Charity Shopping: Mrs B's Mini Guide.

Even before my cash dwindled, I was a passionate charity shop advocate. Everyone loves a bargain, a one-off, the thrill of finding an item in your size and your size alone. But it ain’t always easy, especially now so many people are on the hunt for vintage and magpie-like types swoop down on items for their eBay stores (and all credit to ’em!) But necessity now dictates that I spend less, and so I have to put in the legwork. Armed with the right attitude, your own bags and ready cash, charity-shopping can be enjoyable…and let’s face it, sifting through those rails can do wonders for the upper arms…

Used with kind permission of Wrongun / All Our Hearts Content.

I’m not usually the prescriptive type, but I’ve been asked about my charity-shopping habits several times of late. So here goes: the Dos and Don’ts that have helped me navigate a fantastic resource…



…suss out the area:

Any seasoned charity shopper knows – you can tell a lot about an area by its charity shop selection. Shops in ‘wealthier’ areas are likely to stock the more high-end high street items – or designer if you’re lucky. The shops near my last house had a wealth of Monsoon, Linea and M&S Autograph ranges, with few items over a fiver – if you find the area that has the stuff you like, you’re onto a winner.

…mean business:

If you’re in a rush, you gotta get brutal. Prioritise. Divide and conquer. My experience tells me that I have most luck with shoes, coats and skirts (in that order), so when time is short I make a bee-line for those sections. Some shops group by colour rather than style, and in that case I steer clear of colours I rarely wear. By the same token, if there’s something specific you’re looking for, head to that section first (I personally am always on the look-out for silk shirts). If there are a few items, make a list to keep you focused. Whatever it takes! Last week I did four charity shops in the five minutes I had to wait for a bus, and I came out with the item I was looking for – it can be done!

…buy things you love

On the other hand, if you’ve got bags of time, you should have fun. Want to try something different, but couldn’t justify the outlay? Now’s your chance, while you’ll get change from a tenner. I dipped my toe into leopard print with a £3 skirt, and I now have a small but fabulous array of colourful dresses that I would never have bought at £50 a pop. You can also forget about ‘what’s hot and what’s not’ in a charity shop, and just try on things you like.

They said, "NO!" I said, "Yes."


…forget about the seasons:

Would you feel weird buying a lightweight dress in the depths of December? Or a thick winter coat in July? (If you’re British, it’s likely you greeted that question with a knowing sigh – summer is being rubbish again.) Well if you’re on the ball, that’s the way to do it: I’ve found all my best second-hand winter coats in the warmer months when everyone’s hunting down flipflops. As the summer-resistant type I avoid skimpier items…but if I was more carefree I would be buying silk vests by the armful when everyone else is looking for jumpers. You get the idea.

…milk them for all their worth!

Much as I love unearthing something that’s both beautiful and a bargain, I also use charity shops when hunting for basics. When I’m short of cash I resent forking out my precious money buying boring black skirts for work, or a waterproof coat for northern Britain’s inevitable downpours. So I hit the charity shops, and they’ve not let me down yet. Same goes for something you’ll only wear once, such as fancy dress costumes, or a replacement bag when the strap on yours breaks on your way to an interview.

The Joker and I both shop at Oxfam, you know.




…bother with fast-fashion cast-offs:

Charity (and even vintage) shopping can be a pain these days – 50% of donations seem to be from Primark or Matalan. Each to their own, but I resent forking out for an item that probably only cost the same new. I know that it’s for charity, but it’s the height of ‘false economy’ to me unless it’s an emergency purchase. There are better discoveries awaiting you. Promise.

…buy underwear:

If you’re the type of optimist that believes a hot wash will sort everything out – good luck to you, my friend. When it comes to underwear, my motto is; “neither a borrower or a lender be”…so I’m sure not going to don a stranger’s knickers. Some people  also draw the line at footwear, refusing to go where other feet have gone before…

Be careful now, Li-Lo...

…neglect the other sections:

So you’ve had no joy with the women’s clothes? Cast your eye over the men’s and kids’ sections. I’ve found cardigans and t-shirts for 13 year-old girls (and at half the price), and my favourite pair of trousers came from the men’s section – easy to shorten, and beautifully tailored, too. Sure, it’s unlikely you’ll come away with bagfuls, but it’s always worth a shot. Also good spots for scarves, gloves and hats.

…duplicate because it’s cheap:

I know whereof I speak. I’m a sucker for tan leather clutches, and if I see one in every charity shop I visit, I will buy one in every charity shop I visit. It’s a waste, both of your precious budget and of the items themselves – don’t give in to the siren cry of materialism, and let some other nice soul find pleasure in them.

"I'll take all of them."

…buy without checking the crotch:

Or underarms. This one came from Mr Bossa, after he made an unfortunate discovery when queuing to buy a second-hand suit. Do I need to elaborate?!

What tips would you give for charity shopping?

Have you had any charity shopping disasters?


Other must-reads:

Fashion Pearls of Wisdom: Budget Fashion: Can you afford to shop ethically?

