Second hand clothes

I ran a survey among my blog readers to try to understand more about what are their opinions and behaviours related to second-hand (or preloved) clothes. Of course, acquiring second-hand textiles can span a wide array of items, from vintage to swapping, from charity shops refashions to fabric scavenging. Motivations can also differ from saving money to saving the planet. It was a very interesting exercise for me, as I certainly started with a series of personal misgivings, but the answers quite surprised me.

So, let’s dive into the analysis, shall we?

Over 100 people took the challenge and replied to my little survey. It was completely anonymous, but I was still curious to see where my respondents came from and to see how the perception differs from country to country.

Predictably, the majority (over 50%) of the answers were from the UK, followed by US and Australia, which is actually consistent with the readership of my blog.

And Ta-dah, here’s the first pretty chart, describing where the kind people who replied came from.


Also, here’s the age group breakdown.


Now, the main question: do people wear 2nd hand clothes? I myself have confessed that I have never bought anything from a 2nd hand shop, or a charity shop, but, given the majority of the people who filled in my survey were British, where it is quite common, I was not surprised that over 75% answered ‘yes’ and 24% said no. However, to my surprise, there was not a single Romanian amongst the nay sayers, and I was convinced I will find quite a few who share my deeply rooted avoidance of charity shops.

So then, if people wear 2nd hand clothes, where do they get them from? The vast majority, almost 80% it turns out, buy them from various sources (eBay, charity shops etc), while under 20% get them from friends and family.

I then enquired about motivations, what makes people choose pre-loved clothes? Here are the options I offered:

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They cost less than new clothes, I want to save money
I want to buy designer bargains
I don’t want to buy new clothes for environmental reasons
I want to help causes I care about by buying from charity shops
I want to own clothes that are different
I like authentic vintage
I think the clothes are better quality than what I can buy on the high street
I never buy preloved clothes.


Thrifters clearly rule this category, but I was glad to see that people still look for quality and uniqueness in this ‘fast fashion’ dominated world, as well as choosing second-hand clothes for environmental reasons. I was also glad to note that in ‘other’ reasons, a few people mentioned that they like to refashion/experiment with charity shop finds.

So, to follow up on that idea, I delved deeper into the next question: do people make any alterations to what they buy? Only 26% said that they would not, but perhaps this opinion is skewed, as probably many of the people who replied are sewing people… Still, over 57% would sometimes buy/accept something they like even if it’s the wrong size and have it altered/alter it themselves. And 15% are even more radical, they usually buy/accept preloved clothes that they wouldn’t wear to alter them into something else entirely or for the fabric. Way to go, people, recovering fabric is one of the most environmental-friendly ways forward (said the girl with a 75m fabric stash, but who vows to reform ๐Ÿ™‚ ).


So we’re now on to nay sayers! This was actually the more interested category, as I was hoping to substantiate my theory about East-Europeans being culturally averse to second-hand clothes. But not really!

Breakdown of people who do not wear second hand clothes, by country.
Breakdown of people who do not wear second-hand clothes, by country.

So let’s have a look at motivations…

Options were:

I don’t like the idea of preloved clothes/wearing clothes that other people have worn before
I find it yucky/unhygienic
I feel it’s a sign of poverty
It is something that is not acceptable in my family/circle of friends/culture/country
I don’t need to as can afford to buy any new clothes I want
I only want to wear new, modern, fashionable clothes


Funny, how ‘Other’ is the most popular category, I clearly don’t know my audience. Not finding the right size or fit are the most common reasons, as well as ‘can’t be bothered to rummage’.

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In the last section, I enquired about the views on second-hand clothes in various cultures, as opposed to the individual opinions in the previous sections.

Overall, the perception is positive, but that might be massively skewed by the large amount of British responses, and we can all agree that there is an overall positive view over here. I did test excluding Britain, but still, the difference stayed the same.


Here are a few interesting answers in the comments:

From Serbia: “I think it’s the mix of all those reasons. Plus, people here are obsessed with brands. Vast majority of people would never wear second hand (and surely not flea market) clothes. Only really poor and artsy fartsy ones do buy and wear preloved clothes.”

From UK: “I think things have changed since I was young and it’s generally more acceptable now with upcycling and sustainability. I’m happy to donate to charity shops but still feel very uncomfortable looking – I think in case my peers judge. My husband it’s also concerned about not knowing history of garment”

From US: “I’m ethnically Chinese. Culturallying we’re superstitious. Pre-owned means energy of the previous person. If it’s a stranger you don’t know if the person is a good person or even stI’ll alive. So partly fear of ghosts! BTW I did buy pre-owned when I was younger & wanted to be more New Yorker. Back then it was cool to wear vintage / retro. I still own a couple of pre-owned items I bought back then.”

