Saturday, 22 February 2014

Top 10 Tips for Shopping in Charity Shops

Vintage Clothes Rack by Leigh-Anne Peach Photography, who you can check out here and here

It's probably not too difficult to figure out from my blog name that I really, really like a bargain, and although I am definitely known to frequent sale rails and clearance events, I do really like shopping in Charity/Thrift/Second-Hand stores. As I mentioned in my last post, I know the quality and prices can really vary depending on the shop and where you are, but I'm lucky enough to live somewhere where there are quite a few really cheap, really nice shops. I thought I'd put together a quick post today on what I think are the top things to keep in mind when searching through those charity rails!

Spend Some Time

While I have been known to nip into charity shops for a quick five minute browse when passing, my best finds have always come from good long shopping sessions. Put aside an afternoon and you'll have much more time to spend really searching and trying things on. The nicest items will unfortunately often be hidden behind a whole shop full of things you wouldn't even consider buying, but it can be worth your time if you really fall in love with the eventual find.

Look For Quality

The better quality the item, the more chance it has of being in great condition even though it's second-hand, and the better deal you're getting for your money. Look for fully lined clothes and bags, expensive feeling fabrics that are comfortable to wear and nice to touch, and look out for any unfamiliar (or indeed familiar) brand names or designers that look like they could be decent. 

Know When To Leave It Alone

Generally if it's stained, misshapen or visibly torn I'd leave it be. With knitwear especially, be wary of clothes which have lost their shape due to incorrect care, and piling due to age/wear, both of which are difficult to reverse easily and quickly. Shoes tend to shoe signs of wear very easily too, as do delicate fabrics. Some shops are guilty of selling things that really should have been put in the 'to bin' pile, so double and triple check everything before you commit to owning it. 

Consider Projects

That said, try not to dismiss things based on really minor faults that you could fix or make better quite easily. A loose button or a badly sewn hem can be fixed in minutes, while an ill-fitting maxi dress two sizes too big for you could be the starting point for that adorable asymmetric summer dress you've been planning on making for a while. I always look in the mens section for really big dress shirts (like, i'm talking 4 or 5 XLs here) to make into shirt dresses. Keep an eye out and try to think of some items as starting points rather than final products.

Shop For YOU

Yes, that luminous yellow lurex coat is so on trend and worth the money, but be honest - is it going to suit you, and will you ever wear it outside of the house? You know what you like and what you'll be happy wearing, so don't try to kid yourself into buying things just because they're there, cheap and good value for money. Always ask yourself the three 'W's' before purchasing anything: when will I have occasion to wear it, what can I wear it with that I already own, and why do I want to buy it at all?

Remember Accessories

Clothes rails generally dominate the majority of charity and second hand shops, leaving the shoes, bags, belts, hats and another assorted accessories to be piled into an unceremonious heap somewhere in a corner near the back. I've found some gorgeous vintage 100% silk scarves this way, but I really did have to physically search them out. You may have to sort through a pile of crap to reach it, but chances are there are some gold star items scattered throughout.

Be Wary Of 'Vintage'

I am personally really not a fan of 'Vintage Stores'. Maybe I've just had bad experiences, but they tend to be overpriced and over hyped, and they seem to charge an awful lot of money for things which would be a third of the price in the Age UK shop next door. If you know of a good, reliable and trustworthy one, then great, but beware of buying things just because they're labelled as vintage. It's just a label after all.

Travel Far and Wide

It's a simple fact that charity shops in London are going to have different kinds of clothes (and prices!) to charity shops in rural Yorkshire. I actually think small town charity shops tend to be way better than big city ones as a rule, but it depends entirely on where you are and even sometimes just what sort of people mostly live in the area. Keep an eye out for shops in places where there are a lot of well-off older people, as they will very often donate quite expensive items to charity shops rather than go through the unnecessary hassle of selling them on. I had first hand experience of this while working for Oxfam where people would regularly donate rare and expensive books worth up to hundreds of pounds, just because they couldn't be bothered to go about selling them, or didn't need the money for themselves.

Don't Forget Markets and Swaps

Charity shops are great resources, but I've also had some amazing finds at fairs, markets and even car boot sales on occasion. Keep an eye out for local events visiting your town or city, and make the most of 'swap' events where you can donate unwanted items and pick up others for free in return. Supporting these kinds of events can often benefit local retailers, charities and independent craftspeople a lot, so if you can find the time I'd strongly reccomend getting involved. 

Leave Your Expectations Behind Sometimes

Not every single shopping trip is going to end with you getting a really great bargain on something you really wanted. Keep an open mind, and while going out shopping with an idea of what you want in mind is definitely a good thing, I try to never discount and ignore other items that could be complete one-off bargains that are too good to pass up (*cough* like my amazing brand new £1 ASOS Blazer thank you very much *cough*) or things that you are just unlikely to ever find again (like the handmade skirt I bought from a little market in Norfolk one year, that was hand-sewn and customized to my own measurements for only £5). Know your limits of course, but don't dismiss things just because you weren't expecting to find them, because that's one of the main joys of shopping for things in this way. There's almost always surprises to be found!

Do you shop in thrift shops very often, or is it too much effort to go about just for the chance of finding a bargain? What's been your best bargain find in a second-hand or vintage shop? Let me know below! :)

- Natalie XOX