Standing in Beacon’s Closet, a New York-based resale shop, I sifted through racks of old, stained at the pits-Zara tops and vintage—read: flammable—polyester, aimlessly shopping for nothing in mind. I often prowl secondhand stores in hopes of scoring underpriced designer goods, with a strong success rate of about 65 percent (a percentage I completely made up, but I once found an authentic Prada bag for $25, just saying). I’m a used clothing veteran with a high-tolerance for sloppy seconds, so when I spotted a vintage Emilio Pucci swimsuit for $30 it was a no brainer. But to others, it was downright nasty.
For reference, a brand new Pucci suit typically retails over $500. According to the math, I’m getting a 94 percent discount just by purchasing a gently worn suit. The gross out-factor involved with wearing something that once touched another person’s lady parts seems to disturbs many, but for me (and Kylie Jenner, who wore a vintage bathing suit that premiered on the Chanel runway—on Naomi Campbell, no less—over 25 years ago) it’s all good. Curious as to whether these suits could actually cause me any harm, I reached out to Dr. Lauren Streicher, an OBGYN and clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University.
“It’s more of an ick factor than a true health factor,” said the doctor. According to her, the chances of catching an STD or STI from a used bathing suit is unlikely. “When something is sexually transmitted it because it’s transmitted directly from one person to another person, not because you got it from a toilet seat or from a sheet in a hotel. Otherwise everyone would have STIs.” An obvious health class reminder—similar to the idea you can’t get pregnant from sitting in a hot tub.
Why else should you consider shopping used swimwear? Well, it supports a zero-waste lifestyle. Sustainably speaking, eco-friendly swimwear is a complicated subject. Since no one wants to hit the pool in a cotton one-piece, swimsuits are typically made from synthetic textiles like polyester and nylon i.e. microplastics. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, a half-million metric tons of microplastics enter the ocean from the washing these fabrics. Brands like Reformation and Madewell are curbing their carbon footprint by producing suits made from recycled plastic, but you can double down with a vintage swimsuit (and by washing your clothes in a Guppyfriend bag that reduces the amount of microbeads that enter the water).
If you are still perturbed by the practice, shop at resale sites like The RealReal who uphold a higher standard of quality control. “We typically only accept swimwear that is in pristine condition, meaning it’s new, with the tags still attached,” said Sasha Skoda, head of womenswear at TRR. The rule, however, gets waived for really good designer items, like Jenner’s Chanel suit. “We do make exceptions for one-of-a-kind collector’s items, like vintage Dior or an amazing Gucci, as we see higher demand for really special pieces. These unique pieces still have to meet our general condition standards, but we do accept them at lower condition levels than pristine.” That’s better than buying a bikini from your local thrift store. But even if you were so brave (*raises hand*), a good wash should do the trick to keep you safe. It’s mind over matter.
This article first appeared on ELLE.