Fashion Statement- The Beauty of Second hand.

Our latest blog post is the full interview between Sarah Moolla of Bath Life  and Eleanor Tasker, Dorothy House's stylist and visual merchandiser. 

 What are the advantages of buying second hand clothes? 

Learning to re-love all the brilliant stuff that’s already out there is a big part of the message here.  We hope we can share our passion for second hand by showing people just what they’re missing out on if they don’t!  The quality and abundance of it all is mind blowing - there’s literally something out there for everyone and it’s too good an opportunity not to let it go to waste.  You’ll find a brilliant cross section of dress styles by shopping second hand; one off and quirky, vintage and retro, designer and high street there’ll be something to accommodate all tastes both in physical stores and online.  Offering great value’s still at the core of it all, and there are some incredible bargains to be had, but now that we’re all more conscious about consuming less and recycling more, the merits of second hand clothes shopping have, quite rightly, gained even more traction.

'If we’re really serious about sustainability and consuming less of the world’s resources then we’re all going to have to slow down our appetite for fast fashion and shop second hand more.'

' Providing valuable funding for Dorothy House Hospice is obviously at the heart of our mission, and we’re so lucky, as a local charity, to be able to meet so many people whose lives have been touched in some way by the work of the hospice team. Of the donors,shoppers and volunteers that support our stores, it’s striking how many will take the time to stop and share their positive experiences first hand - it brings the whole process rather poignantly full circle and we love to hear it.

 Do you think Covid has altered people’s habits/perceptions of second hand?

Plenty of time for ‘cupboard clear-outs’ during lockdown have meant a flood of donations and the potential for even more brilliant finds hitting the shops, so in that respect Covid has had at least one positive impact.  In terms of how we reach our customer, we’ve seen the launch of our new online shop to accommodate the huge rise in online shopping, and with that, the obvious bonus of enlarging our customer base. It’s been a great opportunity to extend our reach and we now sell to customers across the country. 

'As for people’s fashion fixes during the past year; well, together with the inevitable pursuit of loungewear there was a notable shift for dressing up to stay in.'

People donning their best disco finery to party in their kitchens or pulling on a ball gown to put the bins out.  The clothes we normally put away ‘for best’ were suddenly making more of an appearance - it seems as if a little escapism was a welcome tonic during challenging times.  Making the most of what we already have is part of the message we wanted to achieve in our looks too. Re-loving clothes that might be seen as seasonal or too formal and otherwise languish at the back of the cupboard. Life’s too short so why not restyle it and rewear it.

 How do you overcome the stigma of pre-worn? 

'There’s little stigma attached to second hand shopping these days. The fact that there’s no such thing as a typical charity shop (or second hand) shopper anymore is testament to its wide appeal, and the demographic shopping for second hand is as varied as the stock itself.  On the contrary, there’s already a notable growth in some extremely slick and edgy physical second hand stores starting to appear - we’re probably just at the start of what will be a real second hand shopping revolution, that’ll hopefully put to bed the notion that it is in some way grubby or down at heel.

' A huge amount of time and effort goes into the sorting process, and unsaleable items don’t make it onto the shop floor.  The quality of the donations is amazing and you quickly get a feel for that when you visit regularly. As for being dated, well one person’s ‘dated’ is another one’s bang on trend. When fashion trends collide and overlap as fast as they do now it actually serves charity shops particularly well - because we stock it all! 

'Take the unexpected renaissance  of the ‘Hyacinth Bouquet’  floral dirndl skirt recently - we could sell as many to DM clad edgy eighteen year olds as we could to eighty year olds - where else could that happen! The whole cyclical nature of fashion is just perfect for the second hand market.'

 Where’s a good place to look for second hand clothes?

There are some great clusters of second hand shops in central Bath.  Walcot Street’s a good place to start, with at least four charity shops to choose from, plus great indie and vintage specialists like The Yellow Shop and the Saturday markets. Also a few gems on Argyle St, including of course, ourselves. Dorothy House shop on Argyle St, not only great clothes by the way, but amazing bric-a-brac!  Westgate Street for another rich seam of charity shops and then of course there’s the one and only Moorland Rd in Oldfield Park. A bustling community high street with some great independents and six charity shops to choose from.  Our Moorland Rd shop ( now including our online shop ) has a fast moving and great range of stock - homeware and electricals as well as fashion.

'If online shopping’s more your thing, then there’s tonnes for you out there too; Depop, Ebay, Vinted to name just a few...'

How can we make it easy on ourselves and less jumble sale? 

Most second hand shops strive to provide a pleasant shopping experience, so items are always organised by size and category making them easy to locate  (the jury is out on colour blocking as a way of merchandising, some love it some hate it  ) Most second hand stores relish their individuality so don’t expect it to look too ‘high street’  it couldn’t and shouldn’t - the ‘rummage’ factor is still an important part of the experience.  Stores want you to navigate your way around with ease - it’s in their interest that you do. 

'Ideally you want to present a clean pleasant environment with lots of fresh exciting stock in an organised way but without losing that excitement at finding something brilliant before someone else does! The buzz of the jumble sale without any of the mess!'

 What should we be looking for? Have something in mind or be open minded?

Trust your gut when browsing. Only you can know what speaks to you; a beautiful fabric?  An amazing colour or texture? But something on that rail will speak to you and that’s what makes shopping second hand possibly a more instinctual experience because your journey through the stock is less controlled.  But always worth looking out for the good labels - if a garment was premium first time round, the chances are it’s been well made and therefore worn well. Interestingly premium garments seem to have the ability to ‘sing out’ even on a busy rail because good quality is often eye catching.  An open mind is a good place to start when going on a second hand adventure - channel your inner Mr Benn!

