You might imagine that my sisters — Violet and Eliza — and I were brought up with all the new clothes we could possibly want. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
For as long as I can remember my mother, Emma, the Duchess of Rutland — who raised us at our ancestral home Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire — has been passionate about buying second-hand clothing, long before it was trendy.
She was never snobby about buying other people’s cast-offs, preferring to see it as giving new life to special garments. And she passed that passion on to us.
Pictured: Lady Alice Manners in Vintage fashion. Paule KaSelling for £450 Cost new: £815Silk dress with heart print and crystal buttons, Azzaro Selling for: £296 Cost new: £775 Alice says: This look is a real mood lifter – I love injecting colour into my life through my wardrobe. So if you’re dreading Christmas, opt for a bold colour choice to help pull you through!
Plum long-sleeved stretch dress, AlaiaSelling for: £275 Cost new: approx. £2,000 Alice says: I love this beautiful plum colour for this time of year – it’s so rich and yet also demure. The cut of this dress cleverly gives my shape a bit of volume but would also be a great option if you were wanting to cover a bit of bottom or if you have an upper arm complex
Cream floral print silk blouse, Zimmerman Selling for: £295 Cost new: £700-800 Black velvet spaghetti strap mini dress, Alexander Wang Selling for: £290 Cost new: £600-700 Alice says: This is the ultimate little black dress, versatile with a large dose of sass. But if you are with family, it’s easy to tone it down for Christmas by wearing a shirt underneath, as I have here with this beautiful Zimmerman option
Green velvet dress with lace collar, Saint Laurent Selling for: £380 Cost new: £1000 Chanel shoes Selling for £395 Cost new: £780 Alice says: Velvet Saint Laurent with a delicate lace trim and sailor style collar – what more could you want? This is one of those dresses that achieves that effortlessly cool look, while also accommodating many body types with the lovely deep neckline
From the moment we girls hit our teenage years and started to show an interest in fashion, a trip to one or other of various London boutiques specialising in selling second-hand designer treasures became a feature of our lives.
‘You can choose one thing,’ Mum would say and in we would go, brimming with excitement at the thought of what hidden gem we might find, something we could never have dreamed of buying new.
I remember going to the shop Sign of the Times, a stalwart of Chelsea since the 1970s, when I was 15 and choosing a pair of black Ralph Lauren evening slippers with a little emblem on the front, for the bargain price of £75 — a fraction of what they would have been new.
I actually wore them as my school shoes for a while. That was 11 years ago. I still have them.
For my 18th birthday, I was given a classic black Chanel bag, second-hand from the same shop, which would have been at least £2,000 new, a sum I would never have been able to afford. I’ve still got that too.
Many towns also have dress agencies where you can buy stylish pre-owned clothing and accessories from the High Street; and, of course, many gems can be found in charity shops.
Naima printed puff sleeve dress, Ulla Johnson Selling for: £220 Cost new: approx. £700 Balenciaga biker boots Selling for: £500 Cost new: £950 Alice says: If print is your thing you can’t get better than this. It also has an elasticated waist line with an adjustable tie fastening – perfect for post Christmas lunch. A feel-good option offering both comfort and style
Pictured from left: Eliza, Alice and Violet Manners at their family home, Belvoir Castle
Whether it’s High Street or high-end, the principle is the same: choosing pre-loved fashion not only helps the planet, but gives you far more bang for your buck.
As I have found time and time again, it’s possible to buy exquisite designer clothes pre-loved for a comparable figure to some High Street offerings — and they’re much more likely to last for ever. You can pick up a designer dress for a fraction of its original price — £200, say, rather than £700.
I still wear the teal Burberry evening dress I bought when I was 17. I remember finding it hanging on the second-hand rail and the elation of discovering it still had the tags on.
Similarly, a couple of years ago I found an absolutely incredible Tom Ford evening dress (full-length, velvet, strapless) with the most amazing choker-effect neckpiece that connected down the back. Knowing that new it would be in the region of £3,000 to £5,000, I knew I was getting a good deal at less than £1,000.
Just after I bought it, the pandemic hit and I couldn’t wear it until my dad’s birthday celebrations at Belvoir last year. But I wore it again just the other week to a charity dinner at the V&A museum and I know it will be a go-to favourite for many years to come.
I believe there’s a slow but discernible shift in consumer thinking towards buying second-hand, vintage or pre-loved pieces, as people realise there is something to be gained in recycling what we already have.
When I was 14, there was nothing trendy about pre-loved — Mum was well ahead of the curve — it was just a lot of fun. Now I know it’s sustainable, too.
Consider this: according to second-hand brand thredUp, if everyone had worn a pre-loved party outfit this Christmas, the carbon dioxide emissions saved would be the equivalent of taking 56 million cars off the road for a day.
Thanks to the explosion of fast fashion, it’s not just an issue over the festive season. What might seem like a bargain in the January sales isn’t such a bargain for the planet if it’s worn only once.
I can thank Mum for the fact that even now, I would far rather have one amazing pre-loved present from these shops than a wardrobe bulging at the seams with throwaway High Street pieces.