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How vintage and secondhand fashion became the biggest trend of 2020

You’ll likely be ringing in the New Year with old clothes.

That is, if the shift that fashion has seen in the last 12 months is any indication. From the rising popularity of resale platforms, or the slew of upcycled designs that appeared on the runways, to the string of celebrities that are now constantly photographed in rare designer pieces, one thing is clear: vintage fashion is in.

Besides, 2020 hasn’t really been a year for new clothes. Many fashion brands have had to halt production, turning their focus to hand sanitisers and masks instead. The pandemic also put off our appetites for frivolous fashion altogether (temporarily, at least). Instead, we kept things simple and sensible with loungewear and sneakers.

In the middle of all this, more people reconsidered secondhand clothes. The stigma around them — they’re bad luck, they’re dirty — slowly faded away as more shoppers appreciated the fact that they’re sustainable. You can wear pre-loved items without worrying about the environmental impact of clothing overproduction. There’s also the thrill of finding something one-of-a-kind to show off on Instagram (or, increasingly, TikTok).

Below, we trace the ways that vintage fashion has left an impact in our shopping habits and found its way into our wardrobes.

Bella McFadden, AKA @internetgirl, is one of the most-followed sellers on Depop. She curates Y2K-inspired fashion. (Photo credit: Bella McFadden / Instagram)

Thrifting is cool, and all the kids are doing it

The majority of shoppers that have embraced vintage fashion are Gen Zers, who know that fast fashion labels like Zara and H&M beloved by Millennials create more waste than our planet can handle. Young shoppers would much rather get their fix of affordable and stylish clothes on Depop, an app where anyone can sell their pre-loved items.

Over 21 million people around the world are on the platform, which has everything from band T-shirts to ’90s designer pieces and Y2K gear. These are often curated by vintage fashion boutiques or passionate thrifters and collectors, but even brands like Rodarte and Anna Sui have joined the app to offer archival styles.

TikTok is another app fuelling the youth’s vintage fashion craze. The social media platform is home to thousands of viral DIY videos and accounts that teach users how to give new life to old clothes instead of throwing them away. One such account is Vintage Stock Reserve, which shares upcycling and sewing tutorials with over 1.8 million followers.

Alexa Demie in a vintage Vivienne Westwood corset sourced from Pechuga Vintage. (Photo credit: Alexa Demie / Instagram)

There are more places to shop vintage than ever

Before, you’d have to sift through thrift shops or eBay listing to find covetable designer pieces of yore. Today, you’ll likely be introduced to yet another vintage fashion boutique just by scrolling through Instagram. The secondhand fashion trend is even catching up to streetwear-obsessed youths in Singapore, through the rise of homegrown boutiques like Loop Garms and Death Threads.

These labels are also becoming the go-to source of rare pieces for celebrities. Kourtney Kardashian, Megan Thee Stallion and Miley Cyrus have all sported ’90s Vivienne Westwood corsets as collected by Pechuga Vintage, while you can almost be certain that anyone wearing early Margiela and Helmut Lang pieces got them through Byronesque.

Outside of Instagram, established resale platforms also continue to grow. Vestiaire Collective, which Bella Hadid is a fan of, recently collaborated with cult-favourite fashion label By Far for a line of upcycled handbags. The RealReal even scored a partnership with Gucci, offering users pre-loved merchandise from both cosigners and the Italian brand itself. Such a collaboration with a luxury label would have been unheard of before 2020.

Princess Beatrice got married in a Norman Hartnell gown from 1961. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Hand-me-down gowns became a wedding trend

There were plenty of major vintage red carpet moments this year: both Joaquin Phoenix and Cate Blanchett recycled their looks from previous award ceremonies, while the likes of Kim Kardashian and Zendaya attended events in vintage Alexander McQueen and Versace.

Their star power certainly sparked our collective interest in secondhand fashion. According to Lyst, the vintage Dior gown that Jennifer Aniston wore to this year’s SAG Awards immediately caused a 40% surge in searches for vintage dresses.

Even more impressive is the influence Princess Beatrice had at her royal wedding. She opted to wear a vintage gown from her grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, down the aisle — a sustainable decision that saw a 297% spike in searches for vintage wedding dresses.

A look from Miu Miu’s first upcycled collection. (Photo credit: Miu Miu)

There was lots of recycling and upcycling on the runway

This year, everyone was left to rethink their idea of luxury — even luxury brands themselves. Ermenegildo Zegna, Burberry and Gucci are just some that have gone out of their way to use recycled materials in their designs. Others, like Prada, Raf Simons and Vivienne Westwood, recycled looks from past collections. Courrèges, the newly-revived French label that helped shape ’70s fashion, has also just launched a capsule of archival pieces.

There was also lots of upcycling. That’s something that Marine Serre, the French designer behind the ubiquitous moon-print bodysuit, knows all about. Serre crafts her pieces with leftover fabrics, utilising everything from discarded denim to old bedsheets. The approach is clearly working, given that her label is one of the breakout brands of 2020, according to Lyst.

Her interest in upcycling is shared by John Galliano, who introduced the “Recicla” line to Maison Margiela in February. It features an array of one-of-a-kind bags, coats, dresses and more, all transformed from items hand-picked in vintage shops and markets. Miu Miu took a similar approach just this month, with its “Upcycled” capsule of reworked vintage dresses from the ’30s to the ’70s.

You can certainly expect a lot more brands to jump on the vintage fashion bandwagon in 2021. Looking into the past might just become the way we go forward into the future.


Header photo credit: Miu Miu

How vintage and secondhand fashion became the biggest trend of 2020

Pameyla Cambe

Senior Writer

Pameyla Cambe is a fashion and jewellery writer who believes that style and substance shouldn't be mutually exclusive. She makes sense of the world through Gothic novels, horror films and music. Lots of music.

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