The history of the second hand clothing trade pre, during and post Industrial Revolution.

The world trade of second-hand clothing has a long history. Until the mid-19th century, second-hand clothing was a vital way of acquiring clothing. Only through industrialization, mass production, and increased incomes, was the general public able to buy new, rather than second-hand clothing.

During the colonial days of Europe, second-hand garments were exported to the colonies, and locally, charity shops arose that catered to the poor.

Since the Second World War, the second-hand clothing trade, worldwide, has grown considerably. With environmental problems being of great relevance and taking into consideration the pollution produced by the fashion industry, people are learning to be more respectful with the environment, causing ,among other things, thrift stores to become very fashionable.

The Internet has strongly added to the online trade of second-hand clothing.


Second-hand clothing: Clothing that has been owned by someone else.

Second-hand market: According to marketing: it is the group of consumers who want, can and are willing to buy or sell a product offered.

Thrift Retailer: Includes physical stores such as vintage shops / boutiques, consignment shops, charity shops and thrift stores, online auctions and individual exchange methods, garage sales, flea markets, exchange parties, etc.

Vintage Shop / Boutique: Generally operated by a private owner who sells clothing that has not been recently designed. The store buys all items from trade meetings, and vintage fairs, and resells items for a premium.

Consignment store: The store takes a percentage of sales in return. Stores generally sell clothing in good condition and return items to owners if they are not sold after a designated period of time.

Thrift / Charity Shop: Places where donated items are sold. The store generally operates on a non-profit basis, and the proceeds from sales go to social programs. The Salvation Army and Goodwill are good examples.

History of second-hand trade

The use of second hand clothing began in the 1980s, however, the consumption of second-hand clothing has been registered since the 1200s, influencing cultures and the economy in main European cities.

Pre Industrial Revolution Period (1400 - 1700)

Exchanges of second-hand clothing originated in the guild markets in several European cities.

Newly made clothing was a luxury item, available only to the wealthy who could afford its high cost. However, second-hand clothing was sold at a reasonable price to the general population who could not afford to buy new clothing, and was widely marketed across the spectrum of social classes.

The guild for the second-hand clothing trade was founded in 1280 in Florence, Italy, where the "rigattiere" appeared, a kind of guild that dealt with this trade.

The occupation of "rigattiere" - street vendor - also greatly influenced the clothing trade in the Renaissance era. The Renaissance is the period in European history that marks the transition from the Middle Ages to Modernity around the 15th and 16th centuries.

There are significant differences between the "rigattiere" and today's second-hand retailers, such as the Salvation Army. The "rigattiere" did not deal with "old" or "worn out" clothing, but with revalued garments made from used clothing. To market the revalued garments, they must be in good enough condition to maintain their value and last for at least several years.

Exchanges of second-hand clothing have also been recorded during the 16th and 17th centuries in Venice.

The term "strazzaruoli" indicated the class of the guild that dealt with second-hand clothing in Venice. Although the guild had to register and follow regulations, many unsophisticated or illegal activities were associated with second-hand clothing.

For example, the "strazzaruoli" was supposed to sell second-hand clothes only from registered stores or public markets, due to the fact that the guild authorities had to control second-hand clothing exchanges.

Health officials also restricted exchanges, as the second-hand clothing trade was believed to spread the plague. However, unregistered vendors (street vendors or registered corrupt vendors) re-sold clothing anyway.

Exchanges of second-hand clothing have also been recorded during the 16th and 17th centuries in Venice.

Records indicate that despite restrictions, second-hand exchanges were essential sources of clothing between Florentines and Venetians before clothing was produced in large quantities and became cheap.

Period of the industrial revolution ( 1700 - 1850)

In the era of the early industrial revolution, before mass production fully satisfied the population's clothing needs, second-hand clothing shops flourished and became common in England with the increasing abundance of materials.

However, second-hand clothing was traded in irregular, informal, small-scale transactions, using word-of-mouth advertising building local reputation.

The second-hand clothing trade was widespread in London and other major cities in the early 18th century due to its increasing demand from the poorest population.

Like the Renaissance era, second-hand clothing was an alternative option to new clothing that was only accessible to the highest social classes.

Second-hand clothing was in high demand by both the poor and the wealthy because it also offered a wider variety. Therefore, the general population preferred second-hand clothing during the era of the industrial revolution.

Merchants during the industrial revolution were unregulated, but several criminal records that were rescued provide useful historical accounts for the pre-1800's retail.

Many second-hand clothing vendors used an integrity and honesty scheme for profit, when in reality they engaged in crime and illegal operations. Concessionaires operated small-scale businesses in irregular and unstructured business transactions. Various irregular types of second-hand clothing exchanges were carried out by statesmen, hairdressers, tailors, pawn shops, and even legally constituted store owners.

Products such as accessories, dresses, wigs, corsets, and even stolen clothing and funeral coats were also altered and repaired to last longer.

Trade networks spread from London to other metropolitan areas, and circulated across the nation.

Second-hand goods marketed in the southern part of the Netherlands during this time were mainly kitchen utensils, followed by clothing, bedding, furniture and luxury items.

Bedding was one of the most expensive items among second-hand products, for example it is said that they could cost from five to ten guilders. Considering that the cost of a gold ring was five guilders, bedding was a very luxurious item that was sometimes exchanged for dowries.

