Is Secondhand Shopping Safe?

 
I don't always dress like it's post Occupation Korea, but when I do it's in secondhand Prada  (similar here) for an impromptu photo shoot with Corey Chattman

Sometimes friends ask to go shopping where I found a particular designer item, but when they realize it's secondhand, they freak out. It's like when the Wu Tang Clan came out and nobody knew how to react because their business structure was so unorthodox. 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 inspection. I used to think it was common sense never to buy cosmetics products secondhand, but it's such a big business in Paris. When buying jars secondhand, inspect for cracks or chips first and don't use old lids, since the seals might be busted or lead-containing. Sterilize like any other jar- I found a Le Parfait jar in the street and just boiled it. Use common sense with metal items, including 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. 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

26 comments:

  1. Breast pumps can be sterilized! The pump itself doesn't touch anything. Same with The plastic tubing. The only thing that touches nipples are the funnels, which sends the milk to bottles. Both the funnel and the bottle can be boiled to sterilize!

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    1. Oh ok! Thank you for sharing that! Shows how much I know about baby stuff haha. I must have read that somewhere and not being familiar with the equipment just accepted it as true

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    2. My breast pump was secondhand. Since plastic is porous (and I didn't know the history of the pump) I just replaced the funnels, bottles and tubes. Ariana, your dress is stunning (as are you). I've been buying most everything secondhand for the last few years. Almost everything can be cleaned and/or sterilized. Thanks for the cleaning tips!

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    3. That is great info! That's true, most things can be sterilized- and aw thank you so much, you are too sweet :)

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  2. Yes agree, breastfeeding is totally zero waste and all parts of the pump that need sterilising can be boiled and reused unless mouldy.

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  3. Glad to have the voice of experience! See even I fall prey to secondhand fearmongering

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  4. Would you be offended if I said 'How Kate Middleton but very original' !!?

    I am glad you are posting pictures. If I lived in the same city as you, I would have pestered you to let me take some of your photographs.

    One note I would like to add about second hand shopping :

    Know a little about assessing quality. I have purchased some items at the end of their life span from high end designers because I liked the design and the eBay seller said its lightly worn. My husband is in general not very receptive to second hand purchases. I purchased a pair of Ferragamo shoes this July to show him how high quality is in reach for pennies. And then the sole detached on day 2 at his work place and we have been running behind cobblers since. Its definitely not without problems. Some items are really at the end of their cycle. I am very careful now.

    I have so many folks who are repulsed when I tell them I purchased something second hand. My best friend sent me an email asking me to stop mentioning that I purchased my clothes second hand because she thinks my readers will find it repelling as well. Second hand shopping invokes images of folks sifting through piles of garbage for a lot of people I know. Sad, but true. Thank you for this post.

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    1. The Kate Middleton look was my dream!! For so long! Your blog is a wealth of information on quality and lessons learned shopping. I am surprised that secondhand is still viewed as repellent though! I thought with the success of Real Real and Poshmark and Vestiaire Collective that the tide had changed and secondhand shopping was viewed as savvy now. But it's true, the moth ridden, grungy thrift stores still define the genre. Too bad that eBay seller was deceptive.

      When you come to Paris, stay with me! I'll treat you to lunch and you can take photos haha but in the end you will be so exasperated with me I think

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    2. If i land in Paris, we are going to make a video that will make people smile. And I would be getting the better end of the deal.

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  5. This reminds me of a blog entry from a financial independence blog I read (they have a very minimalist approach to consumption) http://www.frugalwoods.com/2016/09/02/the-myth-of-the-gross-used-things/ though they focus a little more on home goods and furniture than clothing.

    I've actually never really been around people who specifically say they find secondhand clothing gross! Among my more fashionable friends, thrift shopping was always seen as kind of a cool thing to do, maybe partially because our most-wanted aspirational designer items were out of reach at retail prices. Come to think of it, I've probably bought secondhand shoes (Ferragamo) that were a little too over the hill to be of good value as the insides of the shoes were... clearly used (the outside of the shoes still look great though).

