Second Hand


Although people have always worn clothes handed down by others, second-hand clothing has now become a part of the fashion circuit. Once considered a sign of poverty and of a lack of choice as to what to wear, it has become a sign of the rejection of consumerism. The passion for the used has also been driven by a desire to recycle discarded clothing, and to give new life to unused clothes in a way that respects the environment and contributes to a balanced use of resources in line with the principles of a circular economy. 

The reuse of used clothes, from the Sixties onwards, gives rise to a real fashion, spread across people and very different social groups. The reasons for this success are varied. One can distinguish between the countercultural values of the used in the period of the young and feminist protest, in which the rejection of bourgeois culture was also expressed through the adoption of deliberately poor, out-of-fashion, worn styles. It is therefore a phenomenon that dates to the Seventies when hippies and young protesters begin to scour thrift shops and flea markets in search of old military uniforms, Edwardian petticoats, work clothes, etc, combining these unmarked garments as an expression of their imagination (Steele 2002). Within a few years, second-hand clothing becomes almost an ideological outfit with which young people express their distance from the bourgeois culture of adults and consumerism. The codes of fashion are redefined by this very unconventional youth culture, which, moving outside the bureaucratic system of institutional fashion, reveals extraordinary creativity. Groups such as hippies, babas, punks, new wave, rasta, and skinheads with their lifestyles and clothing, signal a resumption of personal initiative in the world of appearance, supporting a complete autonomy in the way of presenting itself concerning the dictates of official fashion (McRobbie 1989). 

Like other trends born spontaneously, even the used is soon swallowed by the fashion system, which on the one hand seeks inspiration from the past to find new sources of creativity and on the other enhances the rediscovery of collections and vintage items as in the case of the vintage phenomenon (Steele 2002; DeLong, Heinemann, Reily 2005; Ryding, Wang, Fox, Xu 2017) or as, in non-western contexts, in the forms of creative re-appropriation of western clothes and accessories (Palmer - Clark 2005; Tranberg Hansen 2000). The used garment, ultimately, from certain points of view allows new cultural and stylistic operations because second-hand clothes do not travel with ready-made meanings, attached to them like a label, but change in the various stages of their distribution circuit (Roux & Korchia 2006; Tranberg Hansen 2000). 

Today second-hand fashion is also considered a form of responsible consumption inspired by a strong ecological sensitivity in a perspective of respect and balanced use of environmental resources (Bovone - Mora 2007; Clark 2008; Lunghi - Montagnini 2007). There is therefore a desire to put discarded products back into circulation, to give new life to out-of-use clothes with a view to revitalization and reuse. This new perspective is called circular economy: it can create «a system that works, delivering long-term benefits – a new textiles economy based on the principles of a circular economy. It offers a direction of travel on which the industry can agree and focus its efforts. In a new textile economy, clothes, textiles, and fibres are kept at their highest value during use and re-enter the economy afterwards, never-ending up as waste. This vision is distinct from, and complements, ongoing efforts to make the textiles system more sustainable by minimizing its negative impacts» (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017). 

Furthermore, in Western society, during and after the economic crisis between 2008 and 2011, second-hand clothing has represented an opportunity to save money and, especially for migrants and refugees, a resource and an important help (Bovone - Lunghi 2009; Lunghi - Transforini 2010 and 2012). In many cases, this circuit is activated by donations from external institutions (such as charitable, secular, or religious associations), sometimes from individuals (more affluent friends, employers, etc.), from the same people in difficulty when, occasionally, they may have some, albeit limited, a surplus of resources. In such cases, then, clothes are accepted not only for themselves but also for friends or relatives, further supporting a parallel movement of goods to that of the formal market. 

The used clothing market is therefore marked by this multiplicity of meanings, which is also reflected in the spaces and methods of sales. Gregson and Crew (2003), for example, observe how the second-hand circuit is divided between retro or vintage shops - visited by a refined clientele in search of sophisticated objects, that cannot be found elsewhere - and charity shops, born with a strong social inspiration, where, on the contrary, are offered for sale goods less refined but at much lower prices, frequented both by people with limited budgets but also and especially by people socially and ecologically engaged. 

