There was a time, not so long ago, when brands avoided the word secondhand, with its overtones of “second class” and its toxic whiff of “secondhand smoke.” If they had to broach the subject of non-newness, they used tech-sounding words like upcycling—Cambridge Dictionary’s word of the year for 2019—or coy circumlocutions like nearly new. Or they opted, as Stan Carey noted in a 2011 blog post, for euphemisms like preloved or even experienced—as in “experienced cars,” the winner of William Safire’s 1979 Language Prettification and Avoidance of Ugly Reality Award.
Lately, though, plain-spoken secondhand (sometimes spelled second-hand) has been reclaimed with something like pride. “As the secondhand apparel market booms, used clothing is becoming an acceptable holiday gift,” reads a November 27, 2019, headline on CNBC.com. In the UK, the Oxfam charity promoted #secondhandseptember. In the US, the giant online reseller thredUP—whose tagline is “Secondhand clothes. Firsthand fun”—is behind the catchy hashtag #secondhandfirst. (More than 170,000 Instagram posts use that hashtag.) In August, thredUP announced partnerships with JCPenney and Macy’s to sell secondhand fashion in the department stores.