Updated: Sep 28, 2020
I don't have a lot of experience in acquiring second-hand garments.
Growing up in a Chinese-speaking culture and environment, pre-owned/ vintage clothing tends to be associated with a range of negative connotations. Meanwhile, a strong emphasis is placed on newness, such that we would even celebrate Lunar New Year by wearing new clothes.
Naturally, it was only until I became more eco-conscious about the garments I wear and, more importantly, more appreciative of vintage tailoring that I get to have more chances to buy second-hand.
Now, while I am certain that my experience in second-hand shopping would only become more enriched over time (and that I will be writing more extensively on this topic hereafter), I am pleased to say that my first two purchases with Drop93 have given me a good impression so far.
In today's write-up, I'll first introduce you to Drop93 ― what the brand does and offers, followed by a review of the garments I've acquired from them, lessons learned from my purchases, as well as how this links back to sustainability. Hopefully, my experience can offer you some insight into buying second-hand sartorial goods. Enjoy.
What is Drop93?
OK, long story short, Drop93 is a sister company of The Armoury, which is considerably the first and, hence, one of the most renowned haberdashers that brings together sartorial and artisanal goods from around the world and offer it in one place. (Well, they have stores in both Hong Kong and New York so that makes two?)
Drop93 extends this concept of bringing closer distant artisans and consumers through offering vintage, pre-owned, and new old stock items (from The Armoury that is), all at a more economically-viable price point.
In other words, say, if you are fond of acquiring vintage pieces from luxury brands (from when they used to make quality garments in timeless designs), or getting a taste of bespoke tailoring from heritage houses such as Anderson & Sheppard or Liverano & Liverano but aren't quite willing to pay for that price tag, then this is the perfect place for you.
The site is also constantly updated with new items, in contrast to some other second-hand platforms. So don't worry about being forced to choose among a few imperfect or ill-fitted products ― there will always be more coming along the way.
With the first question out of the way, the next question would be how is my experience with Drop93?
As of writing, I have purchased firstly, a grey double-breasted suit from Anderson and Sheppard, and secondly, an ivory raincoat from Prada. To my knowledge, they are both pre-owned and subsequently sold to Drop93 by some of The Armoury's most loyal customers. (This is usually how the shop acquires its garments.)
Now, considering I have quite a contrasting experience and lessons learned from both purchases (a tale of two garments?), I will discuss them separately in the following sections, starting with the raincoat.
Long-term followers of the blog would most likely know that I have an obsession with sheepskin/ fur-lined collar. I have infinite affection for my polo coat that I've designed together with Whitcomb & Shaftesbury and I am certain that it's a piece that would last for a lifetime.
The only downside is that the overcoat is not waterproof or water-resistant, qualities which are essentially a must-have for at least one of your garments if you live in the UK.
Hence, when I encountered this piece on the Drop93 site - seeing how it fits my measurement, as well as resonates with my personal style and what I have been searching after for a while - I acted immediately.
Like with anything, it was surprising to me initially that such a beautifully designed coat would be sold for 1/10 of its original price. I pondered, perhaps, this is too good to be true.
Nevertheless, this mystery was solved as soon as I unboxed the garment. While the raincoat looks sublime and well-worn as encapsulated by Drop93's photos, it regrettably came with a somewhat damp stench.
It was likely the result of the raincoat being stored in an attic/ vacuum-sealed bag for a prolonged period without the use of sandalwood wardrobe fresheners. (In Drop93's defense — it was very briefly mentioned in the product description that the raincoat shows some sign of wear and smell.)
Luckily, after the coat was properly drycleaned - thanks to the team at Michael Norman - the stench is now reduced to a faint scent, perhaps even unrecognizable.
If anything, the key takeaway from this raincoat is that be sure you ask a sufficient amount of questions before purchasing second-hand garments. Problems like such are avoidable if you are shopping in-person, but less so if the shop is thousands of kilometers away in Hong Kong.
Plus, you could always test how knowledgeable the seller is by asking more questions.
The center stage of today's write-up, however, is set on this well-cut yet understated Anderson & Sheppard double-breasted suit. Why? Let’s just say the difficulty in buying second-hand tailoring and just any second-hand garment is on two different levels.
I have longed for a grey DB pinstripe suit that is more conservative than what I already own for some time now. Truth be told, I have focused too much on 'play-suits' for the past few summers, that acquiring a suit that is as sober as this piece is a great addition to my summer wardrobe and a well-deserved change of scenery.
Hence, when I came to realize that the measurements of this suit and what I already own are rather similar (except for the trouser, which was cut straight rather than tapered), I went on to purchase it soon afterward.
That being said, nothing is perfect and so was this suit.
Although the measurements of the jacket were all within the comfortable range of what I would usually ask for for my bespoke garments, there is only so much information that these numbers could provide without trying it on. This is an advantage that physical shops would always have over their online counterparts.
In this case, that means the shoulders are more sloped and rounded than my other jackets (further explained later) and the right side of the jacket has a slight collapse due to my posture. Then, of course, the trousers needed to be taken in from top to bottom for overall tapering, as I have mentioned earlier.