Lastly it is important to underline how different was the situation in Western and Central and Eastern Europe. For instance, in Poland informal second-hand circuit was a norm (especially clothes for kids, but not only), later second-hand shops were popular in 90s (times of post-socialist transformation) and 2000 and it was an element of social class indicator.  A huge amount of clothes (counted in tons, not in pieces) came from Germany, Sweden, GB (sometimes you can recognize the country by a coin discovered in a pocket or a name or the owner's name in a label), designed specific economic geographies of fashion. There is also an informal profession of women who buy clothes by weight, refresh them and re-sell at higher price online or at sweep market). Additionally, several women can sew (or they learn to sew as their mothers could sew) so there is a group of young women who buy the clothes in second-hand shops and modify them.

Today the reuse of objects (and clothing in particular) is one of the most topical and debated issues, closely intertwined with some environmental issues of considerable impact to which recycling practices of seem to offer a resource and a possible response.  

On the one hand, these issues are due to the garbage emergency and, on the other, to the spread of individual and collective forms of waste, relating to any type of goods and services. Garbage and waste are intimately connected because today what is thrown is not only the scrap or the object no longer usable or repairable but also what, while still working, is considered out of fashion or obsolete. Those are, therefore, the paradoxical consequence of a society of opulence that precisely in the surplus of objects places its distinctive feature compared to past eras marked by scarcity. Objects, then, are produced according to the well-known logic of the planned obsolescence, a paradoxical productive strategy finalized to the creation of goods destined not to last for long so that the consumers acquire new things (Sennett 2006). 

Furthermore, second-hand goods ‘circulation traces a typology of ‘objects’ that destabilize and disarticulate the traditional dichotomy between market and gift (Miller, 2000). The gifted second-hand item is characterized by an absence of monetary value which is present instead in the new object, while the gifted used object given to unknown people tends to subvert the social rules of the gift mechanism, like intimacy and reciprocity. Donating used goods obliges us therefore to rethink not only the status of those objects but also the appropriation and re-appropriation processes underneath the objects themselves, creating new forms of value (Miller, 2000). A similar form, but not so subversive toward dominant economic categories, is the proliferation of alternative second-hand markets; in these places, the reuse and recycling of objects give them a second or third life, while buyers may save money respecting the environment and resources. Those circuits in which we reuse scrap, revitalize second-hand goods and circulate information, ideas and contacts/relations are not only helping people in difficulties. They also allow lifestyles based on new austerity, attracting less fragile subjects who voluntarily adopt responsible and sustainable behaviours in periods of crisis.  

Interestingly, the current economic and technological context provides a favourable setting to push second-hand clothing consumption. Health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic is further strengthening all these factors by encouraging a massive use of online platforms of P2P exchanges in the second-hand market (Lozza et al., 2019).  

It is quite impossible to identify a direct link between second-hand fashion and the food sector.  

The only possible link is with the many initiatives created to avoid food waste such as expiring products, broken or deteriorated packaging, daily leftovers of ready food no longer saleable (by restaurants, canteens, pastry shops, bakeries, etc.). 

There are also many apps that allow you to distribute, free of charge or at very low prices, these food leftovers, still perfectly edible. Among the others, we remember: Too Good to go ( it is the world’s largest food-waste app. The app connects consumers to extra food that would otherwise be thrown away from local restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and grocery stores, such as pastries, fresh produce, sushi and more. Too Good To Go provides a simple way for food businesses to redirect their surplus, and consumers to help fight climate change. Founded in 2016, Too Good To Go has saved over 126 million meals across 17 countries, which is the equivalent to 504 million pounds of food.  

The second-hand fashion has received a strong impulse from the diffusion of the digital platforms (for commercial purpose and/or for barter) that allow purchases and exchanges in direct way between the users. We remember, among the others:  

By Rotation ( it is the social network to rent, lend and buy designer fashion. It was founded in the UK by Eshita Kabra-Davies, in 2019. It is a peer-to-peer fashion rental platform which encourages users to rent what they need and lend what they don’t use frequently at a fraction of the retail price. Since launching in October 2019, the platform now boasts over 150,000 users and allows the people renting to set the price of each item per day and the rental period. The mobile app mimics social media, allowing users to ‘like’, comment and interact with one another. They have a core focus on building a community of ‘style-aware’ and ‘environmentally aware’ individuals.”  

