This Week We’re Talking Everything Second-Hand

About a year ago, during the first week in July, when the MR team logs off for an annual summer vacation, I became obsessed with ultralight camping. Two of my close friends were moving to L.A., and we decided we’d spend a few days hiking around and sleeping in tents in Los Padres National Forest before driving into the city to find the girls somewhere to live.

Whenever the three of us set up camp together, we relentlessly critique our gear: Is this the best water bottle? Does it collapse when it’s empty? Does it leak? What’s it made of? IS IT CUTE? How quickly can you set up this tent? Can it just-barely-fit our sleeping bags? And the sleeping bags—how soft are they? Is the softness worth the extra weight? We go on like that until we decide to start analyzing the people we are dating or have ever dated.

On that trip, my friend introduced me to ultralight camping by way of a few Instagram accounts and some YouTube videos—and having a name for what we were already kind of doing flipped a switch in my brain. Ultralight camping is basically just a style of camping in which you try to have as little stuff as possible and get as much out of that stuff as you can. Figuring out what constitutes an essential feels like a game—one in which you happen to be creating less waste while, truly, sacrificing zero enjoyment.

This outfit is one-part second hand, one-part ultralight: The tank is a Chloë Sevigny x Opening Ceremony dress purchased on The RealReal that I cut into a tank because it was too short on me. The Turkish towel is something that dries me off during the day and gets rolled into a pillow when I’m back at camp. The shorts, I must add, are by Noah—one of a handful of brands I thoroughly enjoy buying new these days because of how thoughtful and communicative they are about their processes and values.

I’ve already incorporated some of this “obsessive minimalist optimization” into other aspects of my life to some degree—I live in a studio apartment, for example, and so one of my space-saving hacks is that all of my hair tools are a high quality travel-size version, that way I only have one of each and the ones that I do have take up less space in the cabinet under my sink. (Blow dryer, fly-away straightener, tiny brush, for anybody wondering.) I’ll admit that the only way this works is if I keep my hair short….

Naturally, this thinking eventually made its way to my closet. I started phasing fast fashion out of my shopping habits a few years ago, and started consuming less by default, but at the beginning of the pandemic, while staring down my closet—doors dramatically strewn open—I realized I had not gone nearly far enough. I needed an overhaul. A big-ass, ruthless edit. I needed, also, a philosophy?

At the moment, this philosophy is at the stage of renegotiating what I should be buying new and what is better off second hand. I’ve always had an appreciation for fashion as a form of self-expression, and for the environmental advantages and nostalgic value of vintage clothing, but this is the first time I’ve come to my closet with my ultralight camping brain—truly critiquing the form and function of each thing I have and asking myself whether I’d be willing to hike it up a mountain.

As sustainability feels more central to my view of fashion, second-hand shopping has unfurled itself as a much more expansive and pivotal aspect of my better, future wardrobe. While second-hand clothing has always been a part of my shopping habits—the options in this realm have never been more expansive than they are right now. I’ve been hearing from lots of friends (and of course coworkers at MR too), that they too are ready to change their own closet ratios, so we’ve decided to dedicate a week to exploring the whole constellation of second-hand style.

We chose the word “second hand” over “vintage” because we really want to go wide on the idea of getting the most out of things that already exist in the world—we’ll be digging into online and brick-and-mortar resale, upcycling, and recycling. We’ll also be bending the word “second hand” to refer to ways that you can take something you already own and turn it into something new—either with paint, or tailoring, or the kind of imagination that acknowledges that one woman’s scarf may be another woman’s skirt. (Another thing we really like in ultralight camping: multitaskers.)

To start, the MR team is creating a crowd-sourced list of the best vintage stores out there. Would you add your pick here? We’ll share the list back with everyone at the end of the week.

Over the next few days, you can expect stories like:

  • A practical guide to thoughtful thrifting by Jinnie Lee
  • An exhaustive list of the coolest upcyclers out there right now (wow there are so many??)
  • The story of a bathing suit designer who reworked her entire approach during the pandemic
  • Tips from teens for shopping and selling on Depop and other resale sites
  • Sneaker aficionados on their favorite under-appreciated vintage styles

Now, please gather ’round the campfire and let us know what else you’d like to read about, things you think we should keep in mind, and any second-hand shopping hot tips you may have. We’ll be covering this topic well beyond this week, so don’t hold back.

Graphic by Lorenza Centi.

Mallory Rice

Mallory Rice is a writer who sometimes has bangs and sometimes does not. She was previously the executive editor of this fine website.

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