At the beginning of the year, journalist Frances Cook pledged to only buy second-hand clothes for a year. Six months in, has she cracked yet?

When you commit, very publicly, in a national newspaper, to buying only second-hand clothes for a year, you'd better stick with it.

So when I found myself staring at a T-shirt printed with Ashley Bloomfield's face, "Curve Crusher" scrawled underneath, it was tempting to join the nation's idolatry and buy a tee celebrating our director-general of health.

But I resisted. Six months into this year-long #CookingTheLooks2020 challenge, it's the only time so far I've been truly tempted.


I haven't missed the world of fast fashion, and certainly haven't felt tempted by the bigger price tags. Instead, I've found unique pieces of clothing, quality going for $10, unworn, tags still hanging from the neck.

My previous arguments on the benefits to your budget are more relevant than ever, and we all need to do our part to stop perfectly good clothes heading to landfill.

Apart from that one blooming temptation, I've had only one real hurdle.

I really, really didn't want to get sick.

While New Zealand now looks like it's coming out the other side of the pandemic (knock on wood), for a while there I didn't want to go into shops even when we were allowed to.

Going into a shop and trying on second-hand clothes, when nobody knew how long the virus survived on various surfaces, seemed like a pointless risk.

But, as is often the case these days, the internet held the answer to my problem.

Frances Cook in a dress found for $24 on Trade Me. Photo / Ben Reed
Frances Cook in a dress found for $24 on Trade Me. Photo / Ben Reed

After weeks in lockdown, when level 3 hit, New Zealanders piled online, listing everything they decluttered in those weeks of staring at the same four walls.


Instagram reselling accounts popped up, and designer recycle stores set up their own websites. Trade Me bulged at the seams.

Sifting through clothes became as easy as flicking through my phone, and decontamination was as easy as leaving the parcels in my garage for two weeks, just to be sure.

Some of the Trade Me sellers were clearly new to the reselling game, and decided to try their luck listing items near to what they paid for them in the first place.

Tell 'em they're dreaming.

But the newbies are easy to dodge. Save yourself the temptation by selecting your top price, so Trade Me won't even show you the items until those sellers come down to reality.

But of course, solutions often come with their own problems.

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A photo from a simpler time, when I was #CookingTheLooks2020 in Peru. Those were the days! Honestly, I think if I hadn't been doing something other people see as "extreme" (I don't see only buying secondhand clothes as extreme, but other peoples reactions tell me otherwise), I could never have afforded going to Peru and Argentina. Now in lockdown I'm so grateful we managed to go while we still could. We've made alfajores in the evenings, drunk Argentinian wine that was gifted to us by a hotel as we fled the pandemic, and looked back on the memories. And one day we'll be able to travel again. When this is all over, imagine how luxurious it will feel to go to the cafe down the road, never mind to book an overseas trip. Between all the chaos, I'm trying to stay focused on how great that finish line will be. It's an attitude and gratitude adjustment, for sure. But thankfully it looks like NZ took action fast enough that we'll get to that finish line. (#CookingTheLooks outfit is $12 Kathmandu hiking pants from @trademe_nz and $2 T-shirt from @habitatforhumanity. Hiking shoes I have no idea, I'd had them 10 years before the hike to Machu Picchu destroyed them!) #debtfreecommunity #peru #thriftstorefinds #thriftedstyle #slowfashion #opshop #opshopfinds #opshopping #thrifting #thrifted #frugalliving #frugal #frugallife

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We all know how dangerous online shopping can be, with the possibility of strange fabrics, or odd fits that make you question whether it was even designed for a human.

Online shopping that's second hand? How can you find something good without trying it on, inspecting it, touching the fabric?

By becoming simultaneously more adventurous, and less adventurous.

I'm more adventurous in trying out different colours, fabrics, and patterns. Where once I was the typical New Zealander, devoted to all-black everything, second-hand shopping has encouraged me to try out different styles with less money on the line.

Shopping online has pushed me even further in this direction, with bold colours and block prints standing out in the sea of decluttered clothing.

But I'm a stickler for staying with the styles that I know flatter my body shape, and not going over budget.


I know that I look best with a well-defined waist, and then a bit of room to move elsewhere. Simple, but effective.

Frances Cook in second hand Kathryn Wilson heels found for $35. Photo / Ben Reed
Frances Cook in second hand Kathryn Wilson heels found for $35. Photo / Ben Reed

Using this formula, I was even able to find a good pair of second-hand jeans online – jeans being something I wouldn't usually buy online even when new, never mind with the added challenge of second hand.

A well-defined waist meant high-waisted denim. Room to move elsewhere meant "Mum style" cut. Soothing my anxieties meant sticking with trusty black wash.

The result?

Surprisingly successful magic jeans. Sturdy denim that holds down the lower stomach, nips in the right amount at the waist, and gives me room to move my legs.

These jeans cost me just $37, and I like them more than the pair I bought new last year for $110.


Now, after so many days without any new Covid-19 cases, I'm finally ready to go back into shops. And to go back in there reminds me of yet another reason to stick with this challenge.

I'm determined to support local with any money I spend, and buying second hand has to be one of the best ways to do it.

Instead of spending my money at an international fast-fashion chain, with an overseas headquarters taking the majority of the profits, I'm keeping my dollars here.

I'm supporting local charities or small businesses when I go to the second-hand shops, or I'm directly supporting another New Zealander who probably needs extra cash, when I buy from an individual online.

The reasons for sticking with this challenge just keep piling up.