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.
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.
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?
Fashion Pearls of Wisdom: Budget Fashion: Can you afford to shop ethically?
Northwest is Best: What happened to charity shop bargains?