Secondhand clothes shopping makes me feel better about my body – here’s why Leave a comment

My closet is now filled with bargains, and the price tag isn’t even the best part. Photo / 123rf


In the few months since I’ve taken up treasure hunting in opshops, both online and in person, a lot has changed about my perception of fashion and style – but the most important change has been about my own body.

I’m a regular, boring ol’ size 10. I don’t love my muffin top but I also don’t have any big issues with my body. It’s a bit chunky and flappy in places but this body of mine has survived 100 per cent of my days and has taken me to some great places and, for that, I’m forever grateful. I’m average in size and average in my body confidence.

That said, whenever I try on items in a shop and have to reach for the 12 because the 10 is a tad snug, like most women, I feel like I’ve failed. I already had to get used to being a size 10 when I moved up from my much-missed size 8 and now I find myself increasingly reaching for the next size up. I try to be okay with it, because I talk a big game about self-empowerment and whatnot, but I’m also not immune to societal expectations and end up promising myself I’ll skip the chocolate and the wine for the next couple of weeks in order to fit the old size again.

Thankfully though, the only thing smaller than my bank account is my level of self-control, so I never quite get to the point of quitting the chocolate. I’m glad I don’t, because there is no chance in hell that’s the path to happiness.

Although my weight has not changed much over the past few months, my level of confidence about my body has considerably – all because I’ve started buying my clothes secondhand.

Inspired by fellow NZ Herald journalist Frances Cook (and her #CookTheLooks challenge last year), I slowly ditched fast fashion and took up hunting for treasures in secondhand stores as a hobby.

It started as a money-saving exercise, with a healthy dose of ethics and morals thrown in. What I never expected was that, as a secondary side-effect, opshopping would make me love myself more.

It didn’t take me long to realise that clothing sizes are nothing if not the purest of bulls**t.

I have this new habit of browsing the local opshop after daycare dropoff in the morning. I pop in there most days, before starting my work day. Most days I buy nothing, some days I buy something, but every day I spot cool stuff.

A lot of the things there don’t have any labels on. I didn’t realise it, but I guess many people rip the labels off clothing, possibly because it scratches their skin? I don’t know. Either way, I like the freedom it gives me to pick an item off the rack and decide whether it would look good on me purely based on what it looks like, rather than the number on the tag.

As I type this, I’m in an XXL T-shirt and an XS cardigan. They both fit me perfectly and, to be honest, I look awesome. What’s more, the two items, in immaculate condition, cost me about $5.

On Instagram, new secondhand clothing resellers are popping up every day, as people realise there’s a lot of value in the clothes a lot of us get rid of.

Most of these resellers list these items by mentioning the size on the tag but then adding the range that they think would fit. A size 14 item is nothing if not an oversized garment for a size 10. A size 10 T-shirt could be a crop top for a size 18. A flowing size 12 dress can be worn by anyone from a size 8 to a size 16, or beyond. It all depends on the garment itself, the type of material, the zips and buttons and where everything sits.

By showing us that there are no rules, secondhand clothing resellers are rendering sizing conventions meaningless – and I am up for that.

Give me the garment’s actual measurements, how many centimetres from the shoulder to the wrist. The knee-length dress for you can be above-the-knee for me if I’m taller – we’ll still rock it, it still fits us both.

Because secondhand garments are usually considerably cheaper than new ones, I also tend to dare more. I wear colours, shapes and sizes that I wouldn’t risk wearing if I had to pay full price for them. I can play with new styles and re-invent myself every day, not feeling like I have to focus on any particular fashion trend. I don’t need to invest myself so much in the clothes I wear, because I can wear a wider variety.

Of course it’s a lot easier for me to say this, as an average-sized middle-class woman. Loving my body is not really that out of reach for me, in my circumstances, and I acknowledge that privilege.

Regardless, all of this is an exercise in freedom, freedom from rules, conventions, trends and expectations.

If I’m sitting here in both XXL and XS clothing – am I really an M? It doesn’t matter. Through secondhand shopping and ripped labels, I’ve learnt to focus on whether a garment fits me, rather than whether it is my size.

It can be so easy for women – young women, in particular – to feel like they’ve failed because their body is not the size they wish they were, because their hips won’t squeeze into some jeans, and some tops will ride too high. They’ll buy the Medium when the Large would suit them better, just because they don’t want to become the person who wears a size Large.

Would I still feel this way if I were a size 18? I don’t know. But I know that, for an average-sized woman, with an average looking body and average amount of disposable income, thrifting has become a vehicle to self-expression and an unlikely path to deeper self-love.

And to think that all I was looking out for was a good bargain.

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