Inherited style: the growing popularity of second-hand fashion

popularity second hand fashion

MA Fashion Journalism student Madeleine Guiné writes about the environmental value of inherited fashion items and the growing popularity of second-hand fashion. 


Circular Fashion

Family heirlooms are, for the most part, jewellery, art pieces, vintage furniture, relics from trips around the world and more. But in some families, fashion is the most important heritage. 

There is something quite amazing about passing clothes down from one generation to another. Some pieces of clothing relate to certain memories: a Dior coat from the ’60s inherited from a grandmother, a dress from a father’s first collection, a Paul Smith leather jacket passed on from a mother to her daughter for her graduation, and many more. 

Many of us have memories tied to fashion, and maybe that is why it is so difficult to let go of certain items. But with good fashion, memories are never lost, they just change from one person to another. In 2019 at the Vogue Greece: Change Makers event, Anna Wintour talked about circle fashion and explained that it was really about  “valuing the clothes that you own and wearing them again and again, and maybe giving them on to your daughter, or son, whatever the case may be.”


popularity second hand fashion


Fashion as much more than clothes

Hand-me-down clothes passed from one generation to the next are more than just vintage clothes, they carry a meaning, tell the story of when it was bought, how often it was worn and for what occasion. They often become iconic pieces through which a relative is remembered. 

Rosalie, 28 year old waitress based in Paris, France, cherishes a vintage robe she inherited from her grandfather and recalls: “This iconic robe he would wear, reminds me of all of the childhood vacations I spent at my grandparent’s house.” Wearing a vintage piece is a testament to the person we inherited it from and therefore becomes so much more than just clothes. 

Pieces of clothing are associated with personal stories and even illustrate significant times in someone’s life. When showing a dress from one of her father’s first business ventures, Abigail, 23 year old primary teacher from New Jersey, US, notes: “It just reminds me of a time when we were impressed by him, so proud of him and he was so excited for his future”. They remain traces of people’s lives, adventures and successes. 

In many families fashion is a maker of traditions. Florentine, 47 year old business consultant and mother of 3 from Bordeaux, France, associates Hermès scarves with her grandmother who used to wear them everyday tight around her neck. After she inherited her first carré from her, she explains: “I started to collect them and actually it’s the present I give to my daughters when they turn 18”. Those traditions create others and are naturally transmitted from one fashion lover to another.


Building the sustainability momentum

The value and meaning of vintage fashion is becoming even more significant in a time where consumption and renewal seem to be the ethos of the fashion industry. 

At least this was true until recent years. Climate change, the growth of the population and therefore of its consumption has brought questions of sustainability to the forefront of the industry. Fashion is the most pollutive industry in the world, which should not be a surprise when 80 billion clothes are bought globally every year. As much as designers such as Stella McCartney have been creating and promoting sustainable fashion for decades, it is increasingly considered not only a niche of the fashion world, but a necessity. French designer Marine Serre’s SS20 collection was made from upcycled items from old denim to curtains and mattresses, while she turned to regenerated carpets for AW21. Whether it is a trend or an everlasting switch, many other designers and brands are taking on the momentum of sustainability. 



Out with the new, in with the old

From sustainable efforts to originality, buying and wearing second hand is a growing trend, especially amongst millennials and Generation Z. No more rummaging through dusty charity shops, vintage fashion is also about exchanging pieces from one fashion-lover to another. A 2020 report published by
Thred up shows resale is set to grow five times bigger than thrifting by 2024. Online resale platforms such as The Real Real or Vestiaire Collective have made thrift shopping easy through user-friendly websites and expert authentications. New consumption models, such as fashion rental companies like The Devout or Endless Fashion are becoming more of a staple for consumers. Those services fit perfectly with the current need for constant renewal, enabling consumers to rent items for a few months and regularly swapping for a new piece. Sharing is a value supported by those services who almost become globally shared closets for fashion addicts. 

The success of pre-loved fashion could have a significant ecological impact by reducing carbon footprints and water waist caused by clothes production. In addition, despite fast fashion brands such as Zara and H&M producing a constant and overwhelming flow of clothes, the desire to go back to more meaningful fashion is resurfacing. Consumers seem to care more about the story behind a vintage silk blouse rather than how many they could fit in their closets. 


By Madeleine Guiné, MA Fashion Journalism 

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