Magazine article The Spectator

Having Second Thoughts

Magazine article The Spectator

Having Second Thoughts

Article excerpt

THERE comes a time in every woman's life when she finds herself staring into the window of a second-hand dress shop. It is a defining moment, like reading one's first Proust, receiving one's first kiss and then one's first kiss-off. 'Second-hand Rose, they call me,' sang Barbra Streisand. Oh, but in those days it was kept in the family.

Suddenly, second-hand dress shops are becoming one of the largest growth industries in Britain. It is well nigh impossible to amble down a reasonably sized metropolitan high street without running into a sign bearing the words 'Designer Sale Shop' or 'Couture for Less'. And less is more. The metropolis is, as Mary Crawford remarked, a fair sample of the whole.

The late but not tardy Jacqueline Onassis was one of the first women to suss the financial opportunities (credit side) implicit in hand-me-on clothes. She bought using her husband's money, of course numerous couture pieces from Paris and Milan and then sold them on, having worn them once or even not at all. In this way Mrs O. was never short of pocket moolah.

But most second-hand dress shops have not enjoyed a very glamorous reputation. Received wisdom has it that one is less likely to find Missoni and Saint-Laurent than Marks and Spencer, while the tawdry interiors and rusty rails are about as inviting as a 19th-century pissoir.

Once upon a time this may have been the case. There used to be a depressing shop near my home in north London run by two thin ladies. They smelt disgustingly of incense and creosote, like nuns. If one were lucky one might rummage around for a few hours and come out with a grimeencrusted Dior belt, but the rest of the stuff was strictly thrift-store fashion, for distressed gentlewomen only.

No longer. As we approach the millennium these establishments are owned by bright young things in Dolce and Gabbana and the windows display Chanel, Gucci, Vivienne Westwood, Matthew Williamson, Valentino and Ghost. Sometimes the clothes are this season's, purchased by a young trustafarian who declines to wear the same dress twice and who has therefore handed it on for resale.

These suits, coats, trousers and cocktail dresses are sold at roughly a quarter to a sixth of the normal retail price. Sometimes Chanel numbers are on sale for 250 when in that company's boutique in Bond Street they fetch up to 0,000. A few weeks ago I walked into a dinky little store called the Loft, in Covent Garden, and came out with a pink Fifties-style raincoat by John Richmond for 60. It has become my most complimented item of the autumn season.

The doyenne, the creaking maitresse en titre, of second-hand clothes shops is the Dress Box in Knightsbridge. …

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