It was a necessity in the post-war period, a hippy habit in the seventies, then a pastime for vintage lovers looking for unique pieces left in trunks and perhaps resold in some flea market. Today, the second-hand market is a full-blown business.
Vintage is a real fashion phenomenon that brings together the most diverse generations: if boomers and all those born before 2010 love vintage because it offers more personal styling ideas, Gen Z chooses to buy second-hand items for the lowest environmental impact. All in all, the second-hand market sets in motion a circular economy, that can only be good for the planet, while promoting the purchase of different and more durable goods.
2020 recorded a boom in the second hand business, estimated by BCG Consulting to be between 30 and 40 billion dollars worldwide. The numbers are rattled off by a recent report from ThredUp that shows how the U.S. secondhand fashion market is expected to more than triple in value in the next 10 years – from US$28 billion in 2019 to US$80 billion in 2029. In the UK alone there are a total of 3,943 stores specialized in selling second-hand goods, which saw a 17.6% rise in value since 2017. It is an industry employing an average of 36 thousand people.
Have you ever wonder why are vintage clothes are so trendy right now? I think the answer lies in two, simple, words: ethics and aesthetics.
From an ethical point of view, we have become more and more conscious about the environmental price tag of our garments. The fast fashion industry, which is constantly changing and forcing us to change wardrobes faster than we would like, is undergoing a major setback. Because we are now aware of the industry’s impact, and the interest for sustainability keeps growing, the 21° century consumers changes their attitudes towards wearing and utilizing secondhand goods, trying to defend the basic principles of environmental sustainability and social justice that we should always keep in mind.
In fact, buying, reselling and renting worn, vintage fashion might be the industry’s most potent chance to keep its sustainable promises. Mainly because it is a reflection of customers' behavior. Indeed, the data suggests that secondhand fashion is growing at a much faster rate than sustainable fashion. Numbers are clear: vintage, that also includes resales, is becoming the new way of shopping; enforcing a change of pace in the fashion industry.
And then there’s the aesthetics prospective. In recent years, the marketing behind fashion has led to us believe that if we didn’t wear that certain items we were not as cool as those who did. This philosophy made us want to conform to the rest of our peers, without looking for garments or accessories that can make our style unique. But, with a bit of time, we realised that fashionable mass-produced products are impersonal and standardised, with nothing to say. Little by little we then have become more interested in finding our own voice, in expressing ourselves even through what we wear. And thanks to second-handed clothes we can do that.
Vintage is a concept of history, beauty and craftsmanship. A vintage Chanel is a symbol of resistance and great work, an Hermes foulard brings with it the scent of Parisian croissants, and a classic trench coat takes us back to the London of the 60.
Vintage is for romantics who, at the same time, want to differentiate themselves from others. The love for second-handed clothes seems to flawlessly satisfy the desire for uniqueness. It seems paradoxical, but vintage items help to give a breath of fresh air: bringing into the present something that clearly belongs to another era gives that touch of personality and originality. Following current fashion means homologating and conforming to the crowd, but dressing up with some sixties or seventies garments means emerging and standing out from the crowd.
Written by Miriam Tagini