Second-hand shopping gets a makeover

How wardrobe sales, swishing and online innovations are changing the face of fashion...


There was once a time when 'clothes recycling' simply meant getting your older sibling's grotty hand-me-downs and carting off your aging jeans to Oxfam. Not any more. These days the fashion world is awash with opportunities to rent, buy and even swap already-used clothes, with women now bragging about their second-hand finds in the way they once would over their new Chanel shades.

All in all, clothes recycling is becoming a far more fabulous affair. Last weekend, for example, I had my first trip to a Buy My Wardrobe event. Here, a whole load of incredibly chic types, including designers, stylists and fashion industry insiders, gathered together to sell off old items from their wardrobes, all at a heavily discounted price.

The calibre of the contributors meant there was a whole treasure trove of good quality clothes and accessories to choose from, including the Luella handbag my friend snapped up for £140 (it was originally over £600) and my own, more modest purchase - a £10 black lace top.

There was a good range of prices available, ranging from an 'under a tenner' bargain box to a gigantic £650 Mulberry bag which we both drooled over (not literally) before agreeing it was just a bit beyond our means. We also experienced some massive shoe envy after spotting a girl walk past clutching a pair of nude Christian Louboutins - who on earth would be able to get rid of them?

Of course, everyone knows that the best way to part shoppers with their cash is to get them a wee bit drunk beforehand, which is probably why we were given a lovely glass of champers on the way in (luckily there were cupcakes to soak up some of the booze). Also on offer were manicures, raffles, styling sessions and vintage workshops, making the whole experience a damn sight more glamorous than rummaging around the bins at your local PDSA shop.

Is this the future for second-hand shopping? There has certainly been a huge rise in fashion exchange events recently, with a combination of factors including the trend for vintage clothing, increased eco-consciousness and recession-driven bargain hunters producing more experimental ways for clothes to be bought and sold.

'The only thing that's really difficult is choosing what to get rid of' I was told by one Wardrobe Mistress at the event. 'There are a couple of things on this table I'll find really hard to sell, just because I'm so attached to them!'.

I can see what she means - just the thought of a pack of fashion hungry women pawing over my old clothes is quite distressing. In fact I'd probably end up slapping their hands, gathering up the once-abandoned-but-now-beloved old garments and running the hell out of there. Or just cowering in the corner as I used to do when arranging the 'Fashion Cupboard Sale' at a national newspaper (you've never seen carnage like it).

It's this fear of fashion-induced fighting that kind of puts me off 'Swishing' parties. According to the website (it's an official thing, don't you know), swishing involves a group of women bringing along their second-hand items, then having half an hour's browsing time before they take whatever they want. Can you just imagine the chaos that breaks out when someone plonks down their old Jimmy Choo heels? Terrifying.

I'm assured, however, that these events are actually really good fun:  a great way to get some new stuff and raise money for charity (for more info on how to arrange your own party, see here).

If that sounds too stressful, then there's also another option: doing it via the net. Big Wardrobe is a fashion swapping website where people from 140 countries are able to exchange everything from Gucci dresses to Topshop t-shirts. If you want to clear out your wardrobe and get some cost-free retail therapy, then it might just be for you.

Another online option is renting. The website offers rentals on handbags and other designer accessories for either a week or a month at a time. OK so it's not something many students are going to make a habit of, but could be a great way to get hold of that one-off designer clutch for your summer ball!