Archives for posts with tag: Charity shop

It’s been a while since I posted about a charity shop haul, and although I have been picking bits up here and there, I enjoyed a rare targeted trip today.

I’m planning my wardrobe for a trip to Cologne next week, sans kids and husband, to visit a beloved old friend. Said friend is very glam, so I’m always a bit more sartorially aware when I see her. I was hoping to lose a bit of weight for the trip (cliché much?) but of course this hasn’t happened, and as I find myself heavier than usual at the moment my wardrobe options are looking limited.

Browsing during my lunch hour yesterday (I work in the centre of Birmingham, a city which markets itself as a shopping capital of Europe: nightmare), I saw this dress in cheapie shop, Select. It fulfilled my requirements for a new dress at this particular time: stretchy (read, comfortable), cheap and short enough to go over leggings or wear alone. The British summer has not played ball so far so I wanted to cover all bases.

At £15 its cheap enough, but then I thought maybe it was TOO cheap? Would this wash and wear for a long time? Did the design LOOK cheap? As I approach 40, I’m more aware that I can’t rock the pound shop chic look like I used to, particularly in styles like this that nod to the 90s quite so much.

I reckoned I could do better and boost my wardrobe from the chazzas with the same £15. So I set off this morning to ‘do’ Cotteridge and Northfield, my most local of Birmingham ‘burbs, and host to a plethora of charity shops. My brief: short dresses/tunics to wear alone or over my leggings/skinnies, and tops that might go with these. I bought them on a whim last month as they were comfy but I have not a clue what to wear with them. The baggy style of them make my bum look as big as Bulgaria, but despite the desire to go longer, I think short tops would give a more balanced silhouette.

And this is how I did. WITH CHANGE.

Not bad, eh? Here’s how they all came about

1) This Jasper Conran lovely came from a local CIC called Autism Birmingham. It’s owned by an old school pal, and raises money for a fantastic cause, helping local children with autism access much needed products and services. The shop is cheap and cheerful, with all clothes £1 or less, and is usually a selection of basics from the cheaper end of the high street. I popped in primarily to stock up on holiday reads, as their books are only 20p, but I couldn’t resist this. Jasper Conran! For £1! It matches the green trousers perfectly.


2) This it today’s star buy. I love the surfy-style brands but the stuff rarely suits me. I took this ONeil dress to the fitting room not expecting much, but it’s great! Perfect length to wear alone or layer, the faded green colour is one of my most flattering. I also like the neckline. I’m quite busty and find high necks feel a bit strangling sometimes. Mine for £5.


3) Whenever I go charity shopping, I often get some kind of ‘thing’ stuck in my head, and then I struggle to see anything else. It might be a certain type of garment, or an era. Or a colour. And today I was looking at ALL THE ORANGE. This little jumper isn’t for the trip, but it’s so soft I couldn’t leave it there. It fastens at the neck but has an open back which I found unusual. I’d never heard of the brand, Charlie and Robin, but a quick Google in the fitting room told me it was an Anthropologie, rare in the UK. Mine for £3.50.


4) Finally, this little cream top nearly passed me by, as its not a style I normally go for or a brand I knew. But I thought it would match the trousers so tried it. Peplum tops have been tricky for me in the past, but this was flattering, and a bargain at £3.

Anyone good at Maths may have worked out I’ve only spent £12.50 so far. Well, there were a couple of extra purchases.


I spotted these sandals outside one shop, where the sun appears to have melted the lining. I didn’t realise until I got them home and tried them, the lining stuck to my feet, yuck! I’m hoping the effect will wear off, but any tips will be gratefully received. I’m still happy I bought them though. Whilst not the sexiest ever, they are Clarks. And red! They are barely worn and the heel is pretty interesting. And best of all they were £1!!


My last purchase was this pretty beaded necklace, picked up for £1. Which left me with 50p for a Greggs doughnut.

Doesn’t look like I’ll be fitting into those old skinny clothes anytime soon………….


This month’s spree began with a pair of jeans.

I normally shop with the office in mind, since that’s where I spend the majority of my time (Sad, but true). Thankfully where I work isn’t too corporate, or at least I’m not, so a lot of my wardrobe multitasks for days off. Denim is weekend only though, and I like to have a couple of pairs of jeans in rotation. Christmas weight gain meant I was down to one tatty pair of jeggings; and since by some craziness I have a little bit of money left at the end of JANUARY (I know, I have no idea), I thought I’d treat myself to some new threads.

I happen to work directly on top of a New Look, and they do a lot of denim. I found a pair of OK looking ones for £25, but I wasn’t as excited as a clothes purchase ought to make me really. Where was the hunt? The thrill of the chase and a bargain well caught?

I think I have been spoiled by charity shops.

Instead, I decided to take my £25 into the wild, and see if I could get more for my cash. Charity shops are an excellent place to shop for jeans. Firstly, there are racks and racks of them. Everyone buys jeans on a whim that don’t really fit or flatter, and you can reap the rewards. Secondly, most of us aren’t affected by frequent trend changes in jeans making them always in fashion. Sure, high street shops try to tempt us with different versions of the boyfriend/skinny/drainpipe etc, but essentially they don’t change too much year to year. I have decided you can be too staid though. I discovered indigo bootlegs in the early 90’s, and it’s been hard to move away ever since. Consequently I was after a lighter wash for spring, in a straighter leg for a change.


Thankfully, these lovely Moto (Topshop) Martha jeans jumped out at me fairly quickly. They are a straight cut, uncomplicated style, and have great reviews on the Topshop website. And they were mine for the princely sum of just £4.

So now I had my jeans, plus another £21 to spend.


