successfully re-released archival Jackie, Horsebit 1955 and Diana bamboo-handle bags in recent years to achieve monster sales figures, as well as revisiting Gucci-era Tom Ford’s 1990s hits for his centenary Aria collection, going into resale won’t feel like much of a stretch for Michele and CEO Marco Bizzarri. After all, it won’t have escaped their notice that Prada’s recent decision to reissue its iconic nylon handbags from the 1990s and 2000s caused the value of the originals to increase by around 174%, according to Rebag.
Read more: The 10 Spring/Summer 2022 trends you need to know now