Discover how these Singapore-based women style secondhand fashion and their tips for purchasing preloved.
Fashion is truly an influential force. On a micro level, the clothes we wear express our identity, reflecting our mood and how we choose to face the day. On a larger scale, an outfit has the power to break the internet — from a polka dot Zara dress (the sartorial phenomenon of British summer 2019) to the iconic green Versace gown worn by Jennifer Lopez at the Grammys in 2000 and again in 2019.
Sadly, our collective appetite for fashion also takes its toll on our planet. We grow tired of our clothes faster than ever before, throwing them out and filling up landfills at an unprecedented rate. In Singapore we generated 168,000 tonnes of textile waste last year and recycled only 4% of it! While we need to break bad habits and improve our relationship with our clothes, in the short term we can find ways to reuse what’s already in circulation. Choosing secondhand fashion is a great alternative to pursuing fast-fashion trends. For times when you’re more budget-conscious, it’s also a more affordable way to dress sustainably.
This month we were inspired by Oxfam GB’s #SecondhandSeptember campaign in the UK, a movement to raise awareness of the fashion industries textile waste. Despite there being a growing plethora of secondhand options here in Singapore, there’s still some stigma around shopping used items; mainly that they won’t be clean, stylish or quality enough.
Well, as secondhand fashion lovers ourselves — from clothes swapping to dress rental — we can safely say none of the above needs to be true. We called on five inspiring women to share their #SecondHandStory and advice for navigating the preloved clothing maze.
Xingyun Shen, 23
My first secondhand experience was thrifting at Salvation Army and New2U in Singapore. Since then, I haven’t looked back. After moving to London to study, secondhand fashion became even more accessible. I still continued to be tempted by fast-fashion brands, though. Topshop and Urban Outfitters were dream shopping spots for a 19 year old wanting to fit in.
Since 2018, I’ve stopped buying new except for a few investment pieces which I’m certain I’ll wear for a long time. My wardrobe consists of pieces from clothes swaps, charity shops, ones that my friends pass on to me, designs from my Mum’s closet and occasionally purchases from Depop or Instagram. While volunteering at my local Oxfam towards the end of 2019, I was struck by the sheer volume of unwanted garments that get donated on a daily basis. The amount of clothes we waste, consciously or subconsciously, is astounding.
I’m wearing a knitted green top that my friend Lydia kindly gifted to me; a reversible floral gilet from Oxfam and a denim skirt that I bought from a vintage seller at Broadway Market in London. Broadway holds a lot of fond memories for me, like eating awesome food and having the best times with my friends; this skirt reminds me of those times. It used to be a lot longer — I think it reached my calves — but I felt it made me look frumpy. I decided to cut it, and now I reach for it a lot more often. It still doesn’t sit perfectly on my waist, but I like how it falls on my hips. Very 2000’s!
My shoes are secondhand clogs I found at a clothes swap last year. They make an obnoxiously loud noise so I’m always conscious while walking in them (especially up the escalators in train stations!) but I’ve gotten used to the sound. They’re also pretty heavy, and did give me blisters when I first wore them out. But hey, brand new Dr. Martens can do the same when you first break them in!
Her #SecondHand tip:
You don’t necessarily have to “buy” secondhand fashion, you can start with wardrobes you have access to. When I was younger I’d look into my Dad’s closet to pick out his polo t-shirts to wear. Yes, I was that kid! Most recently, I find that I reach for my Mum’s old dresses and wear them on rotation. Peeking into your friend’s wardrobes might also be a good entry point into getting familiar and comfortable with secondhand clothing. Why not start with a cosy and fun clothes swap? You can turn it into a fun hangout session!
“You don’t necessarily have to “buy” secondhand fashion, you can start with wardrobes you have access to.”
Sophie Crowther, 28
Crikey. My style has evolved so much and to be honest, it’s still changing. I was a bit of an ‘indie Cindy’ when I first moved to London; always trawling through charity shops and vintage shops — in the men’s section for baggy shirts mainly. Later, that turned into mixing old pieces with new ones from high street stores; I loved a shockingly short skirt, thick tights and big jackets.
