2020 – A Big Year for Old Clothes: Although fashion spending with the exception of ‘loungewear’ is down a record 79% since Covid forced Americans to start working from home last April, industry data suggests that secondhand and vintage are on the rise.

Although fashion spending with the exception of ‘loungewear’ is down a record 79% since Covid forced Americans to start working from home last April (Boston Consulting Group estimates 2020 will end with $640 billion in lost sales.), industry data suggests that secondhand and vintage are on the rise.

Lyst’s annual Year in Fashion report, a data-heavy distillation of the most popular brands, products, people, and movements of the past 12 months, confirmed a rising interest in used clothes. In September, when many of us were thinking about our fall wardrobes, “vintage fashion” generated more than 35,000 new searches on Lyst, while entries for secondhand-related keywords increased 104%. Brides planning socially-distanced weddings were even looking for “vintage,” “secondhand,” or “pre-owned” wedding dresses, with searches spiking 38%. (Lyst suggests many were inspired by the vintage Norman Hartnell dress Princess Beatrice wore to her July wedding; searches for “vintage wedding dress” were up 297% in the 48 hours following her walk down the aisle.). Fashion brands are now jumping on the vintage and secondhand bandwagon.

During the spring 2021 collections, more designers than not said they’d used leftover fabrics from past collections, and in some cases (like Marine Serre), they spliced up vintage garments to create new ones. Coach’s spring 2021 collection was styled with items from seasons past to make a statement about longevity, and there were handbags upcycled from archival ’70s purses and recycled plastic. In October, Levi’s unveiled a new website, Levi’s Secondhand, to sell exclusively vintage and secondhand jeans, most of which were purchased from customers or sourced in vintage shops.

Gucci launched a major collaboration with The RealReal, a leader in authenticated luxury consignment, and By Far and Vestiaire Collective just collaborated on a capsule of handbags made from damaged product and leather scraps, featuring floral patchwork motifs you won’t find in their main line. (By Far is also introducing a repairs scheme so customers can have their bags repaired or refurbished and ultimately keep them longer.) And this month, Miu Miu will debut a collection of 80 upcycled holiday pieces in its 57th Street Store, each made from vintage items from the ’30s to the ’70s.

Covering the rising secondhand and vintage market is Display Copy (www.displaycopy.com), a new magazine launched in October 2020 that features only secondhand and vintage fashion. Like other fashion magazines, it features glossy photo shoots by famous photographers, featuring the likes of Helmut Lang, Paul Smith, Adidas, and Balenciaga. Unique to Display Copy is that it credits for “where to buy” such alternative shopping venues as the Salvation Army, Etsy, and eBay. Display Copy may be a new magazine, but, as the editor’s letter says, it “doesn’t feature a single new fashion item.” Every item of clothing it pictures and promotes is vintage. Secondhand. Thrifted. Pre-loved. For resale.

These brands have surely connected with the rising interest in upcycled and secondhand goods, particularly among younger shoppers. Circular fashion—i.e., clothing that re-enters the market or is upcycled into something new, rather than being thrown away—is undeniably the future. ThredUp predicts the resale market will hit $64 billion by 2024, and that the online secondhand market will grow 69% by 2021.

Second Life is one new company driving that trend. Through Second Life, you can “sell” a gently-used handbag directly to Farfetch in return for site credits, which are determined by the value of your bag. (You get the credits instantaneously, not when the bag sells.) Interestingly, a company representative says many of the customers who sell on Second Life are using their credits to buy new items, not secondhand ones. Finding vintage Dior bags on Second Life might inspire a user to buy a new Dior bag, for instance, because she knows it will retain its value and she can sell it back in five or 10 years. “I think it’s an opportunity for brands to take more ownership and see the value in things they’ve already produced and sold. The more they can manage the secondary market, the more valuable their new items become.”

It is expected that we’ll soon see luxury brands create their own version of Second Life in the future, taking back items from their customers in exchange for cash or credit, then reselling them as vintage treasures. It’s fair to assume most luxury customers aren’t throwing away $3,000 handbags in the trash. The concept is a no-brainer for high-end goods that retain their value, but it could work for contemporary and fast-fashion labels, too, if the clothing is high-quality enough.

In a difficult year that’s seen staggering unemployment and countless shuttered businesses, the shift toward vintage and secondhand could come down to a desire for less-conspicuous fashion. It doesn’t exactly feel appropriate to wear a flashy logo or head-to-toe runway look right now, whereas the 20-year-old coat you fell in love with at a vintage shop has the added benefit of making a quieter statement.

With a projected growth of $64 billion, expect more brands and companies to enter this space, with fashion’s footprint now embracing such words as circular, secondhand, sustainability, pre-owned, vintage, and upcycling driving the hottest trends of the years ahead.