GANNI ( Redesigning garments to be experienced by many, owned by none GANNI, a ready-to-wear fashion brand based in Copenhagen, has 27 stores across Europe, and the United States, and it’s available via 400 wholesalers worldwide. 

GANNI launched the rental platform GANNI Repeat, as a first trial in Denmark in 2019. The service is now available also in the UK and the US. Key product categories available via the rental platform include dresses, shirts, tops, swimwear, outerwear and knitwear. Rental platform GANNI Repeat allows customers to experience redesigned garments, and to increase the time clothes are worn. It also avoids the purchase of new clothes. 

GRAILED ( it is specialized in buying, selling, and exploring menswear. Selling both used and new clothing on the app, Grailed is hailed as the world’s most popular menswear resale marketplace. It is filled with streetwear brands, vintage pieces and independent designers, and their team makes sure everything is authenticated. It offers a space for men to explore sustainable fashion in an inclusive setting. Grailed has been criticised for its high international seller fees. 

DEPOP ( originally a social network, Depop is a fun, interactive second-hand shopping experience. With a mix of fast fashion brands, vintage pieces and independent sellers, Depop offers a huge variety of different styles all under one (digital) roof. Sellers can contact you through direct messages if they feel you’ve shown interest in their item, and it can get slightly intrusive. Be aware that fast fashion resellers operate heavily on Depop, buying up large volumes of the same piece of clothing and selling it on for a profit.  


Shipping: U.S., Canada 

Offering up to 70% off prices on thousands of popular brands, Poshmark is an ideal app for bargain shoppers.  From clothing to homeware and even pet accessories, it’s a treasure chest of second-hand goodies. It offers protected payments. The app is often referred to as a community, with 70 million ‘Poshers’ and ‘Posh Party’ selling events. For items over $15, Poshmark takes a 20% commission from the sale. 


Shipping: worldwide 

A global marketplace of pre-owned luxury fashion, Vestiaire is the top destination for discounted designer pieces and vintage clothing. Clothing, bags, shoes and jewellery from hundreds of brands, with thousands of new items, added every day. It offers an optional ‘authentication’ feature on items, so the product you’ve ordered is first checked and approved before being sent to you. Nearly everything on the app is expensive, so not accessible to most people. They also don’t have a good variety of sizes on offer, with most clothing items only available in small to petite sizes.  

VINTED ( sells a wide range of low-cost second-hand clothing, with a focus on high street brands. It also offers buyers and sellers the option to swap clothes, with a ‘swap’ filter option so you can search for items that people are willing to swap with you. There are zero listing or selling fees, so what you earn is yours to keep. The orders are protected when you pay through Vinted, and you’re entitled to refunds. Vinted has forums on the app so it is possible to engage with other buyers and sellers for support and advice.  

Also, there are many other companies that offer both physical spaces (shops) and e-commerce sites for the sale and purchase of second-hand goods. Many of these realities were born within the framework of international cooperation. We recall, among others: 

Humana Vintage (

It is a humanitarian organization of international cooperation that has been promoting sustainable development in the textile sector for over twenty years. Since 1998, thanks to the collection, selection, and sale of second-hand clothes, it has supported education, sustainable agriculture, health protection and community development projects in the world and in Italy. Humana Italia is a member of the International Humana People to People Federation, present in 45 countries. Humana Vintage and Humana Second-Hand stores in Milan, Rome, Turin and Pavia. Humana Vintage has also an e-commerce site. 

OXFAM Second-hand shops (;

Oxfam is based in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Netherlands, Quebec, Spain, United States of America, South Africa and Turkey. Strong in their diversity, Oxfam affiliates work to empower the poorest and most vulnerable people to improve their living conditions and influence their decisions. Oxfam is encouraging you to shop only second-hand clothing from your local Oxfam charity shop or online. And they are also encouraging us to donate any good-quality pre-loved items that someone else could benefit from, that you no longer need or use.  


a) Academic/peer-reviewed 

Bovone L., Lunghi C. (a cura di) (2009), Consumi ai margini, Donzelli Editore, Roma. 