Moving to Singapore completely changed my style because of the weather; none of my old clothes worked. I didn’t find the second hand fashion scene here all that inspiring as a woman with a bigger chest and bigger arse (I like biscuits, sue me!) It’s really, really hard to find second hand designs that look good. This was part of why finding more sustainable brands (who are selling new) was so important to me, because shopping on the high street just isn’t sustainable, nor is it a place to inspire a sense of identity.
Growing up, I spent the majority of my weekends off in the car treasure hunting; whether that was just going charity-shopping or seeking out vintage stores, finding boot fairs in different counties and even crossing the channel for French brocantes (antique fairs) — my mum took second hand shopping really seriously. And it was great! The feeling you get when you find something really quirky or different was so amazing; those experiences definitely affected all of my sartorial choices growing up. I wanted to look vintage and cool and put big scarfs in my hair, wear oversized tweed jackets with small skirts; I’m not sure any of it looked good, but I loved it!
“Shopping on the high street just isn’t sustainable, nor is it a place to inspire a sense of identity.”
This shirt! I fell in love with this at a charity shop in London but actually didn’t wear it for about 3 years. I couldn’t find the right way to style it and didn’t feel like it suited me. But maybe I had to grow up a bit and become more confident at styling, because now I love it.
The rucksack! I found this baby on Carousell — it’s practically brand new and it’s Matt and Nat, a vegan leather bag brand. It just had to be mine. I’d spent weeks trawling on Vestiaire Collective, Carousell and eBay to find a replacement rucksack (mine was, quite literally, falling apart) and was so happy to find this one at just $80. A true treasure.
Her #SecondHand tip:
Start online. For secondhand fashion I love Depop, eBay, Vestiaire Collective and Reebonz; for furniture, fashion — and quite literally anything — Carousell will become your best friend and so will Facebook; there’s a ton of groups with people selling things! But ultimately I’d just say give it a go. Once you start to get comfortable with how shopping secondhand works and discover all the unique pieces and actual-real-life treasure out there, you’ll see how fun it is. I guarantee you’ll become addicted to the hunt!
Simone-Lim Foster, 47
Thrift shopping was my first insight into the secondhand fashion world. This started for me way back in University in the 90’s when money was tight and I was based in Perth. The thrill of rummaging through baskets and racks gave me so much pleasure, especially when I chanced upon a good deal like a branded item I knew would have retailed for 10x more in stores.
Till this day, whenever I travel, thrift shops or second hand shops are always on my bucket list. The ladies behind the counters in Florida where our family home is, even know me and watch out for how I style their pieces on Instagram as I pop in every summer holiday and spend hours milling through their stuff. I prefer shopping second hand in Western countries because it seems people are more careful with what they donate for sale.
Today my second hand clothes don’t just come from thrift shops but also from vintage stores. Throughout the years, my taste and style in clothes has evolved from fast trending fashions to more eclectic, classy or statement pieces. Vintage fashion doesn’t come cheap but I truly believe that each piece indeed has a story to tell. These details make me appreciate a design much more and treat it with care.
I recently swapped this maxi dress at The Fashion Pulpit. It was a surprise to discover such an elegant piece in a second hand clothing store! It’s modern, classic and in my all time favourite colour black. I love maxi dresses and decided to style this for an evening look with my vintage midollino bag which was huge in the 60s to 70s; it’s from A Vintage Tale. Styling secondhand fashion is all about how you’re able to mix, match and put an outfit together. I paired it with my favourite heels by local designer The Tui Collection; artisans in Bali handcraft every pair.
I’m definitely a ‘more is more’ person so I’ve added this stunning vegan leather necklace from House of Rajput. So, two thirds of my outfit is some form of sustainable fashion; I believe in being more discerning of how and why we shop.
Her #SecondHand tip:
Swapping is a great way to experience second hand because you can swap out items you don’t want and exchange them for new items at almost nothing. It’s also a great way to extend the life-span of fast fashion items which you may have only worn a few times.
Wearing secondhand clothes doesn’t mean you’ll look outdated or shabby. We need to move away from the mindset that to look good we need a specific brand attached to the outfit. All it takes is some creative styling to make second hand clothing look just as runway worthy as some designer labels. When I first started exploring secondhand fashion, I was wary that clothes might be dirty, or perhaps — if I can be so honest — that the person who had worn it had passed on. I know this is a reason why second hand shopping in Asia isn’t as popular as in the West; because of the taboos attached to it. Also, some think purchasing preloved portrays you as not wealthy or successful. Ultimately, I got over this by realising I could have items washed or cleaned out if needed, and they would be (and look) as good as new.