 What should we be checking for?

Most charity/second hand shops allow you to return clothes (unfortunately changing room are closed due to COVID) so that you can check everything is ‘functioning.’  Broken, damaged and stained garments are sifted out at the sorting stage. Occasionally we will still sell amazing items that have had previous repairs or may have some historic damage stains etc (which would be itemised ) but this is only if they are exceptional and based on their merits and we know an enthusiast will love them just as they are. Interestingly, the growth of the visible mending/ repair/recycle movement of late, may mean that more people are willing to buy items that are less than perfect in future? Could be an interesting one to watch?  Again, you will have to trust your instinct when buying. 

'Touch, feel, examine as you would with any purchase because ‘yes’ they have been worn before and ‘no’ there are no hard and fast rules.'

  You’re as likely to find that something beautifully made 50 years ago could easily out last something mass produced last year. You have to judge, but it’s wise to be realistic about the quality of cheaper clothing brands.

What about trying on items? Asking staff for advice? 

'At the moment we can’t accommodate trying on due to covid restrictions so all purchases are, as always, refundable if they don’t fit or suit. Of course our staff are always on hand to answer questions or offer advice if they can. They often very knowledgeable when it come their stock and may even be able to help you if you’re looking for something in particular, or often they’re happy to contact you if that ‘special’ thing comes in

 What habits should we avoid?

' If you’re going to be impulsive there’s surely no better place to do it than in a charity/second hand shop. It’s very affordability means you can maybe experiment with looks you would normally be more cautious about - to take a few style risks without a big financial commitment. If you’ve always had a hankering to fling about in a kilt or swan around in a kimono then why not?  The chances are you will come across plenty second hand that won’t burst the bank. In fact the only note of caution, is not to be too cautious, because, of course, there’s only one of everything!  The whole model comes with a frisson of delicious built-in jeopardy; if you ponder that brilliant thing for too long someone else might just swoop in and snap it up!

What about accessories? 

'Again, you’ll find these in abundance and because people change their accessories so frequently we benefit from oodles of them in the form of donations.  Their condition can be excellent, even mint, as they tend to get lighter use so you’ll find some incredible bargains out there.  Nearly new footwear and bags as well as textile accessories in every style and hue are a great way to add a pop of colour to a sedate look or a budget way to reference a fashion trend without the head to toe commitment. We sourced some incredible accessories from our shops for the shoot - from silk scarves to beaded ethnic slippers to beautifully tooled leather bags. Showing as much diversity as we could was our aim. Rich pickings.

'Many of these modestly priced little gems also lend themselves brilliantly to inventiveness; silk scarves turned into hair bands, cushion covers, or we’ve even promoted them as reusable gift wrap.'

Or cheap as chips costume jewellery repurposed as hair clips, buttons or contents of Christmas crackers!  Shoppers get quite creative with second hand accessories

Our latest shoot inspiration....

'Excited by colour and some of the amazing and rich fabrics we come across, we set out to create some looks that incorporated a little opulence and excitement into everyday wearability.  We gave ourselves a pre raphaelite theme which lent itself perfectly to the richness and layering we wanted to achieve. Unapologetically  feminine with just a little drama thrown in for good measure. But above all we wanted to show off the incredible diversity of garments we managed to source from just a few of our shops, and in just one day, a genuine snap-shot of the incredible stock that passes through our stores.

'We sourced from three of our Dorothy House stores; Keynsham, Weston and our new online store based at Moorland Rd and in each the process was the same; skimming the rails for opulent colours, lustrous fabrics and any interesting textures that caught our eyes. In just a few hours we had the makings of 15 looks including accessories,starting to take shape on a rail. Velvet, tulle, beads, embroidery, ruffles and fringing and of course lots of great fabrics - all starting to look promising! The only struggle was limiting ourselves to 15 - we could have easily kept going!

'By the end of the day we were able to sketch out the looks more thoroughly. 

'We were keen to play with layering; placing shirts and blouses under some of the dresses to achieve a ‘folksy’ look and to suggest alternative ways of styling something that might otherwise be seasonal.'

A strappy summer dress over a blouse suddenly becomes something that’s wearable all year round.  We set out to pair up interesting combinations - tweed with organza, suede with silk, denim with satin, knitwear with tulle ( okay that one didn’t happen ) and learning to make the most of the great stuff in our wardrobes all year round is definitely part of our message. Though we wanted to be playful with the styling we were conscious of when to let some pieces speak for themselves - it’s all about getting the balance right, sometimes less is more.

'Shoot day. We all meet for the first time at our venue - a beautiful Gergian town house in the Paragon, lent to us by the good folks at @alwayssundayhouse. Oodles of sumptuously distressed walls and dramatic drapery that was the perfect backdrop. Our three lovely models from @gingersnapmodels who had so kindly volunteered their time @kundai.nyakunu, @alanath0mas and @isobellachick - we are so grateful to them. The talented @louisejanemakeupartist who created stunning ‘natural’ beauty looks that just shone and the amazing @eglevasi, our photographer, captured the spirit of what we wanted to achieve beautifully - showing just how amazing second hand can look.

' Alas we can’t account for provenance of any of the pieces we chose - and this is more often the case.  Just occasionally we receive donations that have a fascinating backstory but on the whole they arrive in anonymous bags and boxes and we have no idea where they may have been worn and what adventures they may have already had ( there’s definitely a book in there - a sartorial version of bagpuss perhaps? ) But who knows, perhaps the kind soul who donated some of these items may be reading this article and thinking that they’re sure they recognise that dress as one of theirs?  If so, thank you for donating it to Dorothy House, we love rehoming your great stuff and hope you approve of how good it looks now!  Scrubs up well doesn’t it!'


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