I launched an Epigram survey for one week to discover what motivates Bristol students to wear second hand and vintage clothing. It revealed that most Bristol students buy their second hand clothing from charity shops (70%), with fewer buying online (43%) and fewer still buying from vintage retail outlets (38%). This illustrates the most obvious hype for the fashion decision- budget- vintage stores charging the highest prices and charity shops the lowest. But the decision to buy second hand isn’t interesting from a monetary perspective. The survey reports that second to budget, the most popular reason for buying vintage is, to be more unique.
82% Bristol students in the survey think that second hand clothing is more popular at Bristol than other universities
It seems important to Bristol students to cultivate an individual look. A few of the survey’s comments help explain why; “the university itself now has a self-perpetuating reputation for containing independently-minded students” and “those who do not come to the university for these reasons may be influenced by their new peers who have or the culture of the city.” The aspirations of many students are to be perceived as unique and “second-hand clothes allow you to wear something others don’t own”.
Bristol attracts students interested in independent culture
However, it’s hard to see when such an outlet enabling people to feel unique, such as one-off second-hand clothing, becomes a fashion trend. Sceptics in the survey translate the ‘individual’ look as a cult fashion following, “the ‘I didn’t try hard look”; “it’s considered cool in Bristol so people buy vintage brands, essentially to be cool.” Has the pursuit of unique, cheap clothing turned into a mindless trend; the Bristol ‘edge’ stereotype?
It’s true that many of the students in the survey thought of second-hand fashion in a particularly unconscientious way, in their lack of regards to the environmental benefits. The significant majority of participants gave a neutral answer to the question of whether environmental concerns were a strong motivation for shopping second hand; 11% strongly disagreed that this was a factor in their shopping.
As a parallel culture to second-hand fashion, mindful consumerism is growing in popularity. Even though the general consensus of the survey disregarded environmental concerns, some praised the direction of fashion consumerism at Bristol: “It’s great that more people are aware of ethical fashion now than before, and are willing to buy second hand to reduce waste and stop supporting exploitative companies. The connotations of charity shops and vintage clothing are a lot more positive and open-minded.”
I originally sought to distinguish three motivations amongst those who love second-hand clothing: budget, aesthetic and ethic. Although, from the results of the survey there’s a contrast in the aesthetic motivations of those wanting to be unique versus those who want to copy the ‘edgy look’ as a trend.
Another influence to consider is that second-hand fashion at Bristol University might originate from the city’s strong independent culture. 82% Bristol students in the survey think that second-hand clothing is more popular at Bristol than other universities. I think this has to do with the city’s focus on independent shopping, with the opportunity to shop second hand. There are five-second hand clothing shops on Park Street alone, not to mention Gloucester Road and St Nicholas’ Market. Due to the music, arts and independent culture “Bristol attracts a more arty and creative type of person”.
It’s great that more people are aware of ethical fashion now than before, and are willing to buy second hand to reduce waste and stop supporting exploitative companies.
As Depop is a favourite online shop for second-hand clothing, second to eBay in the survey, I think it’s worth uncovering a bit more about the app. Only 5% bristol students have gone to a formal clothes swap event, yet many use the mobile app to buy, sell or swap clothes. Depop is yet another app which provides a formalised way into the rapidly growing sharing economy, with Bla Bla Car and airbnb as common favourites too. Sarah Booth, strategist at a global advertising agency, emphasises the sense of community that the app creates: “It’s partly a shared economy thing: it’s nice to buy things from normal girls… It’s a lovely community and filled with the most interesting stuff”. Offline too, owner of Rag Trade Boutique, Bristol, claims that the sense of community is key to the second hand trade; the boutique has 3,000 women invested in the small second-hand fashion outlet.
Raz Godelnik, for Triplepundit, recognises the importance for sustainable second-hand clothing apps to create a shopping high; “if these platforms… learn how to create a dopamine rush… they could become sustainability’s most effective Jiu-Jitsu manoeuvre in its fight against reckless consumption.” You still need to recognise the quantity of clothing you’re acquiring second hand though; buying second hand to be sustainable is self-defeating in large quantities as it simply perpetuates the fast-fashion culture. For those who feel strongly about sustainability and protecting the environment from fast fashion, clothes swapping produces a guilt-free, materialism high.
As a community ethos filters into the second-hand fashion culture, I think swapping second-hand items, rather than buying, should become a bigger trend. Bristol University run their own clothes swap at the Multifaith Chaplaincy but for larger-scale swaps in Bristol, it is better to look out for swish parties. Hamilton House in Stokes Croft, for example, hosted one this year in collaboration with the charity ‘Labour Behind the Label’.
I hope the popularity of second-hand clothing continues to grow in Bristol. De facto, or intentionally, we’re creating a community of more sustainable, fashionable students.
Photos taken at The White Bear: BS2 8BS
Black boots purchased from Urban Fox vintage: BS1 1JG