Active second-hand clothing businesses were also widespread in Madrid, Spain, and prevailed during the 18th century. The influx of workers increased the size of the city and society became more complex, causing social polarization and divergent demands from the social classes.

Post-Industrial Revolution Period (1850 - Present)

The flow of exchanges shifted long after the Industrial Revolution, although the number of second-hand exchanges in London peaked in the mid-19th century.

At the end of the 19th century, the number of shops decreased by half, coinciding with an increase in the number of ready-made garments that offered variety and reduced prices.

Furthermore, the emerging social class of single working women, able to pay for new clothes, demanded new clothes as a symbol of pride in their abilities. The ready-made clothing was sufficient to meet clothing needs of young and working women, as well as that of the general population.

Here the development of the spinning wheel - spinning wheel - decreased the number of exchanges of second-hand clothes. This new machine, capable of converting wool, cotton or old clothes into fabric yarn, allowed old clothes to be recycled and played an important role in the production of ready-made garments.

With the advancement of technology capable of producing ready-made clothing and recycling yarn, used clothing was welcomed only by poor families, who had the ability to alter their clothing.


Currently, ready-to-wear clothing has overwhelmed the market. This level of consumption has led to a current waste disposal crisis facing many developed countries.

Only a small portion of disposable or unwanted clothing is donated or exported to African, Arab countries or Latin American countries.

However, the meaning of wearing second-hand clothing has changed since the 1990s, coinciding with new fashion styles, such as "retro" fashion and the revival of the 1970s styles.

The current attitude that wearing vintage clothing is elegant differs from previous times, when poverty forced to wear it. Consumers today recognize the importance of second-hand clothing when it comes to sustainability issues.

The customer base in the second-hand clothing market is often extremely cost conscious and often promotes ideologies of sustainability and environmentalism.

Secondhand clothing, after all, is recycling used and / or unwanted clothing, and this reciprocal buy / sell / trade transaction between customer and retailer saves an incalculable amount of unwanted clothing from leaving to landfills. On a larger scale, textile recycling warehouses, which sort used clothes, have become very influential in the second-hand trade.

These classified garments are compressed into 50 kilogram (110 lb) bales and exported. Second-hand unsorted clothing can be compressed into bales of 500 to 1000 kg. The best-rated used clothing is exported to Central American countries and the lowest-rated clothing is shipped to Africa and Asia. Centers for the commercial classification of used clothing are located in South Asia, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands and Hungary.

Second-hand trade has more than doubled between 1991 and 2004 due to increased demand from the former eastern bloc and in African countries.

In wealthy western countries, used and second-hand clothing occupies an important market niche, and in third world countries, second-hand clothing imported from the west is a basic source of clothing supply.

The largest exporters of used clothing are the United States, followed by the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands. The world's largest importers of used clothing are sub-Saharan countries, which receive more than 25% of world exports of used clothing.

Some countries, such as the Philippines and India, prohibit the import of second-hand clothing to protect the local textile industry.

Other countries like Pakistan, Uganda or South Africa, which have a flourishing textile industry, have limited or no restrictions.

Second-hand trade varies from country to country. For example, in Nigeria and Senegal, second-hand clothing reflects local traditional styles and is mainly produced locally.

In contrast, thrift stores in South Africa or Zambia reflect western fashion trends, adopting western ways to change secondhand clothing to local conditions.

South Africans use Gumtree, eBay or Craigslist to exchange their second-hand clothes and other products.

In economic hubs like Cape Town, you can find charity stores as well as boutique-style designer clothing stores like 2nd Take to reflect the diverse demand for second-hand fashion.

The cycle of second-hand clothing appears to be perpetual and lucrative. This applies to consignment stores like 2nd Take, where designer clothes that sit too long on sales shelves are returned to their owners or donated to charities or stores that will sell unsold clothing at textile recyclers or secondhand stores.

The Association of Resale Professionals reports that the number of nonprofit resale, consignment, and resale stores currently exceeds 25,000 in the United States, with a growth rate of 67% between 1999 and 2012.

Spurred by consumer interest in resale clothing, multiple second-hand retail formats have emerged including: vintage stores, charity / thrift stores, consignment stores, retro stores, garage sales, exchanges, flea markets, costume agencies, auctions, antique fairs and a range of various modalities.

Second-hand clothing buyers seem to be motivated by several factors. Fair price, ethics, environmental concerns and recreational benefits have allowed the proliferation of second-hand markets.

The authenticity of fashion and vintage uniqueness are other attractive features for today's consumers. Price, a desire to try on clothes, environmental consumption, and hobbies are reasons to shop at vintage stores.

Additionally, second-hand retailers fill a need that traditional retailers cannot provide (nostalgic sentiment, treasure hunting, and bargain hunting), allowing second-hand retailers to compete with traditional retailers.

Second-hand retail has been considered a secondary market, and has recently been accepted as a retail format. This approach suggests a weakness in the business strategy that leads to lost opportunities and income.

Increased sales of second-hand clothing in US markets is crucial for green consumption and environmental solutions.

Overall, the US second-hand clothing market reports around $1 billion in annual sales.

However, only very small amounts of second-hand clothing are exported to other countries, due to second-hand clothing import regulation, licensing issues, and high tariffs.


Iowa State University Capstones, Theses and Dissertations

by Jinhee Han


Carolina Chavez clothes: Jacket from Goodwill, white T-shirt from Everlane

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