Style Guide to Second Hand

Do you buy second hand clothing? Or do all of those endless racks full of dusty woolly jumpers and mom jeans put you off? A good portion of my wardrobe is made up of pre loved clothing. For me it means I can access designers normally out of my price range, I can have a greater variety of clothing because it's cheaper, and if I'm honest, I find getting a bargain quite exhilarating.

But how do you put together a stylish wardrobe that's up to date using someone else's cast offs? This blog post will give you a place to start. It's true that some people just have "it" and can throw an outfit together easily. That doesn't mean it can't be taught though. As you go through these steps yourself write down what you learn in a little notebook (a pretty one!). You'll be taking this notebook op shopping with you later on.

Tip one: Know which colours make you look ill

Knowing your colours is so important. I can't emphasize this enough. You need to know which colours make you look like you've just returned from a days shopping and a glass of bubbly with the girls, and which ones make you look like you're recovering from eating bad shellfish.

This is what I mean:

These were taken at the same time of day, same backdrop, no editing. See how I look washed out in the first picture and how my skin looks warmer when I wear blue or red? This is why I leave any shade of grey to my blond sister.

Well, that's great, I can hear you thinking, but how do I figure out what colours suit me? Let me show you.
There's the low tech way which is to hold up scarves, fabric or clothing next to your face and see what impact each one has on your skin tone. Even better would be to have a friend there to give you his or her opinion, or set your camera up on timer so you can look back at all the photos later.

This is what you're looking for:

Does it make your skin look bright and fresh?
Does it make your eyes sparkle?
Does it make you look healthy?
Does it make you look at your face?

The high tech way is to jump online and have a look at colour analysis websites. I've found a few for you to get you started:

Seasonal Colour Analysis
Seasonal Colours
Know your Colours

I'm a 'Winter' which means I wear jewel toned colours and stay away from pastels. In summer when my skin  has a warmer tone I sometimes venture into the corals and peaches but not often.

Once you know your colours shopping is suddenly so much easier. You don't even need to look at half the clothes on the racks. If it doesn't suit you, just pass on by.

Tip two: Know what makes you look like a tree stump, a bean bag, or a twelve year old boy.

I'm short and very petite. Add to that boy-short hair and a completely tattooed back and I'm in troubled waters. I don't want to look like a pre pubescent boy. I still want to be feminine and pretty. Its really important to work out what shapes look good on your body type. Spend some time with an honest friend trying on clothes. What makes you look slimmer (if that's what you want)? Shorter? Taller? Lumpy? Write a list of clothes you feel great in. Is there a corelation between them all? What does your partner love you in?

Because I'm small I stay away from any clothes that hide my legs like full length dresses or skirts. I don't do three quarter pants either. I keep dresses around knee length or shorter. If I wear boots with a skirt I make sure there's a decent gap between the hem of my skirt and the top of the boots to break it up and add length.

Here's an example (and I have to add a disclaimer here - I took these photos myself using a timer and the "help" of my four year old so they're not wonderful, but I hope you will get the idea):

See how short I look in the maxi dress?

To find out your body shape have a look at this great Body Shape Fashion Advice guide. You've heard of 'the apple', 'the pear', 'the hourglass' right?

Tip three: Get interested in fashion

Collette Dinnigan from Harpers Bazaar

You can't have great style on a budget if you're not interested in fashion. Anyone with oodles of cash can go into a designer store and come out looking great. It takes skill to look stylish using discounted or second hand clothing.

Buy or borrow fashion mags or look online regularly at what's in fashion here and overseas. Ignore the super skinny models and the crazy catwalk stuff and look at the clothing with a critical eye. Look for patterns (Spots? Stripes? Animal prints? Florals?) and shapes. Are pants loose and wide legged or slim fitting? Make notes, if you see a designer you like keep track of it.

Same thing with celebrities or style icons from the past. What do you like about their look? Is it the bold bright colours or the simple silhouettes? I love Audrey Hepburn, the Twiggi look of the 1960s, big floral prints, silks with patterns reminiscent of old kimonos, and in summer I'm partial to a bit of a boho look (but without the fringing and turquoise if you please) . Designers I love are: Deborah Sweeney, Karen walker, Metalicus, sass &bide, stolen girlfriends club, and Marc Jacobs.

Tip four: Go shopping!

So now in your little shopping notebook you have the colours you know suit you and which ones to avoid. You have a list of shapes that look good on you and what pieces you need for the coming season. You have a list of designers you like or style icons to keep in mind. Now, it's time to shop.

I will admit to checking eBay at least four times a week for anything made by my favorite designers. I also regularly check the NZ site trademe for the NZ designers I love. I don't usually browse in eBay, I search for specific designers then look to see if there is anything in my colours and in a good shape.

The vintage section in eBay is also worth a look. This sage green vintage cardigan would be a welcome addition to my closet and at $10 it won't break the bank.

I have lots of dresses from designers but I never pay full price for them. They were all under $35 and some of them were under $20.

