Paris To Go

Is Secondhand Shopping Safe?

I don't know why I keep posting pics of myself lately, I hate myself (secondhand Prada dress, similar here. Photos by the amazing Corey Chattman) 

Sometimes friends ask to go shopping where I found a particular designer item, but when they realize it's secondhand, they're taken aback. The overriding sentiment is, "Other people had these clothes. Dirty people. I don't want something that was worn before." Sometimes they're totally ok with furniture found off the street, but can't fathom wearing thrift store shoes, or worse, swimsuits and underwear. Lately I've gotten a lot of questions about how to clean vintage and secondhand items, if they're hygienic, and so on. I get it. We wear these things close to our skin, use other secondhand purchases to store and eat food, around our children, our pets, etc. I let my cats go on counters and in cabinets so maybe you shouldn't take hygiene advice from me, but I'm also Korean, which I feel is qualification enough to advise would-be secondhand shoppers on matters of cleanliness.

It's important to realize new items, especially new articles of clothing, aren't immune from potential problems. New clothing is often coated in formaldehyde, benzothiazoles, perfluorinated chemicals, and nonylphenol ethoxylates to prevent wrinkling or molding during shipping. VOC's, dioxin, flame retardants, and PPD may persist on textiles- even organic fabrics- after several washes, especially in the case of black clothing. Each wash releases residual toxins. Let's not even get into the resources wasted and the hazardous cocktail of chemicals dispersed into waterways during clothing production. We don't know for certain if all these toxic chemicals seep into skin or what levels persist in the body. It stands to reason, though, that exposure to these chemicals could increase the risk of allergic or potentially more serious reactions, including suspected carcinogenic effects and aquatic toxicity. Whatever the case, lice and scabies can be transmitted from trying on clothes at Zara just as easily as at Buffalo Exchange, only pre-washed and pre-owned clothing is likely to contain lower toxin levels than their embalmed counterparts.

There are some items I wouldn't buy used: mattresses, medical supplies, things that can never be totally sterilized (not that I would ever buy this, but a breast pump comes to mind), metal toys or crayons of a certain age (can contain lead). I might buy a bicycle helmet if it passed my inspection. I used to think it was common sense never to buy cosmetics products secondhand, but it's such a big business in Paris, though I haven't tried any yet. When buying jars secondhand, inspect for cracks or chips first and don't use old lids, since the seals might be busted or could contain lead. Sterilize as any other jar- I found a Le Parfait jar in the street and just boiled and washed it out. Use common sense with metal items, like utensils or food storage containers. Usually they're ok from the midcentury onward.

Clean furniture with vinegar or oil soap (if wooden) and sand if necessary. Recover upholstered furniture or scrub with gentle soap and brush before sprinkling with baking soda, vacuuming, and steaming. Clothing, linens, cushions, and pillows are typically fine washed normally with a capful of vinegar- if you're really worried, dry in the sun or steam to sterilize (btw has anyone used this chestnut laundry detergent recipe on Instagram? I'm curious. I know where to get a lot of horse chestnuts). Trust your judgment and don't buy anything that looks unsafe, smells, or is disgusting.

Clean shoes with vinegar and a soap with natural antibacterial properties, such as Aleppo or coconut oil, or throw in the laundry machine with towels and dry in the sun. I wouldn't buy shoes from Kilo Shop though, or any frip for that matter. So far I've only purchased secondhand shoes pretty much new in box, from places with a return policy. As for leather, I hear people wash leather shorts and jackets in the machine with a little vinegar and gentle soap. It scares me to think about it and I have no leather clothing, so I can't speak to the method's effectiveness.

The moral of the story is this: secondhand is like the Beast and new stuff is Gaston. Get past the rough reputation and at times unpleasant exterior of the resale market, and you'll be happy knowing you kept something out of landfill, getting the most of the embedded energy without contributing to the ethical nightmare that is the new clothing industry (not that secondhand doesn't have its problems too). I love Gaston and thought marrying the Beast was like marrying a bowl of oatmeal or a plant with blond hair or something, but Gaston is pretty selfish and perhaps evil, which (I know I'm generalizing) sort of describes a lot of new product manufacturers at the moment.

Paris to Go

Everything I Own Now


My goal in purchasing and organizing items is to have stuff I never want to hide, things I'd be happy for people to see and proud to own. That means less plastics and more high quality stainless steel, glass, handmade, and vintage items. Note: This post was written before my move from Paris. We still have the apartment, and I'll be going back to Paris periodically and still writing about it because it's home. When I figure out what other city I'll live in I'll write the same kinds of posts probably. Also I don't usually keep that Chanel box there (it's normally on the shelf); I don't know why that's there.