Northwest is Best: What happened to charity shop bargains?


31 thoughts on “Charity Shopping: Mrs B's Mini Guide.

  1. I used to do Jumble Sales when I was younger, real thrill of the chase stuff!
    I tend to only check out domestic stuff, books and records in CSs now. I tend to like my clothes new now!
    Love the post. Mmmm….stains! Choice!
    Z xx

  2. Such good advice, though i have to admit i have recently become disheartened with charity shopping, as all my local ones seem to have cottoned onto the idea of ‘vintage’ being worth 5x more!

  3. Manchester city is the kind of charity shop mainly stocked with overpriced Primark, I wouldn’t mind as it is for charity but I would rather they had a 50p basket for it! I agree with everything you’ve said. My other tip would be disregard the size and try it on if you like it. Vintage and even modern stuff alternates with sizes I have stuff in my wardrobe in a range of sizes including shoes, so try on even if it is over your own clothes in the middle of the shop!

  4. Some great tips, thanks. I love charity shopping. I have noticed that the prices have gone up a bit lately but I don’t begrudge paying what an item is worth. It also makes me think about whether I need it before buying.

    I have had some successes with Oxfam online and I think you can even return items if unhappy. It allows you to search by size, type of clothing etc and has plenty of vintage. It is great if you are looking for something in particular but don’t have time to trawl the shops.

  5. I really need to hop on the thrifting train. I’m a good bargain shopper for the most part but I have been struggling against this weird anxiety when it comes to buying second hand clothes. For some inane reason I always assume the previous owner is dead and the clothes are haunted. I mean, I don’t reeeaaally believe that but I have an overactive imagination.

  6. When I’m pushed for time or just can’t face sorting through racks and racks of Primark tat, I tend to do a quick scan of the rails for interesting patterns. I’ve given up on finding plain basics in charity shops so I just look for the fun stuff now. Even if whatever I pull off the rails isn’t my size it might be worth buying for alteration purposes if the price is low enough.

    I entirely agree about finding the best areas. There are a couple of charity shops fairly close to my house that are in a little run down row of shops and even though they’re both chains (one Oxfam, one YMCA) they price things seemingly entirely at random. Definitely don’t follow the same policies as their equivalents in the city centre!

  7. There are soooo many Primark/H&M/other low end high street labels in my local charity shops. Who donates a stretched, faded, bobbly pastel t-shirt? A lot of London charity shops, particularly ones in the centre, can be quite pricey, but have a good selection. I was quite amused to see a £10 M&S sale dress that I had donated to Oxfam on sale in their store for £15!

    Thanks for the great tips! x

  8. Great rules. I find such a variety in my area- within 3 miles you have 50p bargain bins and a BHF with a brand new Chloe for £200 (ONO) in the window!

  9. Great post! I’m never adverse to heartily sniffing and scratching things either. What has happened me several times is that I’ve snapped up a cute vintage bag only to get home and realise there’s some kind of asbestos dust coming through the lining from the backing of the plether! Seems to be a problem with 1970s bags! Another one smelt like cow dung no matter what I did with it. So I now sniff away xx

  10. All solid advice, Mrs B! I also ignore fast fashion labels like F&F, George, Primark, H&M etc, but all charity shops rely on donated stock, and if people are only donating fast fashion cast offs then obviously that’s what they have to fill the rails with. As a volunteer, it’s really frustrating.

  11. Great article – very much my kind of thing, as I am a passionate advocate of charity shops. I think you covered lots of great points here (my order for looking at things is dresses, shoes, tops, skirts – I rarely look at trousers, as I am yet to find a second hand pair long and skinny enough for my frame). I went charity shop shopping yesterday, and ended up feeling immensely overwhelmed by the surplus stock of Primark and F&F on sale in there. Very little vintage. It seemed like all the interesting items had been removed. But again, this was probably indicative of the area.
    My tips? Don’t discount the tiny little ‘cat rescue’ independant charity shops – they often have the best stock, as they put out nearly all of what they have been given, rather than everything going out to a central depot and being redistributed. I live near a small town, so don’t really have a choice about which areas I go to, but the fantastic thing about all the volunteers at my ‘locals’ being elderly (and very lovely) women is that they don’t know much about labels. New Look is priced the same as Prada. There is one in particularly that has yielded Maxmara, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Jaeger, Orla Kiely, Betty Jackson and YSL – all for unbelievably cheap prices. However, you do have to spend a lot of time sorting through slightly smelly jumpers.
    Also, if you have the time, don’t just limit yourself to your size. I bought an amazing size sixteen hand-made floral skirt yesterday, because the fabric is incredible – and I might remake it into a shift dress. You never know what fabrics or items might be yielded (nearly all of my shirts are quite loose).
    Finally, keep an eye on fabrics. I try to go for natural ones, such as silk, wool, tweed, linen etc. The amount of nylon one has to rummage through! But then that is also down to personal preference on my part.