From Romania: “It took a lot of effort to convince my mum to go into a second hand shop, and I don’t think she ever went again after we went together. She would prefer a brand new polyester garment to a second hand cotton one. My friends were going either way, some couldn’t conceive wearing second hand clothes, others were in the same camp as I was :).”

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From UK: “I think responses vary. Interestingly, buying second-hand for economic reasons can be looked down upon (when I’ve had little money I think people have felt sorry for me) but buying to use creatively is viewed differently. There’s definitely stigma in some quarters hence ‘vintage’ being more acceptable than ‘second hand’. Nonsense really and a marketing dream :)”

From Germany: “Preloved baby clothes are thought to be healthier since chemicals used during production will have washed out, especially colours”

From UK: “General shift in perception of wearing second hand. The recession may have started the ball rolling and the passion for vintage. I also like ‘upcycling’ especially if it’s wonderful fabric..there is something exciting about breathing new life into a garment which was once someone else’s pride and joy.”


So, what do you guys think? I found the responses to be very interesting, especially the comments! I did not get what I was after, namely a confirmation of my own opinion that the cultural aspects prevail and we cannot shake the historical reminiscences (communist in my case), but it was not quite so. I did however, find out interesting views and opinions and I would like to thank to each and everyone of you who has taken the the time to fill in my survey. If anyone is interested in the full results, I am happy to share!

Thanks for reading and happy Sustainable Tuesday!



  1. 12 May 2015 / 8:01 PM

    I’ve worn second hand clothing all my life to save money, but there is still an ick factor for me. I use natural unscented laundry detergent, so I’m pretty grossed out by the “thrift store stink” (scented laundry detergent, dryer sheets, and cigarette smoke) that takes a half-dozen washes or so to get out. Also, occasionally I’ll run across a shirt that has body odor permanently embedded in the fabric. And once I bought a second-hand sweater that made me depressed every time I wore it (I threw it out once I realized it) so there may be something to the Chinese idea of energies collecting in clothing.

    • Alex
      12 May 2015 / 11:34 PM

      Ha ha, that might put me even more off second hand clothes than I was before ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. 13 May 2015 / 1:26 PM

    Interesting response garnered from your survey. It does show what redearchers know to be true: that people are not a homkgenous group that have generalisabke attributes. The combination of peer pressure and fear of judgementis to me indicative of a deeper self esteem issue. I once went out with a guy who freaked when he realised I buy all my clothes second hand(so much that he even offered to buy my clothes for me!) I felt no shame in it but for him it was a show of poverty. Though he was not wealthy he didnt want to ‘look’ poor. I have come across other friends work collegues who are shocked that I am proud to say “Got this for 50p at a car boot sale!” when they compliment my clothes. But I love the changes on their faces as they have a slight paradigm shift about a loud and pround second hand clothes wearer! ๐Ÿ˜„. Sorry for the ramble…

    • Alex
      13 May 2015 / 2:21 PM

      No, not at all! Really interesting comment. I am not that interested in the thrift aspect, but rather the sustainability one. It’s unlikely I would buy 2nd hand to wear, I think on a subconscious level I still struggle with the yuck factor, but I’d gladly buy to alter them. At the moment, I’m looking for a big, ugly wedding dress, made of nice fabric to make my own dress out of it. So if you happen to come across one… I am only interested in it having as much fabric in it as possible and ideally, that it’s silk or a natural fabric, so I can dye the remains for further uses.
      Thanks for commenting, Hila!

      • 13 May 2015 / 2:55 PM

        Ok will keep an eye out. I hadnt thought of getting second silk to dye and reuse. Guess thats why I am more of thrift reasons. But now that you mention it I have pivked up bargain silk tops at car boot only to donate them because I didnt like the colour! I will have more of a sutainability mindset from now! Which I should already be wearing since I teach Sustainable Operations Management๐Ÿ˜

        • Alex
          13 May 2015 / 3:02 PM

          There are people who dye with natural dyes, but I’m not there yet! Big washing machine Dylon dyes, just pop in, put the fabric in and run a 40 degree run. Works great on cotton, and some poly. Haven’t tried silk yet.

  3. If it is in good condition, clean, hardly worn, good quality, something I want, I will buy it. Then I will clean it anyway. I am pretty fussy with my second hand clothes, but I am just as fussy with my store bought clothes. I would just rather make everything myself, I guess. Then I get what I want!

  4. 15 May 2015 / 11:33 PM

    As usual You are a fountain of information. I rarely buy second hand clothes, I rarely buy first-hand clothes! But if I do I tend to buy stuff that still in mint condition! I still have secondhand clothes that I’ve had for ages now and I still love them. so what someone else wore them before.

    • Alex
      18 May 2015 / 8:46 PM

      Ha ha, good strategy Simo!

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