When I was younger, my grandma and I would regularly take trips on the bus to Bolton and spend the afternoon trawling the rails of charity shops. As my teenage years approached, the allure began to wear off and I eventually stopped taking part in our little treasure hunts.
Fast forward ten years or so and I had a new set of responsibilities, such as bills and a young family to consider. I had to learn to budget and quickly discovered that, as cute as they may be, buying new clothes for toddlers who outgrow their wardrobe every couple of months and could destroy an entire outfit with one ill-planned mealtime was a waste of money.
I reignited my love of charity shops and, even now that the kids are almost grown up, thrifting has become my primary way of clothes shopping. I plan a trip about once a month and I’d estimate that at least 60 per cent of my current wardrobe has come from my charity shop excursions.
There’s the added bonus of making a positive environmental change by opting for sustainable fashion over the fast, cheap items available on the high street and online. I also get that ‘feel good’ glow knowing that the money I’m spending is helping to fund some wonderful charities.
I wanted to share my charity shop experiences with you and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Set a budget
In the past, I’ve found myself squealing (internally) with excitement after bagging myself a £3 skirt. And then a £6 coat. And a £5 handbag. And a couple of £2 t-shirts. By the time I’d made my way around a handful of charity shops, I’d spent much more than I’d ever initially intended to. These days, I set myself a realistic budget and rough idea of what it is that I’m looking for (a new pair of jeans, a dress for an event, a winter coat etc) and stick to it.
Push your style boundaries
The beauty of charity shops is the unique and unexpected items that you can stumble across. If you tend to stick to one particular style, now is the time to push your boundaries and experiment a little bit. Don’t dismiss an item that may be outside of your usual comfort zone; you may just be pleasantly surprised.
Ask yourself if it can be easily customised by adding a personal touch with different buttons (you can pick these up for pennies from your local market) or an applique. Making friends with a seamstress is always a great shout too if you need slightly more complex alterations making and lack the skills yourself.
Explore different areas
It makes sense that charity shops in affluent areas may be filled with designer treasures; that said, the staff generally know this too and will price top-end goods accordingly. Also, think about the local residents and what they may be donating.
I spent a day working from a city that I rarely visit, so I popped into the centre on my lunch break and managed to pick up a gorgeous faux leather River Island pencil skirt and polka dot H&M dress for just £1 each. I then remembered that it was a university city and most of the items on offer were probably donated by style-savvy students who clear out their wardrobes each season.
Try everything on
Over the years, I’ve come to know what sizes fit me best depending on the brand but it’s always worth trying items on before you buy. Clothing that has been donated could have been previously altered or shrunk in the wash; I once found a lovely 50s style dress in my usual size but couldn’t even zip it up when I got in the fitting room.
It also gives you the chance to spot any possible tears, missing buttons, stains, or other damage. Sometimes they may be an easy fix with a sewing needle but other times, they could be irreparable and have been overlooked by the shop volunteers so it’s always best to take a closer look.
Take a step back
Just because it’s in a charity shop, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bargain. A little while ago, I picked out a New Look sundress and then spotted that they were asking £7 for it. I knew that it had been on sale in-store the previous summer for £8 full price.
Before purchasing, I always take a second to ask myself if I really need whatever is in my hand. The answer is no when it comes to something that is very similar to the clothes I already own, such as black skirts or yet another striped t-shirt. It’s also good to think about how much wear you’d get out of each item in reality.
I hope that helps and if you have any charity shop fashion tips, questions, or charity shop of your own to share, please leave them in the comments section below.