Three new looks, no new clothes – my secondhand styleover | Fashion

Can you get a whole new look without any new clothes? Not going to pretend I’m asking for a friend, I’m asking for me. That’s what I want, right now. Something new to look at in the mirror. The surprisingly powerful illusion of a new me that a fresh fit can provide. The psychological shot in the arm of a wardrobe update. These are all good things. Mood-boosting, confidence-lifting, energy-giving, positive things. But, here’s the problem. Those things are good things, yes, but the environmental impact of a new-clothes bed sheet? Not so much. And, since I have a wardrobe full of perfectly serviceable clothes, I can’t possibly justify the carbon footprint – or the price tag – of a trip to the shops.

But… hangs on a minute. Maybe there’s a way. What if the new clothes were… old clothes? A fresh look from secondhand clothes would be a win-win, right? Not only are pre-loved clothes more sustainable than new clothes, they are much cheaper. And they are more fashionable than new clothes, because, unless you have been hiding under a rock for the past two years, you will have noticed that secondhand is cool. “It’s vintage/secondhand/pre-loved/my mum’s” is now the fashion flex that trumps any designer label.

So we’ve called in the experts. The rise of secondhand fashion has powered a new breed of industry insider who is laser-focused on pre-loved clothes. Stylists who work exclusively with secondhand buys, personal shoppers who know all the tricks of the trade from where to go to how to spot a bargain – these are the new numbers to have on speed dial.

We set three such stylists a secondhand challenge to update my look, using only old clothes. We asked sustainable-fashion expert Chekii Harling to source an office-appropriate look, sustainable stylist Becky Barnes to dress me for a party, and Natalie Hartley, founder of vintage store Chillie London, to rustle up a weekend fit. Everything had to be secondhand but looks bang up-to-date. I didn’t want to look retro, or vintage. I wasn’t in the market for nostalgia. I wanted the dopamine rush of an old-fashioned hit-the-shops shopping spree, without the eco-remorse.

The results? Wow. These women know how to shop, unearthing treasures including a pair of lace-up, heeled ankle booties that are a dead ringer for Phoebe Philo’s sold-out new-season version, and a Zara party dress that was better than anything to be found in the store right now – all for a fraction of the high street cost. And as Harling points out: “The coat you can get for a tenner from a car-boot sale is much better quality than most coats on the high street.” Buy nothing until you read their masterclass.

Look 1: work

Sourced and styled by Chekii Harling, sustainable fashion stylist, writer and consultant

Stylist Chekii Harling: ‘If you’re going for a minimal suited-and-booted look, wearing it with a patterned, silk or textured shirt adds a bit of pizazz’

A paparazzi snap of Gigi Hadid in beige tailoring – and the snake print detailing in Stella McCartney’s AW23 collection – inspired this outfit. “Nothing beats tailoring for giving you confidence, and that makes it the best place to start with work clothes,” says Harling. “The last few seasons have seen a return to tailoring, with many designers ditching busy looks and embracing a pared-back, more wearable approach. Tailoring is back, and it’s here to stay.”

Look for trousers first, if you can, because “trousers are the anchor that you build out the shape of an outfit from”, says Harling, who sourced the Calvin Klein trousers – part of a two-piece suit, although the jacket wasn’t t the right silhouette for now – from a pop-up swap shop at Selfridges. (Follow @loanhood for upcoming events.) Next came a snake-print shirt, £20 from eBay: “If you’re going for a minimal tailored-and-booted look, wear it with a patterned, silk or textured shirt adding a bits of pizzazz.”

The blazer was £10 from the weekly car-boot sale at Princess May school in Dalston, London (“one of my favorite car boots, along with Battersea Boot. Also, they are just a great day out.”) The black knit DKNY tank came from one of Harling’s favorite charity shops, Fara on Elgin Crescent, just off Portobello Road in London. “And the shoes are my mum’s – she bought them at a vintage fair.”

“The most effective way of shopping secondhand depends on what you are looking for,” says Harling. “If you have something specific in mind, then browsing through rails is too hit-and-miss – you’re better off going online. The first thing I do on eBay is to click the filter for ‘used’ – there’s a lot of cheap, mass-produced stuff on there and that filters it out. I also tend to set it for ‘UK only’ as avoiding overseas posts is more sustainable.”

For staples, “IRL shopping can’t be beat, because you can try things on. For good-quality tailoring, head to a charity shop in a posh area. It’s definitely true that you get the best stuff in upmarket areas.” Joseph and Karen Millen are labels to look out for – “you come across these a lot in charity shops, and the construction is great” – but Harling advises paying more attention to fabric composition than brand. “Avoid polyester: it’s bad for the environment and it doesn’t keep you warm. You are basically wearing plastic.”

I would definitely wear this. The pointy shoes are so good – very Phoebe Philo. I wasn’t sure about the snake-print blouse on the hanger, but I love the way Harling has styled it, so it’s just an accent – ​​almost an accessory. And the gold chain (another eBay find) gives the whole look a lift.

