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.