Secondhand; first choice.

I’ve long been a fan of Mia Freedman, and her first book, The New Black, is one of my favourites. I’m particularly fond of chapter three – Cheap is the New Black – where Mia argues that “wearing a bargain” comes with its own level of fashion cred. More important than the book though are the questions this chapter made me ask myself:

What does it mean to wear a bargain?

For many people it means shopping at chain-stores that specialise in low-cost, low-quality items. These stores are so on-trend, new styles are on the rack only days after they’ve been designed. Known as “fast fashion”, this incredible turnaround rate has resulted in a “Macca’s burger and fries” approach to shopping. Why pay $500 for a Scanlan and Theodore dress when you could overhaul your entire wardrobe for less at Big W?

But the shiny surfaces and sparkly synthetics hide a dark truth about where these clothes are made. Sweatshops and child labour are still a horrifying reality in developing countries, kept in business by many brands widely available in Australia and overseas. Suffice to say, like most fast food, “fast fashion” can be described as unhealthy, and ultimately unsatisfying.

So does wearing a bargain always have to come at such a high cost?

Fortunately not, and there are a few simple ways to ensure you’re as ethical as you are elegant. Firstly, find out which brands are doing the right thing by visiting the Ethical Clothing Australia website – ethicalclothingaustralia.org.au – as well as the websites of your favourite retailers. If they don’t have a social responsibility statement that includes ethical trade, send an email asking for more information. Feel good in the knowledge that by being picky about what you purchase, any bargains you find can be enjoyed without a side order of guilt.

Secondly, consider going minimalist. Instead of snapping up every bargain you see, build a wardrobe based on quality pieces that are designed to last. By embracing “slow fashion”, you can focus on buying better, but fewer, clothes. This will save money in the long run because every item will earn its place time and time again. What’s more, there are an increasing number of labels worth investing in, such as Indigo Bazaar, which sell fair trade and organic clothing.

Is there any other way to get a quick and inexpensive fashion fix?

There certainly is, and while it might not seem glamorous, the virtues of secondhand shopping provide much food for thought. Whether markets, eBay, vintage stores or charity shops, second had shopping offers an ethical and environmentally friendly way to shop. By buying secondhand clothes you’re recycling what might otherwise end up in landfill and helping to stop the “fast fashion” cycle of buy, use and throw away. Furthermore, opportunity shopping is just that – the opportunity to experiment with a greater variety and better quality of clothes. All at a lower price than what’s being offered in the mainstream.

Personally, I can’t think of any form of shopping that offers the same satisfaction – and bargain possibilities – as a charity store. And while the patience and delayed gratification it encourages may not be for everyone, if you want a bargain and a clear conscious to boot, consider secondhand shopping the best way to have your cake and eat it too.