How to buy high-end fashion on a budget

How to buy high-end fashion on a budget

Vintage and secondhand shopping continues its epic rise, with circularity a fashion buzzword that is having a simple but profound impact on how we shop now.

A recent report from online thrift marketplace ThredUp valued the secondhand industry at $177 billion USD ($284b NZD) in global sales last year; a 28% increase. They credited that to rising inflation, more secondhand and resale offerings and a deeper appreciation from consumers of the impact of their shopping.

The report also predicted that the secondhand industry will double to $351 billion in global sales by 2027 – with plenty of businesses and brands jumping on the reloved train, to appeal to conscious shoppers and Gen Z.

* Inflation is helping drive a boom in secondhand shopping
* Former PM Jacinda Ardern’s Trade Me habit is so real
* How vintage hunter Rosie Carroll always finds the ‘good stuff’
* Shop sustainably or ethically, or should we not be buying at all?

It also reflects the broader shifts that have occurred in the fashion and retail industries. Next week marks a decade since the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building in Bangladesh, which saw more than 1000 garment workers killed and many more injured. The impact of that horrific event has been significant, with the fashion industry forced to become more aware of its impact – and consumers too wanting more transparency.

From an industry perspective, vintage and secondhand are also another way for brands and stores to ensure they are offering sustainable considerations. But importantly for the rest of us, secondhand can be an affordable way to update your wardrobe with a bargain.

Vintage shopping vibes in London in 1969.

Getty Images

Vintage shopping vibes in London in 1969.

Let us be real though: ‘budget’ is a subjective term, and when it comes to designer fashion, you’re going to struggle to find something for under $5. But it is possible to find a decent bargain: I recently bought a ‘vintage’ Karen Walker skirt on TradeMe for $16, and a floral print dress from one of my favourite, now defunct brands, Luella on eBay for $45.

It’s important to note too, the wider impact of the ‘gentrification’ of secondhand: increased popularity leads to increased prices; pricing out the people who genuinely are in need of more affordable clothing – you just have to look at the prices at the likes of SaveMart now compared to years ago. There are some simple and clever ways to get your hands on some designer fashion without investing half of your savings – here’s how.

Follow some Instagram sellers

Social media has changed the way we shop, with the likes of Facebook marketplace and Instagram shopping (there are some, generally of the younger generation, who only shop via their phones). Following some decent sellers, both NZ-based and overseas, will make your feed shoppable as well as offering some styling tips for pieces you already have in your wardrobe.

I follow too many, but some of my go-tos include Silly Billy Vintage, YoHoZo, Bizarre Bazaar (a physical store in Wellington, but they share lots of great things), GoJo, Vintage Stylist’s Own and Ramona’s Archives.

The best way to find resellers that fit with your style and lifestyle – and body – is to see who some of your favourite sellers or stylish people are following. Some sellers will often pop up at local markets too; a good way to keep up and go and see what they have to offer in real life.

Dianne Ludwig of Welcome Back Slow Fashion gets a lot of coverage, for good reason – she’s my favourite Instagram reseller because she always offers a story or history lesson behind the garments she’s offering.

Recently she’s been selling some fantastic pieces from local designers from the past, including Alexandra Owen, Mala Brajkovic, Nicholas Blanchet and El Jay.

A standout Patrick Steel dress from the 1980s came from her own wardrobe archive, “the coolest thing I own, but it needs to find more of a “Patrick” lifestyle. It’s wasted on me”, she wrote (it quickly sold, going to a very lucky new owner).

Perfect the search

There are countless websites with vintage offerings, and everyone has their favourites – it’s worth asking your favourite stylish people for theirs, as you’re likely to come across something new. Trade Me has been a go-to of mine for years, and they recently showcased their vintage offering with a show of vintage pieces styled by Sammy Salsa. I also rate global sites like eBay, The Real Real, Vestiaire Collective, Etsy and Depop.

Milan-based influencer Jenny Walton is one of my favourite social media follows, with her ladylike style and love of the vintage hunt. Walton is obsessed, like me, with archival Prada, and will often share her finds and tips – and there is an art to shopping these online vintage sites without getting overwhelmed and giving up.

She’ll peruse global sites like Vinted, Poshmark, Vestiaire Collective, and explained her simple but obsessive process to Harper’s Bazaar last year. “The best thing you can do is just search Prada and do the whole f…..g thing. You need a lot of patience and time,” Walton says. “However, this is my pastime.”

She attended the Venice Film Festival wearing a vintage Prada dress from 2008; gifted to her by a friend who had bought it years earlier on eBay for about $250 – having fashion obsessed friends who also know how to shop these vintage sites and will send you pieces that are ‘very you’ also helps (I have two who do this for me).

A look inside vintage store Nifty on Christchurch’s Cashel Street.


A look inside vintage store Nifty on Christchurch’s Cashel Street.

Rethink ‘recycle’

Vintage and secondhand stores and opshops are par for the course for a bargain or unexpected find. But the mainstreaming of vintage and secondhand has led to what the industry calls ‘resale’, with designers and stores offering customers the chance get their hands on something from the past.

Kate Sylvester launched a customer-led ‘reloved’ programme in 2019, allowing people to buy and sell preloved pieces from the brand – you can find some real archival gems in there.

Gucci too has entered the vintage space, with an online ‘vault’ of vintage pieces and collectors items, as well as ‘Gucci Continuum’ featuring new items made from archival materials from the brand.

There are also plenty of luxury resale sites that offer curated marketplaces of designer pieces from specific collections. Locally, we have online versions and physical stores from the likes of Designer Wardrobe, Scotties Recycle, Tatty’s and more. I have Parisian-based Re-SEE bookmarked, though so far I’ve only window shopped as the prices are still very expensive.

Fast fashion is getting in on the act too: earlier this year, H&M announced it would be launching an online resale platform with ThredUp; while in 2020 Glassons was selling vintage clothes alongside new garments. Both came with criticism of being a band-aid over the real problem of fast fashion perpetuating the wasteful consumerism cycle, which can extend to secondhand too.

Sample sales

Recently there was a flurry of sample sales from local brands, as brands looked to clear some of their excess garments ahead of the end of the financial year and the new season (and predicted recession). I find sample sales an unbelievably stressful environment to shop in, but for those who are serious about a designer bargain they can be ideal – follow your favourite brands on social media to be alerted when they hold their own around the country.


– Know your measurements. It’s not about size, but the shape of your body: invest in a measuring tape, and learn how to use it. It will make shopping online much easier.

– Know what you’re looking for. Searching ‘black dress’ is likely to overwhelm you with 10000+ results, but if you have certain brands you love and often wear, keep the focus on that.

– Ask questions. Don’t be that person who asks for measurements that are already listed, but you should ask about the fabric, any marks or about fit.

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