Anthropology of used clothing | The weekly country


The amount of clothing, footwear and accessories accumulated by each European citizen has increased by 40% in recent decades. And 87% of that merchandise invariably ends up incinerated or in landfills where its slow degradation guarantees decades of greenhouse gas emissions. Less than 1% is used again. The figures dance depending on who you go to, see the vaunted average life of a garment before discarding it: 7 times, some report; 10, count others. Where there is unanimous agreement is that such a loop of overproduction and rapid waste is already unsustainable.

Image of the Gucci project focused on vintage pieces.
Image of the Gucci project focused on vintage pieces.

Recycling and reusing the textile wreck in a creative way are two of the solutions that are most affected right now. That is why a note in a recent report by the European Parliament committee in charge of the circular economy action plan is striking: “The way people get rid of unwanted clothes has changed: the strip instead of donate it ”. The NGO Oxfam reports: almost 20% of Gen Z youth say that once they appear with a look on Instagram, they never wear it again.

Jimi Hendrix, pioneer of the second hand.
Jimi Hendrix, pioneer of the second hand. London Features / Photoshot (Agefotostock)

Even so, or precisely because of this, in 2030 the used fashion market will have an approximate value of 84,000 million euros. The final data is this: it is the fastest growing textile segment, so much so that it doubles the estimates for fast fashion. “Displacing the consumption of new clothes for second-hand means that it is still possible to change the system,” he conceded to the portal in June. WWD Karen Clark, communication manager at ThredUp, one of the largest companies specializing in the electronic sale of used clothing and accessories. The list of similar digital platforms continues to grow.

Behind the phenomenon, concern for the health of the planet. A motivation expressed especially by the youngest, determined not to continue contributing to the proverbial carbon footprint of the textile industry, but also seduced by the fashionable value of what vintage And exclusive, now that buying used seems to have definitely shaken the stigma of a clothing solution for the poor. The question is still relevant, taking into account the precariousness that many millennials and centennials have to face.

Patti Smith in October 1976.
Patti Smith in October 1976. Gijsbert Hanekroot (Redferns / Getty Images)

“It is a solution for those who want to spend less while still indulging themselves or compromising on quality,” says Beatriz Warleta. Founder of the Spanish online platform for the sale of used luxury pieces Good Karma, her explanation implies the true nature of this practice: saving. Hence the name given to second-hand stores in English, thrift shops, thrift shops, the origin of a genuine culture in the United States that even celebrates its own national day (August 17).

From economic necessity to aesthetic strategy, to end in an ethical response. This is the historical cycle of second-hand consumption. The thing begins with charity, poverty. “In search of funds to finance their programs to help those most in need, groups of Christian affiliation such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army legitimized the used clothing business at the end of the 19th century”, explains Jennifer Le Zotte, professor at the University from North Carolina and author of From Goodwill to Grunge: A History of Secondhand Styles and Alternative Economies (From Goodwill to Grunge: A History of Secondhand Styles and Alternative Economies). In this 2017 book, the historian recounts how what began as a questionable company led to a practice that was monetarily fat, culturally influential, and from the political spectrum as conservative and progressive alike.

A girl dressed in Madrid Rastro clothing.
A girl dressed in Madrid Rastro clothing. Rafa Gallar

The initial bad reputation ended up dissolving as soon as the crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression reached the whole of society (and it was not acceptable to show off), a situation that would be repeated in Europe after the war. And then came the paradox: on the one hand, used garments and accessories were elevated to the category of vintage thanks to the business milestone of Sue Salzman, socialite New Yorker reselling fur coats bought from Salvation Army stores from her Greenwich Village apartment in the mid-1950s; on the other, they were signified as rebellious and rebellious clothing, a symbol of contempt for the bourgeoisie and capitalism in key beatnik (the poet Allen Ginsberg made aesthetics thrift shop your identity sign) and hippy (Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger and the host of psychedelics who were going to I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet, supplier of moth-eaten military warriors in the days of Swinging London).

The countercultural use of second-hand clothing is so significant that it even served as a tool in the struggle for LGTBI rights in the late 1960s. Gay, lesbian, trans and drag queens they resorted to thrift shops to be able to try on and buy the extravagances that they wanted without raising suspicions. Those visits helped them to make contact with each other and begin to organize as resistance. And in the mid-1970s, punk and do-it-yourself politics did the rest for fashion. Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood selling old style clothes and shoes teddy at his Let It Rock store. Patti Smith composing the now iconic androgynous look of her debut album, Horses (1975), entirely in Salvation Army garments. The new wave of the eighties looking retro thanks to the flea markets, where the so-called urban tribes were supplied (the Madrid Rastro was abuzz with mods, rockers, sinister and other families seeking to standardize their identities). The grunge adolescent existentialism of the 90s once again pricked the affluent society by dressing its discards, with which it blurred gender and social class roles. It makes sense that current activism continues such a tradition as a visual mark of the youth declared in rebellion. Although it is still curious how the discourse of sustainability has ended up twinning the clothing narration of the protest with the most frivolous and even aspirational emotion of vintage.

“Buying is not limited to buying things. It’s about establishing a connection with them, establishing a relationship. It is precisely this bond that has grown today ”, said the designer Alessandro Michele when presenting Vault, a brand-new virtual boutique in which Gucci will dispatch its old recovered and restored treasures. And he finished by asking: “Why can’t a fashion house with a creative director have a space for expressive, aesthetic and social contamination?” Knowing that no one is bitter about a gucci – it is the most valued and sought after label also in terms of second hand – why not.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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