When I moved to London for 5 years now, I was really surprised at how many charity shops there are in the UK high streets and always wondered how do they survive, who actually buys from them? It is clear that it is the norm here, and it seems to me to be accepted without questioning that the charity shop is a perfectly reasonable place to buy new (to you) clothes.
But this has not been my experience at all growing up in Romania. I’m not going to bore you with a sob story about growing up in communism (I was 7 when the Iron Curtain fell in Eastern Europe in 1989), but I do remember that although my parents weren’t rich, there weren’t many places where to spend the disposable income on clothes. There just weren’t that many options, all clothes were made in Romania, and original jeans (like Levi’s) were worth their weight in gold and were mainly a black market item. Don’t get me wrong, people weren’t going around without shirts on their backs, there just weren’t that many choices to buy new things. So there was a lot of hand-me-down going on, tweaking, altering and refashioning to turn what you had into new things (if we only remembered how, those skills would come in so handy nowadays).
Image source: Wikimedia
So post-revolution as the market economy was upon us, the default activity to buy buy buy anything new. No matter how poor the quality (from Turkey mostly as China wasn’t there yet in terms of production capabilities), Romanians just wanted new clothes. Because we could afford them and because after all, democracy also meant the right to spend one’s income on whatever one wanted. Also, in the early 90s, there was a lot of ‘aid’ from Western countries, consisting of mostly second-hand clothes (like Brits give to the charity shops), which was handed out for free by various organisations.
Not sure about other people, but in my family, all of the above meant an intense hatred of second-hand clothes. My mum would shudder just walking past a second-hand shop, which in Romania are commercial ventures, not charities, and probably are still stocked with British cast offs. She hated the idea of wearing other people’s clothes, with the possible exception of our very close friends (I have a younger sister and we always swapped clothes). Even that we sometimes had to do on the hush-hush, so that mum wouldn’t catch on. But actually paying money for old things? No way! I think even now she doesn’t really get the concept of ‘vintage’ unless it’s her mum’s or her own clothes from she was young.
I’m not sure it was about the desire to have new things, the reluctance to appear poor, the yuck factor, I can’t say it ever occurred to me to ever go in a second-hand shop to buy anything, though I remember girls in Uni scouring them with assiduity. I could just not shake the prejudice.
So that was my mindset when I moved to Britain. To my shame, I was a mindless fashion consumer. I brought with me 90 pairs of shoes! But in the meantime, through my job, I’ve learnt more about the supply chains, environmental effects of clothes etc and I have (or at least have tried) to mend my ways. And of course, one of the most important things I learnt was that wearing your clothes as much as possible is the best way, as well as buying new (to you) clothes from 2nd hand shops or swapping with friends. But I still find it so hard to get rid of my deeply ingrained avoidance of pre-loved clothes. I still swap clothes with my friends, always give my own clothes to charity or to friends, but have not to this day, ever bought anything in a charity shop (though in my defence, I haven’t bought any new clothes in regular shops either this year).
Therefore, I was challenged to verify (in a very empiric way) if this is how other people feel too of if it’s just my cultural hang-ups that are in my way? Read what people thought here.
SO WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT SECOND-HAND CLOTHES? LOVE OR LOATHE? HOW DO YOU ACQUIRE YOUR PRE-LOVED TEXTILES? TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS.
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