I’m heading to London this weekend and looking forward to a spot of second-hand shopping. London’s charity shops are now as hip as their designer stores, but increasingly the same is true of charity shops across the country. Nearly all of the major UK charities, from Oxfam to Cancer Research, now have dedicated vintage stores, supplying city hipsters with their retro fix. Of course, this means that many shops now longer offer the bargains they once did: ah, those were the days, when every charity shop was staffed by volunteers who didn’t know their Maxmara from their Marmite. These days, the shops are more likely to be staffed by fashion graduates, but I’ve found that there are still bargains a-plenty if you keep an open mind and heart.
Here are my top tips on getting the most from charity shops:
Go at the start of the week. Most people donate at weekends, so the best stuff tends to be found on a Monday afternoon or a Tuesday, depending when staff sort the goods and put them on the shop floor. I often ask shops when they put out the weekend donations – after all fortune (and second-hand designer handbags) favour the brave.
Don’t follow the chain gang: The larger chains have really got their act together in recent years: they keep on top of all the latest trends and know exactly what an item is worth. The one-off shops affiliated to small, local charities are not so organised. There, rails are likely to be more cluttered but there just might be buried treasure if you’re prepared to look for it. It’s these shops that often come up with the heart-stopping pieces: the perfect wool pencil skirt for four pounds or the 1920s flapper dress for less than you paid for parking.
Play the postcode lottery: This weekend, I’ll be travelling to London’s nicer neighbourhoods to pick up posh frocks which have fallen from favour. Second-hand shopping in affluent areas can be thrilling beyond belief. A decade or so ago, I got a silk-lined Chanel-style suit in a St Tropez second-hand shop and I still wear it to this day.
Be persistent: You’ll often leave a charity shop empty-handed – after all there are only so many pearls one girl can wear – but by getting into the habit of taking a regular look in charity shops you’ll discover some incredible treasures and you’ll also be training your eyes to sort the jewels from the dross. Never knowing what’s round the corner is a huge part of the fun.
Great things to pick up in charity shops
- Handbags: fabulous Grace Kelly box bags or classic brown leather saddle bags, perfect for slinging diagonally across the body.
- Scarves: Can be worn a multitude of ways.
- Buttons: they’re often bagged together, so you get a great glorious jumble of mother of pearl and sixties kitsch and maybe a bit of tortoiseshell, all for a couple of quid.
- Brooches: Plentiful in charity shops across the land. Vintage brooches come in an amazing range of styles, colours and materials, from pretty ceramic flowers, to kitsch cherries, to lovely art deco pins.
- Cashmere: the Holy Grail. A cashmere find in a charity shop makes a skint girl’s day. Cashmere comes in such beautiful colours and, because it’s been the choice of stylish women since the year dot, it’s often found in charity shops. Warning: moths love cashmere nearly as much as stylish women do, so buy some mothballs to ward them off.