DeLong M., Heinemann B., Reily K. (2005) Hooked on Vintage!, Fashion Theory, 9:1, 23-42, DOI: 10.2752/136270405778051491 

Ellen MacArthur Foundation, A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future, (2017)

Gregson N, Brooks K., Crewe L. (2000), Narratives of Consumption and the Body in the Space of the Charity/Shop, in Jackson P., Lowe M., Miller D., Mort F. (eds) (2000), Oxford - New York, Berg, (pp. 101- 121). 

Gregson N. and Crewe L. (2003), Second-Hand Cultures, Berg, Oxford – New York. 

Gregson N, Brooks K., Crewe L. (2000), Narratives of Consumption and the Body in the Space of the Charity/Shop, in Jackson P., Lowe M., Miller D., Mort F. (eds) (2000), Commercial Cultures: Economies, Practices, Spaces, Berg, Oxford New York, pp. 101- 121. 

Lozza, E., Cornaggia, C., & Castiglioni, C. (2019). Recovering old habits: A historical and psychological research on second hand clothing consumption. Psicologia Sociale, 14(2), 235–257. 

Lunghi C. (2009), Il riuso fra produzione e consumo, «Sociologia del lavoro», n. 116, IV, Milano, FrancoAngeli, (pp. 147-159). 

Lunghi C., Trasforini M. A. (a cura di) (2010), La precarietà degli oggetti. Estetiche ordinarie in contesti di povertà, Donzelli Editore, Roma. 

Lunghi C., Trasforini M. A. (2012) Precarious objects, precarious lives. Grounded aesthetics in poverty contexts, «Journal of European Popular Culture», Volume 3, Number 1, Intellect Ltd (pp. 37/50)  

McRobbie A. (eds) (1989), Zoot Suits and Second-Hand Dresses: an Anthology of Fashion and Music, Macmillan, London. 

Miller D. (2000), The Birth of Value, in Jackson P., Lowe M., Miller D., Mort F. (eds), Berg, Oxford New York, pp. 77-84. 

Palmer A. – Clark H. (eds) (2005), Old Clothes, New Looks. Second-Hand Fashion, Berg, Oxford New York. 

Roux, D., & Korchia, M. (2006), Am I what I wear? An exploratory study of symbolic meanings associated with second-hand clothing, «Advances in Consumer Research, » 33, 29–35. 

Ryding, D., Wang, M., Fox, C., & Xu, Y. (2017). A Review of Second-hand Luxury and Vintage Clothing. Sustainability in Fashion: A Cradle to Upcycle Approach, 1–270. 

Steele V. (2002), La moda retrò, [1990], in Colaiacomo P. – Caratozzolo V. C., Editori Riuniti, Roma, pp. 200-204. 

Jackson P., Lowe M., Miller D., Mort F. (eds) (2000), Commercial Cultures: Economies, Practices, Spaces, Berg, Oxford New York. 

Tranberg Hansen K. (2000), Salaula: The World of Secondhand Clothing and Zambia, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London. 

b) Other sources 


Brooks, A. (2015). Clothing Poverty: The hidden world of fast fashion and second-hand clothes, Bloomsbury Publishing, UK 

Le Zotte J., (2017) From Goodwill to Grunge: A History of Secondhand Styles and Alternative Economies, The University of North Carolina Press, USA 

Minter A. (2021) Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale, Bloomsbury Publishing, UK 


Mitumba, documentary movie, 2005, by Raffaele Brunetti, 53 minutes  

This is the inside-out story of a piece of clothing’s first and second life and everything that happens in between. The journey of the T-shirt starts in Germany and ends in Tanzania. Along the way, the director encounters an incredible number of people whose livelihoods revolve around the buying and selling of second-hand clothes and shoes. Deals, people and places create the route of the used clothes trade (mitumba), a hidden and winding road that reveals a surprising reality.