Style over fashion: second-hand jeans and sustainable denim

— by Alyson Walsh

Late summer style. Photos: Claire Pepper


Style is personal. It’s about finding what’s right for you and feeling authentic. For me, that means ease and simplicity, mixing old with new (thinking about what goes with what, continuing to experiment) and buying well-made clothes that last. I know we’re still in the first half of the month – and I don’t want to sound smug – but I also know that I can sail through Second-Hand September without buying anything at all. Style is definitely not about spending loads of money, or the price of an item, it’s about quality. Although expenditure is down to the individual, too.

The last two items I bought, earlier this summer, are these second-hand Levi’s 501s discovered in a small local shop for 20 quid. Thank you, very much. And my sale bargain sandals (half-price at Robert Clergerie/ a replacement for the falling-apart corkers/ more Style Stalking). I can just about get away with the statement flatform sandals for the next week or so, then I’ll have to put them away till next year. Or wear them with socks. September is the perfect time to whip out a favourite pair of old-but-new-to-me jeans. It takes over 7000 litres of water to make one pair of jeans and the manufacture of sandblasted and chemically distressed denim has a terrible impact on the environment. I am no eco-angel but I don’t do distressed and I do keep my denim for a very long time. There are jeans in my wardrobe that are over 20 years old and the last couple of pairs I’ve bought have been second-hand.

For lovers of style simplicity, straight-leg jeans and a chic cotton shirt are perennial staples; not-so-basic-basics to be relied upon throughout the year. The shirt goes over a polo neck and slim, stretch trousers, the white jeans with a cashmere jumper and ankle boots. Add a blazer or utility jacket for these in-between-y, end of summer days. Soon it’ll be time to hunker down with a vegetable stew and The Crown on repeat (can’t wait to see Olivia Coleman and Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen and Princess Margaret).

Cold feet?

Three of the best sustainable brands:

LF Markey specialises in “beautiful clothes for practical women”. Designer Louise Markey worked at Burberry before realising her passion for the traditional French work jacket. “My love affair with utility wear developed because I am a practical sort of person; I cannot function without pockets – and lots of them! I started collecting vintage bleu de travail, boiler suits and dungarees and referencing these in my design work.” Her eponymous collection, initially a side hustle, became a fully formed business in 2013 and is now available online, at various independent boutiques in Europe and the US, and from the LF Markey store in London. LF Markey denim is also available through Next’s Label/Mix collection HERE and boiler suits can be found at Net-a-Porter.

SIDELINE is a lovely, understated sustainable label. Based in an old brewery on the south coast of England. The collection of easy-going basics mostly in denim and corduroy is designed by founder Ellen Brookes, who creates clothes for women who are ‘not interested in faddy, throwaway clothing.’

Earlier this year, during London Craft Week, I attended a Huit Denim workshop, and loved watching a pair of old jeans being expertly repaired. By rescuing a former M&S jeans factory in Cardigan, Wales, Huit has brought employment back to the town’s workforce. Founder David Hieatt said, ‘The best thing you can do for the environment is to make a product that lasts a long time.’ The organic, unwashed and unbleached denim jeans are a bit more expensive but the company offers free repairs for life. To save water, Huit also encourage customers to join the No Wash Club, saying the longer you leave jeans the more beautiful they look. I’m into that, I hardly ever wash my jeans – except when they are white denim, of course.


And for chic cotton shirts try People Tree, Beaumont Organic, Everlane and Community Clothing.

Other sustainable denim brands to look out for include: Nudie Jeans, MUD Jeans, Outland DenimRe/Done and Monkee Genes.


Second-Hand Septemberists look away now:

Please note: Affiliate links in this post may generate commission.


PS. THANK YOU so much for all the emails about retiring/not retiring, I’ve been inundated and will read and reply ASAP.

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  Style is personal. It’s about finding what’s right for you and feeling authentic.