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Vintage vantage

As an enthusiastic charity shopper I'm happy with the concept of recycling, though I do draw the line at second-hand pants, and I'll regularly arrive at work in a shirt which has been "pre-loved".

Of the three suits I own, one was made in Savile Row, one came from TK Maxx and the other bears the label of a mid-priced high street store and cost £7 in a charity shop. I defy anyone who isn't a tailor to tell which suit is which. One colleague who regularly confuses the third with the first is the same person who says he would never set foot in a charity shop.

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From the Teddy Boys onwards, recycling clothes has been an important part of youth culture but it's now an accepted aspect of high fashion. Designers might call it "vintage" instead of second-hand, but it's the same thing. They pillage old looks for new ideas.

Charity shops are picking out the best of their donations and siphoning them off for sale separately and for a premium. Oxfam has its Boutique range of shops (there's one in Newton Mearns, on Glasgow's outskirts).

In Edinburgh's Grassmarket there's also a Barnardos Vintage shop where I once found a beautiful leather coat with a very familiar rip in the sleeve. I bought it second-hand around the turn of the century in a vintage store a few hundred yards away, popped it into my local charity shop when I was moving house some years later and somehow it found its way to Barnardos Vintage. I was pleased to see it again but resisted the temptation to buy it back. It was a great coat, even if it failed to keep me dry on a week-long visit to a wet and windy Porto in 2002. Come to think of it, that was when the sleeve got ripped.

Meanwhile designers from Paul Smith to Armani are buying into a sustainable fashion scheme launched by Colin Firth's wife, Livia, under the name Green Carpet Challenge. There's also an art-couture movement called "trashion", which uses everyday objects and turns them into wearable clothes or jewellery (though to judge by some of the pictures I've seen, the term "wearable" applies in only the loosest sense). Mind you, the best way to make fashion sustainable is to simply stop making new clothes. With even the Financial Times reporting on what it calls "the soaring second-hand clothes market", there's clearly more than enough to go around at the moment.

By-the-by, if you recently bought a long, tan leather coat with a ripped sleeve in Edinburgh and you're wondering what the funny smell is, it's a delicacy they eat by the bucketload in Porto. It's called tripas a moda and it translates as tripe stew. n

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