After the birth of her second child Preloved member Rebecca Carruthers was desperate for a new wardrobe without the unwanted expense, so decided to buy only secondhand clothes. Over a year later the Hertfordshire mother of two has become an expert on how to snap up nearly new items and stand out from the crowd when rarely spending more than a tenner on an outfit. We caught up with her for a chat and to get the lowdown on her fashion saving secrets.
Describe yourself in five words?
Tall, modest, optimistic, practical, untidy
What do you do?
I am currently on maternity leave after the birth of my second son. I go back to work as a Teaching Assistant in September.
Why secondhand clothes?
After the birth and spending months in maternity clothes I wanted to start buying new clothes but with my body still shifting shape on a weekly basis I didn’t want to invest in ‘new’ clothes and have them not fit me in a months time. During this time I also started to expand my love of the past into clothes and wanted to start dressing more in a vintage style. Buying vintage clothes can be expensive so I started scouring charity shops for more dated clothes or modern ones in a vintage style.
How long have you been buying just secondhand clothes?
For just over a year now. I turned it into a personal challenge to buy second hand exclusively until Christmas 2011 but enjoyed it so much I carried on. Now, the thought of buying new doesn’t really occur to me!
What’s the difference between vintage and secondhand?
I have some pieces that I class as vintage and some as secondhand. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough (yet!) about vintage labels and tailoring to know that if what I find in the charity shops/boot sales are ‘vintage’, but I try to be led by what I know about the style of the clothes. I suppose that those I buy from vintage outlets are genuinely from that era I class as true vintage pieces, but I have found some very old and stylish clothes in charity shops. I try to use the umbrella phrase ‘pre-loved’, as that covers all bases!
What do you say to people who wouldn’t buy something that someone’s worn before?
I hope that I don’t have to say anything as I try to let the clothes do the talking! Sometimes people will admire an item of clothing and I will take great pride in telling them that it is secondhand. And just for laughs I will even total up the cost of my entire outfit. Very rarely does it come in over £10.
You can look at it from a ‘green’ point of view, an economic point of view or an historical point of view and there is really nothing but positives, but I do draw the line at intimates – they are always new!
What’s been your best secondhand buy?
I bought 3 playsuits for £7 each. I love them! I’m not sure if they are ‘vintage’ but they suit my look perfectly. A brown dress that is very 1940’s has a perfect shape, colour and style for me as well. They were all from charity shops and I almost danced home when I found them! Oh, and a beautiful bottle green, handmade 1930’s replica dress from a market stall.
And your best bargain?
A pair of high waisted checked cropped trousers from a charity shop. They are nothing special but were only £2 and I wear them almost constantly.
What do you always look out for when buying things?
Because I am no expert I just try to make sure that what I am buying is in good condition and that I truly like and want it. After all, something is only worth what you are prepared to pay for it. For the more specialist pieces I shop where I know and trust.
So how much do you think you’ve saved so far?
When I was buying ‘new’ I hardly bought myself clothes at all and it was seen as a treat to buy a new pair of trousers. Now, if I see something I like nine times out of ten I can buy it without having to worry. So if I was buying clothes at the same rate as before I probably would have saved hundreds of pounds. As it is I am probably buying clothes more frequently so in terms of money, I probably haven’t saved that much. But I am a lot happier!
What have you learnt about yourself?
It’s given me more confidence. I am not sure how, but it has. I think it’s because I am aware that I can make what I want out of the clothes that I buy. I can’t, or don’t have to, hide behind labels or looking like everybody else. It’s helped me take a step forward out of the crowd. Something I have been trying to do since my teenage years!
What has been the reaction of friends and family?
Really supportive. They love hearing about my latest finds and they always keep an eye on for things for me. My friend’s Mum has even joined in and so far I have gotten a Pringle T-shirt and a tea-dress from her!
What’s the hardest part about it?
There hasn’t been really. There have been a few occasions where I have seen something ‘new’ but can’t buy it. That is just mildly irritating though. And even then, sometimes I have actually found something remarkably similar in a secondhand shop! What ever is hard about it pales in comparison to the feeling when you find a great item of clothing for under a fiver!
Is only buying secondhand at all restrictive?
One of my early bargains, a crocheted jumper, got a mysterious stain on it. It was washed, dry cleaned, and treated but to no avail. Because I hadn’t got it from a high street store I couldn’t just go back and get another one. It had to be consigned to the recycle bin. And although I only paid £3.50 for it, I was really sad about it.
Also, along the same lines, a lot of the material of older clothes cannot just be shoved in the washing machine, but that is no bad thing if it teaches us to take better care of the things we love.
In what ways is buying secondhand better than buying new?
For a start things are already worn in so there is no walking around uncomfortably for a day while your new trousers chafe! It forces you to think outside the box and use your imagination when it comes to style. It’s a challenge and a treasure hunt. Good clothes should be loved and treasured, not worn once and then thrown away and giving pre-loved clothes a good home carries that tradition on.
Any haggling tips?
Unforunately, no. I am rubbish at haggling. My husband used to work as a Saturday market boy and he is so good at it. I just stand in the background mumbling something like “Oh that seems fair…”. Plus, I would feel uncomfortable haggling in a charity shop. It just seems a little…tasteless.
Tell us your dream secondhand buy?
A Horrockses dress. No question. I saw one in a vintage shop for £90 but it was a size 6! And then I missed a size 10 one by days! I’ll never stop looking though!
Any other secondhand tips you’d like to share?
Patience and imagination. Take a keen eye and an open mind and look around. There are amazing clothes out there – it just so happens that someone has worn them before.