Black Dior dress (in another color here)
Louis Vuitton rain coat (similar)
Grey Dior dress
Boots (similar)
Navy Dior dress
White Nike Air Force 1 Flyknit sneakers
Black Louis Vuitton wool skirt
Green Nike Dunk Sky Hi sneakers (similar)
Ferragamo Vara Pumps
J Brand Maria high waist jeans
Louboutin Simple Heels
J Brand Photo Ready 811 jeans
Black American Apparel ponte foil dress
Blue American Apparel Ryder midi dress
Scarf I knit myself, it looks terrible
Cotton moto jacket
Grey American Apparel dress (for bed)
Cotton linen plaid button-down (similar)
Stella McCartney Isabel floating
Black H&M lace front ribbed shirt, short sleeve
Stella McCartney Clara whispering
Black Reformation Edison dress I cut into a tunic*
Three pairs wool socks from my grandpa
Petit Bateau black t-shirt
Four pairs ankle socks (cotton)
Black American Apparel bodysuit
Black H&M tank top
Two Madewell white t-shirts
White American Apparel ribbed tank top
Infinity ring
Handknit Alisa Design sweater
TranquiliT slip dress and bandeau
*As a maxi it made me look like Stevie Nicks

All thrifted except stockings, lingerie, espadrilles, knits, and sneakers (I'll do a proper post with outfit pictures soon). I got the jean shorts and black shirts at a thrift shop on my last trip to Cleveland because it was so suffocatingly hot and I lost a little weight anyway. I like black again due in part to my brownness and partly because of the new closet, which keeps cat hair at bay. Longchamp ran out of thread to repair my old Pliage (they discontinued the color) so I reluctantly recycled- knowing much of it will go to waste- and got a black one instead. This time I'm not having trouble with H&M shirts, despite putting them through the ringer in Oman.

I had to sell the winter coats and consolidate to one wool coat in a different size, since I shrank a bit and tailoring would be cost prohibitive- I'm at that part of the Korean aging process where I get shorter every year. Not sure why I got the coat because A) it's purple and if I wear it with green sneakers I look like Baby Bop B) I thought it would be like Carla Bruni but then The Real Real got Carla Bruni's actual Dior coat and now, for all my talk about overconsumption and materialism, all I want to wear is Dior! I had to tailor my jeans, plaid shirt, skirt, and two dresses to make them smaller at a cost of 60 euro. Not included: Boxes, dustbags, or belts included with garments.

Bathroom / Toiletries

  1. Four Brush With Bamboo toothbrushes
  2. Stone toothbrush holder
  3. Two wooden soap dishes, one from La Tresorerie
  4. Razor
  5. Blades
  6. Cup and carrying bag
  7. EcoTools bamboo makeup brushes: Concealer brush, eyeliner brush, blush brush, powder brush (for cornstarch, you can use rice flour), stippling brush (for foundation), bronzer brush (cocoa)
  8. Two bottles Tarte Amazonian Clay foundation. I was using two because my skin changes color in the summer: Tan sand (which matches my skin tone) as foundation, Medium Sand as concealer. Right now I'm not using either
  9. Eyeliner / mascara / eyebrow gel
  10. Eyelash curler
  11. Tweezers
  12. Four bars soap (we use two at a time in the bathroom, plus one for dishes, one for laundry)
  13. Not listed: My husband's leather carrying case, glass shampoo bottle, toiletries, and electric razor. People give me their cosmetic mistake purchases lately, like blush and Burt's Bees lip balm, so I'll use those instead of letting them go to waste. I give away or sell the makeup I won't use.


  1. One Macbook
  2. Two chargers
  3. One adapter
  4. One phone
  5. Speaker
Not included: The owner's TV, modem, phone; my husband's stuff


  1. Metal fan (has some plastic knobs)
  2. Stainless steel cat fountain (has some plastic parts)
  3. Kitchenaid mixer
The refrigerator, dishwasher, tea kettle, iron, washing machine, and stove are our landlord's :) 


  1. Componibili
  2. Chair
Not included: Bed, three tabourets, two woven stools, table and two chairs, butterfly chair, coffee table, two side tables, and couch, furnished by the landlord


  1. Four bath sheets
  2. One hand towel
  3. Seven washcloths
  4. One blanket (a Turkish towel)
  5. 10 dish towels
  6. 10 napkins
  7. flour sack towels, for cleaning, I don't know what happened to the rest
The sheets (there are two sets, all cotton), mattress, duvet, and pillows belong to the landlord.

