I consider myself to be a semi-expert charity shopper. I spend a lot of time in charity shops. A lot! If I had to quantify the contents of my closet I would ‘guestimate’ that about a quarter of it is charity or thrift purchases; primarily jackets, dresses, skirts, tops and knitwear. I don’t tend to buy second-hand shoes, although I have bought one or two pairs. Similarly, for hygiene reasons I tend to steer clear of trousers, although I will happily buy jeans, which can be laundered at higher temperatures. For the purposes of disclosure I should state that I am a bit of a personal hygiene freak… I’m fairly confident there is nothing wrong in buying clean shoes and second-hand trousers!
I have also volunteered in a charity shop, which was a lot of fun (but not particularly healthy for my bank balance!). I now know what I would do to fill my days if I won the lottery!
Drawing on my experience I have compiled my top ten tips for charity and thrift shopping…
HOW TO CHARITY SHOP (TOP TEN TIPS)
1: Shop often and shop everywhere!
- There is a school of thought that charity shops in prosperous areas will have better quality stock. Whilst it makes sense that they may have better quality donations, and customers may have first pickings on those donations most charity shops move stock around from branch to branch, charity to charity. Look at the sales tags, do they display a week number? This is evidence of stock management, not just within the branch but within the network so don’t make the mistake of avoiding charity shops in less affluent areas!
- And, don’t think because you rifled through your local charity shop two weeks ago there’s nothing new for you this week! Most charity shops rotate stock efficiently week-on-week. I would estimate that over half of my charity purchases come from the same shop, which I visit often.
- Shopping often or regularly is particularly true for Men. Charity shops tend to stock more womenswear, presumably because women tend to have more clothes and replace them more often. Gents, you should never pass a charity shop without going in for a rummage!
- Give yourself plenty of time to look through every item. Remember, this isn’t the high street; no amount of ‘Mary Portas-ing’ a charity shop is going to give you the same guided experience a normal shop will.
- There’s nothing I like more than a rummage in a new shop. The Scooter and Mod scene keep us busy travelling around the country. One of the first things we do on arrival is check out the local charity shops! Weston-Super-Mare is a great example of good charity shopping. The town itself is one of the worst for clothes shopping but, people are obviously buying their clothes from somewhere because the four or five charity shops I visited had quality, branded clothes and provided vastly better shopping than the Weston high street. One even has an upstairs vintage section and designer sample rail!
- Shop unisex! Things are often not where they should be!
3: Don’t bother with the basics
- Don’t waste your time and money on wardrobe basics like plain tees, plain shirts, plain trousers & plain skirts. You can probably find it online or on the High Street, new for about the same price.
4: Be brave and think outside the box!
- Charity shops are for buying exciting, odd items you won’t find elsewhere or, won’t think to buy anywhere else. For example, I wouldn’t think of going into a mens shop and buying a suit jacket and yet I own loads; all from charity shops, some of which have become wardrobe staples.
- To quote a Guardian blogger “Do take things out of context…”. That floral quilted bomber may look hideous hanging there between the old-lady polyester and brown corduroy but do a mental cut & paste into your closet. How does it look hanging on the back of your bedroom door?
- Can it be adjusted or refreshed? You don’t have to be a professional seamstress or tailor; even something as simple as changing the buttons can completely refresh a garment and, hey presto! you have a unique item of clothing.
5: Try stuff on
- NEVER trust the hanger sizes and don’t trust the actual garment sizing. Do you like it? Take it off the rail and take a look at it. Does it look like it might fit? Try it on! Remember, ‘standard’ garment sizing varies greatly between brands/designers and also changes over time.
- Remember garments may have been altered or tailored to fit. I’m a sucker for a shift dress and heels, particular for work so, it’s not unusual for me to just grab every shift dress in my size range and try them all on.
6: Check for stains & damage
- Pay particular attention to the high risk areas (armpit stains and broken zips for example).
- Missing buttons can be replaced!
7: Question high prices & split up suits
Don’t feel guilty about questioning the price if you think they are exorbitant. I don’t do this often but if, for example a second-hand non-designer suit has been priced at £40 and I want it, you better believe I’m questioning the price (and I’m certainly not paying £40 for it).
- I will often ask if suits can be separated. There have been a couple of occasions when I have only wanted one piece of a two or three-piece suit and this has never been a problem.
8: Launder everything
- Apply some common sense! As soon as you get home from a good charity shopping trip, remove the sales tags and drop your purchases straight into the laundry hamper. There’s a dry cleaners opposite my favourite local charity shop so I will often drop stuff straight off.
9: Don’t forget charity outlet shops and online stores
- Some charity shops have online stores! Check out Oxfam online shop and eBay for Charity Listings
- Cancer Research plan to roll out £1 outlet stores following the success of their flagship store in Oxford (where I bought a pair of black Dolce & Gabbana jeans and a mink coloured moleskin jacket for, you guessed it, £1 each!). Keep an eye on your local news!
10: Don’t procrastinate!
- If you want it (and can afford it), buy it! Don’t procrastinate over the £80 Gucci bag (with dust cover and authentication) only to return the following morning to find it’s been sold for £40 to a customer who questioned the price. True story! *sobs*
Charity shops are only as good as the stock that is donated so, pay it forward! If the few pounds you might receive for something on eBay isn’t going to make a dramatic difference to your life then donate it. I have a re-list rule. If my eBay item hasn’t sold after the first re-list then it’s in the charity bag!
Before you donate, ask yourself…
- Would I buy this in a charity shop?
- Would I be happy to sell this on eBay?
- Is it damage/stain free?
- My friends and I hold clothes swap parties so, I give my donations the clothes-swap test …would I be comfortable giving this to a friend?
If the answer to any of the above is ‘no’ then it’s probably time for the clothing/textiles recycling bin!
Have fun, and tell us about your favourite charity purchase! xx