Here’s a little secret – I don’t enjoy shopping. I get fed up with the lack of transparency on our high streets and it really is a minefield of ethical concerns. I spend the entire time looking through fabric labels and checking the fibre content to at least gauge if the raw materials are ecofriendly – it’s a bore.
Plus, with fast fashion at an all time high, I hate the thought of wearing the same thing as someone else. How many times have you seen someone and thought, “That jacket with the sparkly sleeves came from H&M. That print was in M&S”. I can make something totally unique at home with some Offset Warehouse fabric and my sewing machine! There are some amazing eco brands out there and I do treat myself to the occasional something special, but, for very good reasons, the brands I’m into just aren’t that easy on the wallet. BUT, the one place I really can get my fashion and trinkets fix, is wandering the charity shops and second hand markets and picking up some great, stylish bargains – and items that no one else will have.
Second hand shopping is great for many reasons. First, (once you’ve filtered through the hundreds of donated Primark rubbish) you can find some amazing, unique items that you wouldn’t find on the high street. It’s often cheaper, if not on a par with, fast fashion prices. You’re re-homing someone else’s trash that may have otherwise ended up in landfill. And most importantly, your pennies are going to a good cause too!
Of course, there is a bit of an art to charity shopping – the pure number of items, all different sizes and colours can be pretty overwhelming and you can soon be disheartened when you can’t find the right fit or shape. So here’s my guide to finding some real gems and some incredible places you just have to check out!
What Are You Looking For?
Second hand goods is quite a broad category. Let’s break it down.
Are you in the mood for some new (old) clothes? The best advice I can give is to find an area with loads of charity shops. Smaller towns and places on the outskirts of big cities are often great for this. It may require a little word of mouth to find a hotspot, but once you do, you’ll keep going back. Bognor Regis has many (I hear!).
You may have visions of a charity shop being smelly and fusty, but think again! Charity shops have really had a makeover in the past few years. Pop into TRAID or Fara, and you’ll think you were in a fancy boutique. They are also great for picking up books and trinkets for your home. Plus, if you are in the mood for new clothes, why don’t you give your wardrobe a clear out and take some of your unworn clothes to donate? This will clear room in your closet for some lovely new ones.
If you’re looking for something special, maybe you want to find a special party dress for example? Then you’d be better off with a selection of vintage shops or high-end charity boutiques, like Mary Portas’ Living and Giving shops. Head down to somewhere like Brick Lane in London, or the Lanes in Brighton. You’ll find loads of handpicked loveliness to choose from.
Homewares & Furniture
Some charity shops specialise in furniture, so keep an eye out for those. The British Heart Foundation shops are especially good for this. Try to find out about the places, shops or sellers that are involved in the second hand goods market. Every city has these sellers, and you first need to know where and who they are. Local directories are a good start, and collecting references online will help you get started.
Specialist shops and markets are also great for this, and some are worth a visit even if you’re not on the lookout for furniture. Aladin’s Cave in Lewisham is a particular spectacle to behold!
If you’re just in it for a mooch and browse, find your local car boot sale. Some have been going for so many years that they are practically an institution. You’ll find clothes, homewares and who knows what else. Remember, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
How Long To Spend
Now this may seem like odd advice. You’re probably thinking, “I can spend however long I want!” The danger is, if you study every item in the shop and find nothing you like. It’s frustrating. It’s a waste of time.
There’s a time and place for routing through every box and every rail. Sometimes you do find gold! My method is to do a quick overview. I’m lucky because I’ve been making clothes for myself for years, so I can pretty quickly see if something is going to look good or not. But I’d hazard a guess to say that you know your style pretty well too! Scout out the sections you want to look at, focus on them. Don’t get mesmerised by the selection of door knobs in a junk shop if you know you’re looking for a vase.
When you’re clothes shopping, go straight to your size and maybe one size bigger – I’m a fan of oversized jumpers and can always take something in a little. Flick through the rail and warp speed and scout if there are any colours or patterns you like. If not – move on! If blue isn’t your colour, don’t look at the blue section. If you’re a size seven shoe, don’t get distracted by the pretty size fives. You’ll only feel disappointed they don’t fit you. Don’t worry, they are destined for someone else.
Just because something is second hand does not mean you need to compromise on quality. Second hand goods are often better made than something new and cheaply made. Do you think the Burberry suit jacket my mum found in a charity shop the other day is likely to be tailored to perfection? You bet it is! Probably even better than today’s manufacturing that’s been shipped out and production-lined to the teeth.
The downside of charity shopping is that you’re unlikely to find something you are specifically looking for. But let’s get real for a second – that happens in high street shops too! That’s part of the fun of charity shopping. Be open-minded and you might find a better style that you’d never have thought of.
Second hand shopping usually comes with the advantage of being cheaper. Sometimes if it is really good quality, savvy charity shop owners do add a premium – don’t be afraid to spend a bit more. Think about what you’re investing in. A great thing about markets or shops is they are very often open to haggling.
Check the product through and through before you actually buy it. You don’t want to end up with a sweater or a shirt that has a gaping hole you didn’t notice. This happened to me the other week. If you do notice a hole, don’t fret. Can you fix it, or disguise it with some pretty embroidery? See it as challenge. Just don’t be surprised and disappointed when you get home. Check out our tips for mending clothes here.
Second hand shopping can produce some of the smartest investments you make. If you have the knack of using things to their maximum possibility, you will always be able to find things that offer a long-term and great use for you. I personally know of people who have picked seemly old rags and turned them into magical, red carpet worthy gowns with just a few snips and tucks. This isn’t limited to clothes either. You could also find some very interesting material that you could add to your DIY projects. There are several popular Pinterest accounts, hobbyists and DIY masters who thrive solely on the goods they have picked up while on a second hand shopping adventure… and yes, it’s an adventure for sure!
Give It A Go
There are many reasons goods end up on the second hand market. Contrary to popular belief, the reason isn’t always negative. Have you donated to a charity shop before? Chances are you have. Does that make your goods less worthy? Nope. Just because something is not of use to one person doesn’t mean it has no use at all. Additionally, second hand shopping is so much easier on the pocket. Even if something is as good as new, the prices will be slashed remarkably. You, your house and everything around you can be dressed in second-hand goods that look shiny and brilliant.