Op shops

Visit your local oppie but also try further afield. Don't be afraid to make a dress shorter or remake it by using a tshirt for the top. Check for your list of labels but don't be fooled into buying something the wrong colour just because it's a good brand. Check the jeans even though it's a tedious job going through them all (but know your size first). I found as pair of Citizen of Humanity jeans that retail for AUD 280 for $8 at Vinnies a couple of weeks ago.

Tip five: Learn how to put it all together

Ok so you know your colours, your shapes, and you've done your research. You hopefully have a nice little stash of new (to you) clothes. But how do you put it all together?

The first thing is to supplement your vintage with some basics. I buy cheap leggings, long sleeve t shirts, thermals, and singlets from places like Kmart and Target. They normally last a season or two and that's ok because they're not a huge investment.

The next trick is to understand how to balance your clothing.


A loose tunic dress is great but not with a baggy cardigan or jumper. Why? Because you'll look messy and like you're trying to hide something under there. Loose dress = fitting outer layer. If you have a lovely floaty cardigan or jacket wear it with fitting pants and a singlet top or tshirt. It's important to see some shape.

The short cardigan works much better with the dress because it provides some shape and a splash of colour.


Look at the hemlines of your pieces and make sure they don't match. So a knee length skirt would never go with a knee length cardigan. A cropped or hip length cardigan works much better.
If you like skinny jeans or leggings wear a longer top that covers your hips and tummy unless you're 20.

The boxy shape of the t-shirt cuts me across the hips which makes them look wider. A longer singlet top covers my baby belly and the top of my hips. It's looser which balances the tight jeans.


To get a good haircut. Your ability to pull off a cool vintage dress will largely be dependent on the rest of your style and hair is a big part of that. A good haircut makes you feel more confident.

That if you're wearing a statement vintage piece match it with simple modern accessories. If you do head to toe vintage you run the risk of looking like you're off to a costume party. I bought this bright royal blue 1970s dress for $7 on eBay last month. I've added a new belt and normally I would wear this with simple flat shoes... but it was cold and those new sheepskin Frye boots are so good!

Lastly, don't forget to invest in some proper fitting underwear!

Style notes (from top to bottom):
Black maxi dress from Myer
Red and orange Deborah Sweeney dress $20 from trademe, 1980s fold down vintage boots $10 from eBay.
Black and white polka dot Deborah Sweeney dress $35 from sample sale. 
Dress as above with black Storm hooded cardigan.
Dress as above with red Country Road cardigan.
Autumn print Karen Walker t-shirt $15 from trademe, black Element jeans $10 from DFO, 1980s boots as above.
Blue and white pinstripe singlet from Target, long white Something Else single, black Element jeans as above.


  1. Thank you!! Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    I'm taking notes and then hitting the opshops and eBay.

    1. Sounds like my kind of day! Look for things that can take you through the seasons. That's why I love dresses so much - I can wear them as is in summer, with a light cardi in spring, and with merinos and boots in winter. If you have 5 or 6 dresses you can keep wearing basic leggings and long sleeve tops and just change the dress for a completely different look. It's a budget friendly way to give the illusion that you have lots of clothes. I think you and I are about the same size - I can recommend Deborah Sweeney in size S or XS, and I found out recently that I can shop in the 'Miss' section of Metalicus (size 12 - 14) because it's the same as an adult size 8 at half the price!

  2. What a fantastic post! I am off now to look at your links to check my colours. I am a fairly recent convert to op shopping and I love it. My friend and I have 'treasure shopping Tuesday', visiting our local op shops. This morning I found a brand new cardi - perfect colour and fit for only $6. It made my day.

    Have a fab week. Happy shopping!

    1. Hi Leah,
      I LOVE the sound of "treasure shopping Tuesday". My kids both call Op Shops "treasure shops", it's a nice way of thinking about thrifting I reckon. Well done on the score this morning, the perfect cardigan would make my day too!

  3. You make it sound so easy - I'm off to look at eBay.....

  4. I love your sense of style, its so effortless which i think is lovely. These is nothing worse than walking down the street and seeing some fashion wanna-be in last seasons worst trends. Really enjoying your blog.

    1. Hi Anna

      I couldn't agree more! I love fashion but I'm definitely selective about what I'll try. Your blog is great! Always nice to meet a fellow opshopaholic :)

  5. Becs, this is AMAZING. A MUST-READ for women everywhere! And teenage girls too actually, teach'em what looks great on them young. I shudder to think of all the grey I wore as a teen. Awesome awesome awesome.

    1. Thanks Rosie :) I had a lemon yellow dress as a teenager that I can't believe I wore! Thankfully I think Jemima has the knack, when choosing a colour for her new hat she instinctively went for mint green. Good girl.

  6. Love it! I'm feeling all inspired... :-D

    1. Hi! Lovely to hear from you :-) I read your blog, we have heaps of the same ideas around food and health. I wrote a post about coughs and colds a couple of weeks ago that you might be interested in: . We also do a lot of ACV and honey in our house. x Becs.

  7. I love your sense of style Bec, you make it look so easy!

    I have nominated you for a sunshine award on my blog :)


Thanks for your comments, I love to hear from you!


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