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inVested: Shopping ‘secondhand first’ isn’t always so easy, but it matters
Photo: Polina Tankilevitch/Pexels

inVested: Shopping ‘secondhand first’ isn’t always so easy, but it matters


The siren call of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales is oh-so-loud, but does it align with a secondhand-first lifestyle? Especially when the “deals” are for items of subpar quality? Columnist Genevieve Smith shares a recent experience at a popular clothing store — and what made her walk out

I went to the dark place the other day. I almost bought a crepe silk vest at Aritzia. I had been eyeing it since borrowing a similar one from a friend for an event. I’m just looking, I told myself, as I put my arms through it. There’s something about a tailored black vest and a trouser that I find chic, irresistibly timeless.

That’s where I hit a wall. Timeless look, yes, but the vest itself won’t last.

Not only is crepe notorious for snagging, but Aritzia has been under heavy fire online and in the media for the enormous wage gap between its skilled textile workers and the CEO, whose primary function seems to be to serve as a mouthpiece for mid-quality, unoriginal basics you can find on every street corner in Toronto.

Beyond that, the United States populace has discovered they can take to the online shop to completely decimate the stock on every single item in every single size. Which is how I found myself walking into a storefront on Bloor, which, if you know me, would never happen otherwise.

So there I was, looking adorable in my little vest, and the unmistakable pang of guilt, anxiety and disgust hit me. My reflection looked great, but the corners of my mouth were pulling down like the loose threads on Artizia’s Sculpt collection.

The decision split out in front of me. Can I spend an entire phone bill on 14 inches of cloth that won’t make it to my 30th birthday? How do I justify this purchase when I preach secondhand first? How much of this $133.36 will the designer or the garment worker receive? How much free advertising am I doing for Artizia despite despising their brand ethics and general vibe? Then the salesperson turned to me.

“That looks great on you, babe.”

I smiled, and responded, not unkindly, “That was never the problem here.”

Some may find that comment pointed, rude, maybe even passive-aggressive, but I stand by it. It’s not that the clothes aren’t cute! They have always been cute enough to sell, to buy, to wear, to think about, to put in our carts and then exit without checking out. The clothes are (mostly) not the problem.

The first of many problems within this issue is that Aritzia, like many other brands, used to ascribe to a certain quality/price guarantee. You paid more than you did at H&M, so you got more than you did at H&M. The construction, design and quality of the garments they were producing in the 2010s have carried some of my outfits from high school to my late twenties.

That being said, the pieces I have purchased sporadically since 2020 have been disappointedly poor quality, exorbitantly priced and splashed with logos I never asked for.

On the horizon of the style landscape, we see a resurgence in quiet luxury, which by nature strays away from bragging about brand, and avoids logos at all cost. A good piece should speak for itself — please don’t put a massive TNA embroidery on an otherwise blank garment that I clearly bought to avoid being perceived.

Furthermore, if you have the nerve to charge me $198 for a simple cashmere sweater, don’t be surprised that I will be furious to discover it’s pilling after three wears.

Which brings me back to the real issue at hand — if I am to invest in quality pieces, how do I measure those metrics? This little black vest is poorly tailored; the inside seams aren’t lining up with the lining of the vest, and I can see a snag in the crepe fabric from where it must have rubbed up against, well, literally anything.

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I was holding off on buying this vest for a multitude of reasons. We now know that I don’t believe it to be worth its outright cost. We also know that I take issue with wage gaps in the textile market, and that all the vests in the world wouldn’t make it fair.

The one tenet of this vest debacle, I think, that's the biggest for me: I could thrift one, get it tailored and have it for less money, but that involves time, patience and effort. I just want it now.

For so many years of my life, I have upheld strong beliefs about the inherent morality we display with every choice we make. I don’t like litterbugs, but I don’t mind smokers who dispose of their butts properly. I can’t police the air quality, but making the decision to walk the extra foot to the ashtray says you care about our waterways and the health of our city, or at least says you care enough about what other people think of you to avoid flicking your garbage like it’s your right.

This translates directly to how I shop. I try to buy what I need, not just what I want, and I always try to buy it secondhand or locally first. I can count the amount of online purchases I have made in the last three years on one hand — but I’m only human. I, too, want new, nice things. That’s only natural.

I think very hard before purchasing anything from a major brand, and I weigh quality natural fibres and proper construction over total cost. I waited a year and a half to get on the damn loafer train because I refused to pay anyone more than $40 for shoes made of polyurethane.

When I found real leather loafers made sustainably in Portugal, I bit. It still took me two hours at the mall to tour the other establishments comparing price, quality and brand values. That took effort. It took effort not to cave to Call It Spring, Steve Madden and The Bay, and the voices that demanded Now! Now!

That’s the last tenet: I don’t want to live in a world where we Need New Things to Feel Good Enough. Do I not feel good enough about myself without this freaking vest? Why is my mind racing thinking of all the ways this purchase would change my life, revolutionize my wardrobe, shift my identity closer to some ideal I can't quite reach, or even settle on?

I know it won’t — and that’s why I’m vestless, and angry.

Angry that modern society created a system (capitalism) that incorrectly maintains that it can successfully divide, multiply and grow, unrestricted by space, time, resources or consequence.

Angry that they create a narrative that convinces us that if we work more, do more, buy more, we become more, are worth more, can do more.

Angry that not buying the vest won’t change the fact that our oceans are rising, our coral reefs are bleached, our garment workers make cents on the dollar, our rivers are choked out with garbage, and that we as a collective are desperate for connection, not consumption.

I’m going to call my sisters and hear about how their days went. I’m going to keep my eye out for a vest worth tailoring at the thrift store. And I’m going to keep being vocal about why I don’t buy certain things, even when I want them. I want to believe that I don’t Need Things to Be Enough. I’m still working on it, but I’m a closet half-full girl.

Genevieve Smith is a fashion stylist, writer and founder of Gifts of Thrift. As a yard sale enthusiast, thrift store supporter, and die-hard environmental entrepreneur, she has spent the last two decades trying to figure out how to convince people it is, in fact, cooler to care. Her bimonthly column for The Vintage Seeker, ThreadFul, covers the intersection of thrifting, secondhand fashion, ethical style and sustainability.

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