As the trend towards second-hand fashion grows and consumers increasingly shop online, how can you buy pre-loved leather with confidence – particularly when you can’t try it on? Second-hand leather devotee Steve Sothmann of Real Leather. Stay Different. shares his advice.
The buzz of second-hand clothes shopping is hard to beat. There’s the thrill of the chase, the joy of discovering a vintage gem you simply won’t find off-the-peg, and the knowledge that you’re doing your bit for the environment. By reusing clothing and accessories, you’re reducing the demand for new fashion production and cutting pollution and waste.
The good news is that the pandemic has accelerated a shift to thrift as consumers look to make more considered, eco-conscious purchases. And online marketplaces from eBay and Depop to Vinted and thredUP have made it easier than ever for us to snap up a pre-loved bargain.
Leather has always made the ideal second-hand purchase due its durability and the fact that, if anything, it gets better with age. But what should you be looking for when shopping online? How can you ensure you’re buying what you think you are and that it actually fits?
Second-hand leather hits and misses
When buying leather from a second-hand marketplace, the knack is knowing what to look for. In my experience, these are the items you’re most likely to do well with:
Belts – easy to measure and you can usually see the colours and types of buckle in photos.
Bags – another easy-to-measure item you can match against pieces you already own. Buying a known brand can also be a good guarantee of quality.
Wallets and purses – similar to bags, but with more functional features you need to think about. For instance, does it have enough card slots, is there a coin pouch? And what size notes will fit?
Items that tend to be more of a gamble include:
Jackets – leather jackets are expensive and, particularly if they’re not made by an established brand, vary greatly in fit. Since there is usually a no returns policy, unless you ask the right questions (which I’ll outline shortly), you could be left with an expensive mistake.
Footwear – due to leather’s natural stretch over time, getting the sizing right can be challenging. This can be problematic if you’re buying trainers – the same brand can run smaller or larger depending on the silhouette – but less of an issue if you’re buying heels.
Gloves – not the most obvious second-hand purchase, but leather is a natural insulator so it’s great for gloves. However, the ill-defined world of hand sizing, coupled with stretch, means it’s almost impossible to know if a glove will fit without trying it first.
Features to look for when browsing
Authenticity – ensuring the item is real leather should always come first. Usually, the seller makes it clear if it is.
Sustainability – this can be tricky to ascertain when you aren’t buying directly from the producer or retailer. However, you can check the sustainability credentials of many brands via the Leather Working Group website. It has more than 100 brand members – including Zara, H&M, Nike and Burberry – so it’s a great place to start.
Level of use – with any second-hand item, it’s important to know how worn it is. The marketplace will require the seller to state this in their description e.g., ‘new without tags’, ‘used in excellent condition’, but it’s best to examine photos carefully too. Look out for visible signs of use such as tears, stains or stretching – both internally and externally. Imperfections and minor damage can be hard to spot in pictures but if they’re there, the price should reflect this.
Sizing and fit – asking for precise measurements is recommended. This way you won’t be caught out by irregular sizing and you can compare with pieces you already own.
Handmade or hand-finished – buying a handmade item can mean that your item is truly unique, but it can also mean it’s less durable. This may matter less for a special occasion item, but more for an item you’ll use every day.
Smart questions to ask
You don’t have to take the description as read. If you’re still unsure, probe the seller for additional information. If it means you’re more likely to buy the item, they’ll be happy to oblige!
How often has it been worn? How long have you owned it?
Has it been maintained with care products?
How much care does the item need to keep it looking good?
Has it been stored in a smoke-free home?
Are there any signs of wear (inner and outer) not shown in the photos?
Is this item true to size?
What are the precise measurements?
How does the leather feel? Is it smooth, grainy or pebbled?
Would you accept a lower price? (Sellers expect a negotiation!)
Leather’s durability is one of its strengths. With the right care and attention, it can literally last a lifetime, if not several. That’s what makes it a savvy second-hand purchase and slow style investment. Buying leather online can be daunting but by focusing on the right items and features, and asking the right questions, your dream purchase could be just a click away.