Kitchen / Garden

  1. Twelve pieces steel cutlery with box
  2. Salad serving set (fork and spoon) with box
  3. long handled saucepan
  4. long handled pan
  5. stock pot
  6. One glass baking dish, whatever happened to the other one, I don't know, but I can't bake much anymore because people exploded gluten all over the oven and I'd have to replace the fan or buy aluminum foil to use it for myself
  7. 1 set measuring cups
  8. 1 peeler
  9. 1 metal ladle
  10. 1 metal spatula
  11. 1 metal spoon
  12. garlic press
  13. 2 Zwilling Henckels knives
  14. 1 pizza / cake server
  15. Pepper mill
  16. Corkscrew
  17. 1 stoneware bowl
  18. Wooden cutting board
  19. Bamboo cutting board for gluten-free things
  20. 15 glass jars with rubber fittings and fasteners
  21. 4 wine glasses (the landlord had so many, we only kept a few)
  22. 8 drinking glasses
  23. 1 carafe
  24. 4 glass bottles
  25. 8 each stoneware plates and bowls
  26. 4 teacups with saucers (in addition the landlord left four glass teacups)
  27. mortar and pestle
  28. copper mugs
  29. Redecker dish brush
  30. Glass sprayer bottle
  31. Glass pump bottle (empty)
  32. Stainless steel Ecolunchbox bento
  33. Stone planter, from Basque country
The landlords left bowls, glasses, flatware, and some stoneware dishes so we'll never need disposables.


  1. Wicker shopping cart
  2. Four small linen produce bags
  3. Two knitted produce bags
  4. Two reusable shopping bags
  5. Six handkerchiefs
  6. One camera with case and charger
  7. One cat carrier
  8. One wooden and metal cat brush
  9. Cat fountain (listed above)
  10. Cat passports and leashes
  11. One litterbox and stainless scoop
  12. Bamboo cat feeder with two stainless steel bowls
  13. One rubber and wood lint brush
  14. One bag of baking soda
  15. Four repurposed shoeboxes, used for storage
  16. Seven frames with photos / posters on walls
  17. One passport with holder, two bank cards, one driver's license, one frequent flyer miles card
  18. 30 books and magazines (includes my husband's books)
  19. One notebook
  20. One folder
  21. One Caran d'Ache refillable pen
  22. Three Rimowa suitcases
  23. Two luggage tags
  24. Two wall hangings
  25. A dozen needles and two vintage spools of cotton thread
  26. Nails, hammer, and small tool set with mini drill
  27. Personal set of keys and spares
All my things and the cats' things fit into two suitcases and the wicker shopping cart. Consumables included where requested. Counting multiples as one, and not including my husband's belongings, it's about 140-200 items, but looks like much more in the smaller place! We sold and gave away our old things so they didn't go to waste. Everything sold in a matter of a few days, too. To see how I organize everything, click here.

Having less to care for, clean up, and maintain leaves me freer to enjoy Paris, socialize with friends, and, weirdly enough, host guests and keep up with household chores. In our big place in the 7eme, sometimes I'd be so tired after scrubbing all those windows and floors, I just couldn't have friends over for tea or meet them for lunch (clearly I am not cut out for having children). Now the place is always presentable. They can come over anytime, and I'll always be ready to go out. Also I just love having more money to eat at gluten free / vegan / zero waste places and not having to cook all the time. I guess what I'm trying to say here is, living in the 7eme was like buying a cashmere sweater from Old Navy. It seemed like a smart idea at the time, but was ultimately boring and disappointing.

Paris to Go

Ban the Use of Plastic Packaging for Organic Produce

Like putting soy sauce in kimchi or casting Mickey Rooney to play an Asian, plastic packaging for organic produce makes zero sense. Currently organic consumers are often forced to buy more plastics than if they purchased conventional produce, including polystyrene, polyethylene, polypropylene, ethylene vinyl acetate, polyethylene terephthalate, nylon, and polyester, all used to produce meshes, bags, hard shells, and more. Many of these materials can only be downcycled or have very low recycling rates (films and polystyrene fall in the latter category). This contributes to the accumulation of plastics in the environment, adversely affecting wildlife, habitat, and humans. Further, metals dispersed for the sake of organic produce packaging may never be recovered. This places those striving for an organic, zero waste lifestyle in a Catch-22. Do we buy produce grown according to our values and support environmental degradation / unnecessary petroleum dependence or choose industrially farmed, petrochemically derived, pesticide laden fruits and vegetables?

Amazing research and design studio Studio Habeas Corpus submitted a petition asking the USDA's National Organic Standards Board to phase out plastics on organics and support the adoption of truly compostable, harmless, environmentally benign materials- none of this biodegradable or recycled plastic garbage. Please sign and share it! The topic of packaging substances was removed from the last National Organic Standards Board meeting due to administrative delays, and if they don't discuss it this Fall 2016, risks being pushed back to next spring. Our goal is 100,000 signatures. Click here to sign and here to learn more on Treehugger.

*Not saying organic is necessarily better or that you have to buy organic, especially as defined by the USDA. I buy things from producers who aren't certified organic but use organic methods. I just think packaging items like oranges, which have their own natural protective barrier, in a plastic shell is stupid. For a discussion of ableism and zero waste, click here.
Paris to Go