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    1. That post is so funny and much more detailed than mine, those arguments are really good about hotels and restaurants- why do people have a stigma with secondhand goods when they have no problem with those? And hotels are such dirty places... plus every time I read the retail threads on Reddit I'm disgusted. My cobbler said insoles can be replaced pretty easily (I know this because once a cat chewed my insoles) but I haven't had much experience with that- it may depend on the shoe. Glad you have such a supportive group of people around you!

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  6. 1st: you're absolutely stunning.
    You're second hand Dior dresses are beautiful. I have been shopping ebay for eons and other times I'm surprised at things that I was able to sell on ebay. I have practically beautiful new things that don't sell, and then beat up "luxury" items that will sell instantly. Strange! But one's trash is another's treasure.

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    1. You are so stunning I am awed that you said that! And I see your gorgeous things on your blog... it is funny what sells and what doesn't. Ebay is a fickle market.

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  7. I buy all my clothes secondhand, but I've been timid about branching out any further into homegoods,etc, because I didn't know a good way to sanitize them. As always, thank you for your insightful posts! :)

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    1. I'm so glad, thank you for telling me this! Yea I've bought teacups and kettles and all my plates and utensils secondhand, my electric kettle is used and I had no problems sterilizing it. No worries :)

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  8. How can you possibly hate yourself on pictures ? you look so pretty and sweet! (much prettier than Kate M :-)

    Very useful post: I do not shop secondhand, though, but for different reasons. The first one is that I do not know any shop around (but you probably have an address list somewhere on this blog :-). The second is that I shop very rarely now, and am looking for specific items, on a special color that fits my other clothes, in my size and fitting my body, natural fibers, machinewashable, easy to iron so not strangely pleated, which is a pity because I love the kind of dress you wear on the picture. I once made my wedding dress, with a nice pleat in the front but I don't want to wash it because I am afraid it will destroy the pleat and I have no idea how to get it back... I prefer taking time to find a made in France thing, which is not so easy despite la Fabrique hexagonale ! But you are right: new or secondhand, the question is: how to make it last ?

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    1. You are too nice Pandore! Your wedding dress sounds amazing, I never even thought to make mine, you must be very talented! Yes supporting made in France is good as well. As long as we take care of our things and don't buy too much, it's much better for the environment.

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  9. A German blogger tried the chestnut laundry detergent and wrote that it works better than soapnuts :)

    How do you steam stuff?

    Recently I have starting putting all the stuff that I buy secondhand into the sun, as well as my own bedding and pillows. I read about how the UV rays of the sun zap all the bacteria and mold.


    I totally adore your dress, it's an amazing blend of Safari and ballgown. Do keep posting pictures, you look great and it's so interesting so see how your wardrobe works :)

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    1. Ooh I saw that post finally! Looks intriguing. I rent a steamer, but I use the sun sanitization method more often. Thank you so much ;)

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  10. I love your Beauty and the Beast analogy at the end! I hope to one day have a wardrobe and apartment as beautiful as yours!

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  11. Ariana, you very modest beauty, you. Don't be silly, post more pics of yourself. I love seeing your face! I also love resale shops and have taken to only purchasing 2nd hand clothing again. In my teens it was my only option, in my twenties I did it to be unique, now I'm back at it and this time I am managing to supplement my office attire. I love how you dress and even found a pleated black skirt similar to yours, but I rarely wear it because it is too fancy for my usual style (I hoped to be a fancier lady, but I am forever a tomboy). I style it waaaaayyy down compared to your pairings. Keep up the beautiful work + Kisses to Kar and Toffel!

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  12. Stunning photos! :)

    I second what the other ladies say about breast pumps. Unfortunately, I've learned be experience that the batteries are designed to last only about a year (probably intentionally for more reasons than one), which bothers me as an EBF pumping mom trying to reduce and reuse everything!

    (EBF: extended breastfeeding, which is usually past a year in the US)

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    1. Aw thanks Samantha! Ah interesting about the batteries, I hadn't thought of that. Too bad they don't offer rechargeable ones!

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