Look 2: weekends

Sourced and styled by Natalie Hartley, stylist and founder of vintage store Chillie London

Stylist Natalie Hartley: ‘Just because one piece is from a certain era doesn’t mean you should match it. In fact, it’s best to do the opposite’

“Bomber jackets and leather flying jackets look amazing on everyone,” says Hartley. “My first piece of styling advice for a weekend wardrobe is to buy a great jacket. You can throw it over anything, and look great every day. It’s a much better fashion investment than buying a party dress.” Hartley dressed me in an £85 Schott jacket (“Look for the orange lining, for authenticity”) with a pair of Levi 501s (£45), a classic white shirt from CP Company (£45), a £35 pair from Swedish Hasbeens boots (“a bit beaten up, which I love”) and a black bum bag worn (£15) as a shoulder bag – all from the shop floor at Chillie London.

“The key to creating a secondhand look up-to-date is not to dress as a decade,” Hartley explains. “Just because one piece is from a certain era doesn’t mean you should match it. In fact, it’s best to do the opposite. If you are wearing an 80s shape jacket, wear a contemporary jean. A lot of vintage stores are very decade-led, and that makes you look like you have stepped back in time.” Another tip from the uber-chic stylist: “Don’t go crazy with color – if you are trying a new silhouette, keep it within the palette you usually wear so that you still feel like you.”

Hartley, who is 45, wants to target her own age group. “Women now in their 30s, 40s and 50s grew up in the heyday of fast fashion, so many of them have little experience of how to shop secondhand, and find it scary.” Chillie London is “on a mission to inspire this generation to wear pre-loved”, and is laid out to make these women feel at ease. “We color code the clothes so that the shop floor looks like a boutique. We have a black section, so if you only wear black, you can go to that. Not everyone wants to rummage.” Hartley and her business partner Lydia Mcneill are on the shop floor every day, “and we love chatting to the women who come in about what might suit them, and perhaps suggest ways to step outside their comfort zone. But we never push people into buying things they don’t like. We love every piece in our store – it needs to find the right home.”

For weekend chic, “I love effortless clothes,” says Hartley. “Wearing something oversized can immediately make it look cooler and more modern. You want to look epic without looking like you tried too hard.” Hartley doesn’t like the word vintage – “it makes it sound like clothes for museums. Plus, we are near Portobello, and a lot of shops near here use the word ‘vintage’ as an excuse to whack on a huge price tag. I get so much satisfaction dressing women in great secondhand pieces. When we opened the store, one of the very first customers came back the next day to tell us that someone had stopped her on the street to compliment her on her jacket. She was so happy – no one had ever complimented her look on the street before, and she was only going to the gym! Secondhand clothes have so much character.”

This jacket was way out of my comfort zone – I would have thought it was too “street” for me. But with jeans and a classic shirt, I loved wearing it. Great jeans, too. You can’t go wrong with a vintage pair of Levi 501s. There is a reason why this is the jean silhouette that every denim brand refers back to.

Look 3: party

Sourced and styled by Becky Barnes, sustainable stylist and wardrobe consultant

Stylist Becky Barnes: ‘A classic dress with unexpected accessories means that you have a timeless piece’

A slinky black dress is timeless, but sheer panels, pleating and an asymmetric shape make this one contemporary, too. “Contemporary is a better mindset than on-trend,” says Barnes, who is based in Bristol and takes her clients on pre-loved shopping sprees to help them find their style, sustainably. This mint condition Zara dress costs £12 from her local Cancer Research shop. The vintage magazine-style clutch was another charity shop find – £3.99 from a branch of St Peter’s Hospice – while the classic red courts were £8 from Vinted, with a matching bag. A stack of pearl bracelets was picked up for 50p. “A classic dress with unexpected accessories means you have a timeless piece, but a vibe that feels right for now. Also, think about updating your party makeup and hair look – that makes a huge difference,” she says.

Your clothes need to align with your reality, Barnes points out. “Often a woman will tell me she wants to wear high heels and wiggle dresses – and then when I ask about her life, I find out she’s walking the dog and doing the school run.” Barnes helps women figure out how they want their clothes to make them feel. The heel-and-wiggle-dress woman wants to feel sexy and visible, so Barnes guides her towards clothes that achieve that while being practical. “Before I came to fashion I had a 20-year corporate career. My favorite part of office life was the side-of-desk stuff: mentoring other women, helping them believe in themselves and to achieve their goals. Now I do that with clothes, helping them find a style that shows the world who they are. And because the clothes are all secondhand, they can feel good about what they are wearing.”

Charity shops are Barnes’s prime hunting ground. “Be strategic – think about the people in that area, and what they will have given. If I’m looking for something fashion-y, I will go to the areas where students live; if I want a classic designer dress, I’ll go to an upmarket area like Clifton Village, and if I’m looking for a tweed jacket or cashmere, I’ll head to the Cotswolds.” Barnes is an evangelist for secondhand fashion as a sustainable choice – she calculates the carbon footprint and water her clients have saved by choosing pre-loved – and as a budget-friendly one. “The other day I took a client shopping, and she bought 15 items – including Brora, Hush, Lacoste and Phase Eight – for £120. I calculated that she would have spent at least £650 buying new.”

Sizing has changed so much over the years that size labels are best ignored, she says. (“Just hold it up against you, instead.”) In the changing room, Barnes watches for body-language clues. “When something is right, the shoulders go back, the chin goes up, she smiles at herself – you can spot those things yourself in the mirror. It’s all about feelings. A lot of women come to me because they have fallen out of love with themselves – clothes can be a way of finding the way back.”

This is the nicest Zara dress I’ve seen in ages and, at £12, it’s about a fifth of the price of the Zara shop floor. This feels like a chic, upmarket outfit – for a total cost of under £25.