• Christopher Siakkas

Silkxchange on Gents Cafe: The undeserved stigma of second hand

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Used, hand-me-down, pre-owned, pre-loved, sustainable, or simply second hand. Why are second hand clothes hard to swallow? What is the historical ‘baggage’ that comes with building a sustainable wardrobe? We resume the conversation we opened last month on the ‘Case for a sustainable wardrobe’ to explore the stigma surrounding second hand clothes.

Story time!

Just ask historian Robyn Annear[1] – for a long period of time (roughly speaking, say from the beginning of time until the Industrial Revolution) humanity wore second hand, new clothes were exclusively reserved for the nobility and for key life occasions. With the advent of the factory-made clothes, consumers were re-programmed to desire and buy new clothes, which were marketed as respectable, hygienic, patriotic and indeed aspirational. Gradually, second hand became more of the last resort of those who didn’t have another option. Although this societal evolutionary process obviously meant many positive outcomes for the livelihood of the emerging middle class, it definitely tarnished the image of sustainable clothes.

While we were building Silkxchange, we asked several of our friends – from different age groups, various geographies, the question ‘why wouldn’t you buy second hand?’ and after collecting the responses, three outdated stereotypes emerged:

Stereotype #1 – Second hand clothes look ‘old’

I’d like to think that the reader is a classic style aficionado, or at least someone who is able to appreciate the beauty of a lower gorge Neapolitan jacket, so it will be much easier to debunk this stereotype than trying to convince say an urban streetwear fan. Classic menswear enthusiasts are tempted by the notion of ‘sustainability’, but they also like the excitement that comes with searching through a variety of different cuts and lines, to determine their own style. Go to a retail store and you will have access to last two to three collections, visit our marketplace and you will be able to find unique pieces tailored in the last 20 years, if not more.

Stereotype #2 – What if the stuff is not hygienic?

This is an easy one! Compare the retail-bought shirt, mass-produced in a factory in Malaysia, the number of hands it changed until it was placed on a shelf waiting to be bought by you with a second hand shirt in pristine condition, that was dry-cleaned by its previous owner before handed over to you. Alas, if one year of Covid has taught us anything, that’s the fact that when it comes to hygiene, the ball is in one’s own court.

Stereotype #3 – Second hand clothes are for the destitute

A perennial question concerns the virgin consumer of second hand clothing: ‘Is anyone going to know?’. The honest answer is only the wearer knows. Repurposing barely worn, or old new stock clothes is not a last resort for the have-nots, but a decision of those in-the-know. If anything, hunting for your own style among the choices of many other classic style aficionados is a privilege rather than a need.

Come on now, the ‘new’ is kind of outdated, nowadays novelty lies with the experience, the learning and the sustainability that comes with buying. All it takes is going to the market to buy your first sustainable piece of fashion. Trust us. The first step is always the realisation that one is ready for a -literal- treasure hunt.

[1] Author of the very insightful Nothing New: A History of Second-Hand.


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