Charity shops are an ideal source for great pre-loved clothes, and can be a boon if you’re uneasy about the ethics of the current fashion industry. It doesn’t have to be new to look great, but it does help to know what you’re doing, so here are a few tips to get you started.
Know your shops
Not all charity shops have the same stock. Small, remote, rural or seaside towns can be brilliant for picking up really good vintage fashion.
More affluent city areas tend to offer more quality items including some designer clothes. They’re worth checking, but can get busy and their prices are generally higher, which can mean a garment from a cheap chain store could end up costing you more than it would new.
In less affluent urban areas you’ll usually find a broader mix of garments, which tend to be generally cheaper, with the better stuff often priced down. This is where you’ll find that one-off bargain you won’t be able to resist telling everyone about.
If you can, go during the week. The best donations may have been snapped up by the weekend, and a quieter shop makes browsing easier. Items tend to move faster on Saturdays or in pleasant weather, so a wet, windy Wednesday is ideal.
Decide what you want
The charity shop browse is sometimes irresistible, but the smart second-hand shopper keeps an objective in mind. Just as you would in the high street, go out with a clear idea of what you want, or at least the gap you need to fill in your wardrobe.
Most shops help by grouping similar colours together. You may know exactly which colours and patterns suit you, but if you’ve never thought about it, look at your favourite garments.
You can check the relevant rails of several shops quite quickly if you keep it focused.
Open your mind
If you’re female, it’s often worth checking among the menswear, particularly for belts and knitwear. And if you’re small or very slim, remember the children’s section. Teenager sizes can be quite large.
Be willing to try on anything that looks as if it might fit the bill. Fashion chains tend to design for ‘hanger appeal’, so this may involve a conscious mental shift. And never disregard something because it appears to be the wrong size.
You’ll have more options if you’re handy with a sewing machine and willing to make repairs or alterations, but be realistic about your ability. If you have the confidence to upcycle that’s even better.
Professional alterations services are definitely worth considering if it’s a really good quality, high-fashion piece, but the extra cost will often wipe out any bargain. So check prices beforehand, so you can make an informed purchase.
Check your favourite local shops at least once a week. If you’re sticking to your must-have list, you probably won’t find what you want on the first attempt, but stock changes daily.
Have a good dig through the relevant racks or baskets. If you find what seems like your perfect item, check carefully for tears, holes, stains or faulty fasteners.
Read labels to make sure you know what fabrics you’re buying. Older wool garments are more likely to be ethically sourced, but you may still want to avoid silk or leather and few animal lovers are willing to wear even second-hand fur!
Also look out for special care instructions. They tend to err on the side of caution, so if it says ‘Dry Clean’, you can probably handwash it. ‘Dry Clean Only’ means it can’t be washed. But if the garment is right you might decide to risk it. Many ‘Dry Clean Only’ garments will tolerate a cool handwash and careful air-drying, but avoid washing brightly coloured patterns or fine detailing like beading. If you have a greener dry cleaner, know their prices.
Charity shops are a brilliant, easy place to recycle clothes that you no longer wear, and donating clothes is a great way to support the charity. Donation bins are handy for outside opening hours, but if you pay tax it’s worth dropping your donations in personally and signing a Gift Aid form so they can also reclaim some of your tax from the Government.