Fortunately, with the incredible alteration work done by Whitcomb & Shaftesbury, the suit is now as good as new, as shown in the picture above and below.
Needless to say, buying tailoring online is always a gamble, and buying second-hand/ vintage tailoring is even riskier since they are often neither refundable nor returnable.
And truth be told, if the measurements between the jackets and my existing garments are quite different, I would pass on that 9 out of 10 times. Let me elaborate on this.
Effectively, there are several questions you would want to ask yourself before making the purchase.
1) How different is the measurement between this piece and what you already have in your wardrobe?
OK, there are two things I am asking in this question.
First off, it's whether the garment fits on your body. You could be blind-guessing with all the numbers provided by the second-hand shop to see if it would sit nicely on your body.
Alternatively, you could compare it to your existing garments to get a sense of how different they are and make your purchase decision based on that. It is always easier to visualize the sizing of a garment if you have something similar on the side.
In essence, however, as long as the shoulder width is similar to what you already have, then almost everything else could be altered to fit your body.
That being said, determining whether a pre-owned garment fits you or not is something that also comes with experience ― if you are completely or relatively new to buying tailoring online, it is better to have a knowledgable friend on your side to give you some advice.
The second layer to this question is more interesting, yet oftentimes overlooked ― and that is whether the garment resonates with your personal image and style.
From what I have observed, there is a lack of consideration in personal style when an average consumer buys second-hand clothing. We might pay attention to whether or not the garment is within the same genre of what we usually wear - that is workwear, military-inspired, etc. - but rarely on the level that we are comparing whether they are of the same tailoring tradition.
Take this Anderson & Sheppard DB that I am featuring here. Occasionally, I am seen wearing jackets with more natural and rounded-shoulders, especially when I am wearing my Neapolitan-inspired Suitsupply jackets. But something about this DB, before it was altered, just makes it look odd on me.
The reason behind this is that when I am wearing more conservative-looking tailoring - that is my Whitcomb & Shaftesbury suits or my Steven Hitchcock jacket - they all have a sharp, slightly extended, and definitive shoulder line, even if they are only lightly padded at the shoulders. The grey pinstripe DB, which is most likely as formal as I would ever dress under warm temperature, certainly looks better this way as well.
This is a question that most people, even your tailors, wouldn't necessarily be concerned with. Nonetheless, if you aim to incorporate this pre-owned garment into your functional wardrobe and to wear it in a long run, then it's always a good idea to think about personal style before making the purchase.
You can read more about personal style in tailoring from this article a little while ago.
2) How much do you know about the silhouette/ house style of the brand?
Do some research on the house style before making the purchase.
Similar to what I have discussed earlier, understanding the proportions of the jacket and how its silhouette comes into play could allow you to interpret whether that's the right piece for you.
Will there be a lot of build-up shoulder pads? Will the buttoning point be too high or low? Will the quarters be too curvy and open? Will the trousers' rise be too high or low?
These are some questions that knowing the house style will help as they are often not described in the item description.
3) Who will you take the suit for alterations?
Realistically, this is the most important question of all.
You could have a suit that is near-perfect but ruined by an alterations shop that lacks a proper understanding of what makes a good silhouette. Or you could have a suit that requires adjustments here and there but is saved by a tailor's extensive knowledge of what makes a good house style.
In this case, I am very fortunate that Suresh of Whitcomb & Shaftesbury knows my style very well, given the variety of garments I have commissioned over the past 2 years. He easily understood what was my issue with the leg line of the trousers and the shoulders.
The takeaway here, then, is that you should always use a tailor that you have previously had good experiences with. And if that is not available, look for an alteration shop that has a background in tailoring. Make sure you communicate clearly on what is it that you want to make adjustments.
Finally, this brings us to the topic of sustainability.
Part of the reason why I'm pleased to see this experiment turned out smoothly is that it validates my argument on bespoke tailoring is effectively better at waste-reduction. The truth is when the garment reaches its 'end-of-life', it would just end up in a new owner's hand.
Don't get me wrong. From a buyer perspective, getting a pre-owned/ vintage bespoke garment is like buying any RTW clothing, if not worse in theory. At the center, you are acquiring a garment that was designed to fit not the 'average' body shape, but one particular person.
Yet, the beauty of this is that even with such restrictions, it is possible to find the right owner who would eventually click with the garment. After all, the fit of the tailoring is just a small part of the equation when we opt for vintage and pre-owned clothing.
From the quality and durability of the fabric, as well as the construction of the canvas underneath the jacket, to the thoughtful consideration made whilst putting the garment together to make the latter more flexible for alterations ― all these little things when combined allow it to better stand the test of time.
Plus, you get the benefits of the garment being one that is more nostalgic too. Extra points for being culturally sustainable.
Needless to say, there isn't the same demand for many mass-produced RTW tailoring — their value, in whatever sense you wish to think about it, depreciates rapidly in the long run.
On that note, I’ll end today’s write-up here. Obviously, this is not meant to be a comprehensive guide on how to buy pre-owned tailoring. That being said, I hope you found the lessons learned from my adventure with Drop93 would be helpful for your future purchases.
I have also attached more pictures of the Anderson & Sheppard suit below if you are interested to examine it more closely.
Take care, and bye for now.