  12. Amazing tips. I love charity shopping (thrift shopping) because it’s so much fun and you spend hardly any money. I agree most on the point about taking advantage of the high-quality high-end items at charity shops an staying away from the fast fashion brands that won’t last.

  13. LOVE THIS LIST! It’s all the things I do, too when thrift/vintage shopping. I’m always going for dresses, shirts, jackets & sweaters myself. I went on a vintage sweater binge a few years ago and they still look fantastic! When I travel back to London next year, I will definitely have to drag my bestie out to a shop or two (or 3). I may have to hit up you ladies in the UK for places in the area for recommendations!

    Here are some of the things that I do when I thrift/vintage shop:

    1. Visit thrift/vintage shops in towns that I’m just visiting – So many unexpected treasures will be discovered, trust me!

    2. Beware of stalkers – I recently had an experience where a woman followed me around the store the entire time I was there, asking when if/when I would be putting down some of the items I bought. NOT COOL.

    3. Check out when they have their dollar sale – Some shoppes unload a bunch of items either once a week or once a month, where everything goes for a dollar. I don’t know if they do that in the UK (for a quid right?), but they definitely do in the shops I’ve been to in the LA area of California.


  14. This is wonderful advice, I am an avid charity/vintage shopper & have used all of these great tips. I have to admit I’ve also found amazing winter items during a heated season, I don’t think about the season when acquiring items merely inspecting them carefully & trying everything on when on the hunt forget eyeballing it! One lesson I’ve learned over the years of racking is that just because you may buy it at a vintage store or just because it may say vintage does not mean that it is… when I’m uncertain about specific pieces sometimes I take it to an expert friend. But, there are many things that you can look for yourself just by a glance if you’re serious in knowing more about the piece (checking patterns, fabrication, silhouette, care labels, etc.)

  15. These are excellent tips! Although I am not a charity shop shopper, on the rare occasion I do find myself in a consignment store, I will be sure to recall these. I actually need to make more of an effort to buy second-hand. There are great deals to be had. All my local stores are on the other side of town, and I suppose that’s why I don’t frequent them as often as I’d like.

  16. Oh, I totally missed this! been completely AWOL from commenting for last two weeks! Good tips and all, especially the duplication thing! I used to do that madly. Or just buy too much, though I don’t totally regret that, actually.

  17. Charity shops near me are almost always full of over priced crap and I hear ya on the rails of Primark crap – it’s a crime! I need to go further afield but, being a city dweller, the charity shops all tend to be pricey…

  18. These are all good tips. In my area, there are now over 35 thrifts. I’ve found that some are better on some items than others. For example, some thrifts take the time to repair shoes or take the time to size clothing items or to sort by color. That can make for a smoother shopping experience.

  19. This is such a great post Mrs B:)). I agree with Roz that small, independent op shops can have good stock and the prices seem to be more realistic. I’ve almost given up on finding thrifted clothing now as most of the big op shops send their vintage stuff to their retro outlets and whack a nice big price on the tag. I can only get real bargains at flea markets now. Shoes are hopeless for me as I have UK size 8 feet and most of the shoes are hideous in my size at op shops. Shoes are my concession to buying new, oh and knickers. xo

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  21. This is awesome! I love thrift-store shopping, but it definitely takes time and effort. When I have a day to burn, I adore hunting for cheap charity finds. 🙂 I’ll be linking out to this one at the end of my shopping series (along with B’s shopping tips for the on-line set).

  22. We don’t have Charity Shops in Canada in the same way as you have them in the UK. We have Goodwill and Value Village, which have chains of stores all over the country. I hit a couple of the Charity shops when I was in the UK about 10 years ago and found it to be a much more interesting shopping experience. My closet is a mix of new and used, and I love them both equally. I found a great pair of men’s ankle-high cowboy boots for $12 recently that need to be re-soled but are otherwise in great shape. It’s definitely the thrill of the hunt and the possibility of that one gem to be found.

  23. Fabulous advice, Mrs B! I’ve been shopping in charity shops since I was a little girl when it occured to me that my pocket money would stretch much further by buying a second-hand Sindy rather than hitting the toy shops.
    I definitely agree with disregarding size labels and hunting all the rails. Brightly coloured stuff tends to be classified as kids’ stuff in many chazzas and I’ve snaffled many a vintage psychedelic frock this way. Give me a day in a down-at-heel area for charity shops rather than a posh place where it’s all Country Casuals and Per Una.
    Don’t be afraid of undies and swimwear, I can’t remember the last time I bought a bra from a proper shop. There’s often brand new stuff in the baskets still with the price tags and sticky labels on. Old slips and nightdresses make for excellent outerwear.
    Check the household rails carefully. Shawls and pashminas are often to be found hanging up with the duvet covers, vintage curtains and table clothes can be cut up and sewn into skirts and dresses and vintage teatowels reworked into tote bags.
    Don’t get carried away and buy everything just because it’s vintage. Stop and think about how useful it is first. You’re not a museum curator. x

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