I gave my wardrobe a second hand upgrade and this is what I learned

Here’s what you learn when you trade impulse buying for thoughtful shopping…

When it comes to my wardrobe I have what can best be described as a chaotic attitude.

There’s the trusted band tees I’ve had for years, Instagram-inspired impulse buys I’ve worn max two times, jeans I wear in heavy rotation and a handful of vintage garms from when I had the patience to rummage thrift shops.

Going into autumn I’ve found myself staring at my clothes with fading fondness. I want to start from scratch, but I’m also aware of the environmental impact of buying (and likely returning) hoards of new clothes.

So, in an effort to give my wardrobe a refresh without the guilt of feeling like I’m single-handedly destroying the planet by bulk-buying this season’s heroes, I challenged myself to shop exclusively second hand.

Now was as good a time as any as it happens to be Second Hand September, an initiative created by Oxfam to help combat the impact of fast fashion. With 13 million items of clothing ending up in UK landfill every week it’s not hard to see why they’re encouraging us to only shop second hand for 30 days.

So, waving goodbye to fast fashion’s seduction of daily 20% off discount codes in my inbox I went about familiarising myself with eBay

This would become my most important tool. There are 9 million second hand fashion items available on eBay - surely enough choice for me to craft my autumn wardrobe.

Here’s how I got on…

1. I learnt the fine line between dressing up box and vintage


Apparently getting irrationally excited and creating hundreds of tabs for items ranging from vintage faux fur collared coats to the general search term ‘Paris Hilton 000s style’ is not the way to tackle building a second hand wardrobe. 

After taking stock I realised if I bought and wore everything I initially searched for I’d look like either a) A child let loose in their mum’s wardrobe or B) A millennial with an identity crisis going to a fancy dress party.

I reined myself in and decided to stick to a select few stand out items. 

I’ve always been averse to coats and tend to swaddle myself in layers of jumpers and a denim jacket, but after finding an orange vintage ‘70s coat with a faux fur collar I was suddenly sold on the idea. 

It’s fun without being costumey, warm and I can leave the rest of my outfit lowkey (translation: low effort).

2. I discovered my competitive side 

Previously I only got competitive about securing the last seat on the central line during rush hour. Now that’s out the window I had to find a new way to get my kicks, and it turns out eBay was the outlet I’d been waiting for.

First, I had to learn how to nail my search terms to find exactly what I was looking for.

Having an idea of the brand or ballpark era I was looking for turned out to be the key to finding the good stuff.

Search terms are like your sat nav when it comes to eBay, if you don’t know where you’re going you’ll get lost, so make your co-ordinates as narrow as possible to reap the best finds.

For example, swapping ‘hat’ for ‘Calvin Klein 90s baseball cap’ tracked down exactly what I had in mind for keeping my face on lockdown while I was at the gym and saved me trawling hundreds of pages of irrelevant bucket hats and wicker numbers.

Next, the competitive bit.

My new Friday night consisted of setting alerts and alarms for minutes before an item’s end time, pouring a glass of wine and refreshing my page until it was the perfect time to bid, which is generally minutes if not seconds before the end time.

If you’ve got your eye on a particular item, make sure your eBay notifications are on so that you’ll get alerts when bidding is coming to a close or you’ve been outbid. It’s the trusty snitch every thrifter needs.

As I got bolder I noticed that some sellers included the option to make an offer on their items and tried my luck - obviously, we’re talking a matter of pounds as opposed to offering a couple of quid for a vintage Chanel handbag.

The joys of eBay as opposed to a bricks-and-mortar shop or online fashion brand meant that in most cases sellers were happy to accept my offer, which saved me a few quid and made me feel like a pro haggler.

3. I felt better about myself


I always feel a shudder of guilt whenever a new, plastic-packaged piece of clothing arrives that I invariably end up sending straight back.

Shopping second hand made me feel better about my carbon footprint and encouraged me to get rid of some of my own clobber that I never wear anymore, coinciding with eBay’s part in Second Hand September.

The initiative means when you sell or buy on eBay you can choose to donate to Oxfam at checkout or give a percentage of your sales to the charity.

You just need to look for the charity ribbon and check the box that says “Donate a portion to charity” and select Oxfam. Easily done while polishing my halo.

In my quest to transform my wardrobe into a vintage haven I was worried I’d become one of those people.

The despised person that when asked where they got their top/dress/trousers reels off a story about how they stumbled across a rare item in a Parisian vintage shop that had been hand sewn by a coven of specially trained third generation embroiderers.

Luckily, ‘I got it on eBay’ sufficed and I still have all of my friends and dignity in tact. 

4. I was way more experimental

My style has plateaued over the last few years, and I deem any item of clothing that isn’t black as wild and exotic with the exception of jeans.

Pair that with lockdown and my nights out taking place from the neck up and on Zoom as opposed to with vodka lime sodas at the pub, and I guess you could say I’ve lost my joie de vivre when it comes to style.

Shopping second hand revived my creativity, and before I knew it I was adding items with descriptions like ‘Cowboy heaven print’ to my watch list and conjuring up outfit ideas for my new leather trousers.

There’s the idea that second hand means settling when it comes to style, when in fact I found the opposite to be true.

Instead of ferrying myself between the same ‘on trend’ items repackaged in different ways for different fashion brands, I had the liberty to find pieces that reflected me and my own style. 

Which, it turns out, is somewhere between a 000s teenager and a cowboy.

The verdict

Kitting myself out with a second hand wardrobe hasn’t been without its lows. You don’t know true, privileged woe until you’re voice-noting your friend at 1am about how fuming you are to be outbid in the final second for a pair of vintage Ray-Bans.

All was well in the end as I found an even better pair in eBay’s Vintage Hub, which is a dedicated area of the site for second-hand style gems, FYI. Definitely one to add to the bookmarks.

I feel like I’ve got back in touch with individual style and next time I’m eyeing up an item I’ll be more likely to head to eBay and see what I can find instead off instantly adding something to my virtual shopping cart.

I’ve learnt that second hand isn’t second best but an opportunity to add to your style credentials in a more sustainable way. 

Give your wardrobe a second hand spruce up for eBay’s Second Hand September by checking out the Vintage Hub, which is packed with pre-loved treasures. Don’t forget you can donate to Oxfam every time you buy or sell on eBay.