Given the effect of fashion on our planet and the rate of issues like climate change, I encourage all women to do their part and consider trying secondhand. There’s a limit to the impact we can have — the majority of us don’t sit on government boards to make big decisions — but by embracing secondhand we can take steps to reduce textile waste.
“All it takes is some creative styling to make second hand clothing look just as runway worthy as some designer labels.”
Lizzy Homersham, 30
My wardrobe has always been quite subtle – blacks, whites, navy. I’ve never wanted to make a fashion statement, I’d rather blend in with the background. If I went shopping, I would prefer it if a friend chose outfits for me! I feel like I never know how to dress myself. In Singapore, I’m slowly becoming more confident and now I enjoy choosing items that support local brands. I’ve also learnt to appreciate fabrics and the story behind the designs I buy.
I grew up with a large family. My first secondhand fashion experience was at a very young age, receiving hand-me-downs from my older cousins. I loved this, as I would see things on them, and wanted to be just like them, so I was proud to wear the items they gave me. My mum was also great with a sewing machine, so she would alter pieces and even made some of our dance outfits. I learnt that you didn’t need to buy designer or new items to feel good!
This is something I would never pick for myself in store, but I love it. My friend gave me this dress before she left Singapore and insisted it would look great on me. I liked it, but I wasn’t sure about its long sleeves. Later, I decided to cut them off and now it’s perfect. I even made scrunchies with the leftover material! Wearing dresses, playsuits and jumpsuits is my thing, so I don’t have to worry about styling this much. It’s a one-piece wonder! The shoes are vintage from my mum. I love the idea of wearing things other people don’t have; this outfit is just that.
“I love the idea of wearing things other people don’t have”
Her #SecondHand tip:
Give it a go! Second hand shopping can be intimidating, so instead try gathering a few similar size friends and have a swap party. It’s so much fun and you’ll walk away with a new item from someone you know.
Julia Ng Xin Yu, 20
My initial forays into secondhand fashion was, admittedly, not for environmental reasons. Most of the time, second hand clothes are markedly cheaper than their first hand counterparts and I didn’t have the budget for lavish shopping sprees as a teenager.
I started my second hand fashion journey on Carousell, where I bought lightly used clothing I either didn’t have the time to seek out in person or couldn’t comfortably afford brand new. When I eventually started working and making my own money, I didn’t see any reason to change this method of shopping. It seemed to trump buying first hand clothing in almost every way, whether it be in regards to cost or environmental harm.
“Secondhand fashion is a risk-free way of exploring your personal style.”
After graduating from Junior College, I think this was the first piece of clothing I bought. While still in school, I had neither the time nor energy to dress the way I wanted to or deal with the negative comments that would inevitably follow. It was, as a result, a very repressive point in my life. Some weeks after my graduation, I was in Liang Court often for one reason or another, and I decided to wander around the building. I bumbled into The Fashion Pulpit and immediately felt a sense of belonging and promise. I meekly went up to the counter and bought this dress, which I was completely besotted with. It was loud and eye-catching without being entirely unsuitable for daily wear, and the enamourment I felt was an emotion I had been mostly deprived of in the years prior. I ended up brashly asking The Fashion Pulpit for a job shortly after, which spawned a magical relationship with them that continues to this day. I wore this dress to death in the first year I had it, and it now mostly sits pretty in my closet as a reminder of that fateful encounter.
Her #SecondHand tip:
Secondhand fashion is a risk-free way of exploring your personal style. Rather than shelling out large sums for pieces you’re not entirely sure will suit you, buying preloved allows you to experiment cheaply. I like to rotate styles often, so clothes don’t spend a long time in my wardrobe. If I bought brand new clothes, I’d eat massive financial losses when selling them, but since I buy them preloved, I don’t lose any money when I eventually pass them on to the next owner.
Join the movement in Singapore! Share your favourite preloved item or outfit using #SecondHandStory and tag us @zerrin_com on instagram to be featured.
Susannah believes better design can help create a brighter future. A former magazine editor, she now runs ZERRIN and works at the intersection of consumers, brands and sustainability advocacy.