This teal handbag is lovely quality leather, and the wear it’s had only makes it more buttery soft. It has no brand label, but I’m guessing maybe Next, since the zip tab (always a great place to look for clues) says LKK, and I have similar zips on other Next handbags. I love the colour, it fits well into the Autumn palette I now shop almost exclusively from. There was a number handwritten on the lining. At first I thought it may be a product code, but on reflection I like to think it was the beginning of a phone number; maybe the owner found a scrap of paper after all. I love these little signs that make you wonder about the life an item had before you. I’m a sucker for leather bags, but can rarely afford them. This was a fiver.

£16 to go…

You need an open mind when charity shopping; to go out with a very strict agenda is a recipe for disaster because you have no control over what stock will be there, but I did set two rules for today.

1) No black. It makes me look drained and doesn’t suit me, but black is still such a go-to colour that I have to stop myself. I mentioned the Autumn thing above. I’m really on board with colour analysis. Though pale, I am quiet yellowy and need those warmer shades.

2) No prints. I am inexorably drawn to patterned, usually floral fabrics. Thought not always a problem, I’m hoping to boost the plain fabric quota in my wardrobe for more versatility and to help me look more streamlined and grown-up. The frothy, flouncy, flowery thing doesn’t always look great when you’re fat and firty-seven.


As you can see, rules are made to be broken. I loved the muted shades of this dress, and when I tried it on (on top of my clothes, the Salvation Army doesn’t have a fitting room*), I loved the style. Gypsy dresses hold a special place in my heart, having worn them a lot during my early 20s. I only hope this is sophisticated looking enough to get away with. It’s a Peacocks, a brand I generally avoid when shopping second hand. In fact, if I buy a ‘value’ brand at all, it really needs to impress me by being either brand new, very cheap or (ideally) both. Its true that even charity shopping is not as inexpensive as it used to be. My threshold for dresses was £5 for years, but you have to move with the times, and I was happy to take this unworn one home for £7.

The other dress was £7 too, but this is a Jigsaw. Yes, a JIGSAW. Something of a sought after brand by me. I’m happy with quality pieces from the high street giants like M+S or Next, but am extra chuffed to find an item by Hobbs, Laura Ashley or Whistles etc. I loved the pintuck bib on this, but it is a little ‘sackish’ in shape, probably not helped by the chocolate colour. However, this fulfills the grown-up brief, and I’m hoping with a belt, this will look good for the office. Its a cotton/modal mix and feels just lovely.


So just £2 left. I wasn’t expecting to see anything else, but then I spotted a waterfall cardigan on the sale rail (see on Jigsaw dress, above). It’s a Primark, not something I’d usually buy, but these light layers are perfect for an office with changeable temperatures, and its in mustard which I can never resist. Best of all, it was only £1.50.

All in all, a successful trip. I could have bought one pair of ‘meh’ jeans, instead I came home with a veritable haul.

And 50p change.

*Despite this, The Salvation Army in Northfield is still one of my favourite charity shops. I’ve unearthed a few real quality gems, and they are the only shop forward thinking enough to have a loyalty card. I collect stamps, and can have a fiver off next time. They also offer discounts off purchases when you take in a bag of donations. Fab idea.

I rarely do more than give a cursory glance towards the costume jewellery stands in charity shops. Not that I don’t love a bit of bargain bling, I absolutely do, but they are invariably merchandised all lumped together on a couple of hooks so you can’t quite see what’s hanging there. Plus, like all the other racks, they are overstocked; meaning you can find yourself in a bit of a vipers nest should you try to inspect something hanging towards the back.

However, this little beauty caught my eye as I was browsing, sitting as it was towards the front of a display. It was when I touched it though, and felt its significant weight, that I knew it was worthy of closer inspection.

A bit of a disclaimer: I know nothing about beads, necklaces or jewellery making in general. So this post will be littered with inaccurate terms and guesswork. I am genuinely interested to learn more, so if any readers are clued up, I’d love to hear from you.

It’s strung with glass beads in matt black and a beautiful amber colour, cupped by delicate filigree metal findings. It was only closer inspection that I noticed the oval faceted amber beads are cupped on one end, so they look like little acorns.
There are some lovely squashed wheel-shaped beads, and all are in excellent condition. It’s clearly not a precious metal, but the gold effect chain is largely untarnished. The only part that shows some age is the clasp which is beautifully made in the fish-hook style, and also provided a clue that this was more than another Accessorize piece.
I’ve been doing a little research on the t’internet and all of the necklaces I can find which look similar to this are Czech glass. The beads aren’t seamed, but they are some very slight differences, in the size of the facets for example, which make me think they are artisan made rather than very modern/mass produced. I am keen to age the piece, and indeed all the similar pictures I found are of Edwardian necklaces. I am very excited to think I may have discovered something 100 years old in the local charity shop, but that is certainly looking like a possibility. I thought it might be vintage, but antique? Wow.

You won’t see me on Antiques Roadshow anytime soon (similar items seems to sell for £30-£50), but I will get a little thrill wearing it whilst watching Downton Abbey next week and wondering if Lady Mary might have worn similar.

Charity Shop Rail

Bargains lurk within

I rarely buy clothes new. I guess it started out of necessity when I was a student, but it’s evolved into a habit that prejudices me against the high street (£29.99 for a TOP?! Really?). Of course we know the plus points: it’s cheaper, greener to reuse fashion, benefits charities, etc, etc but although the planet-saving altruistic glow is nice and all that, the best part for me is the thrill of the hunt.

There are those that will tell you the golden age of charity shopping is over. That since the recession everyone’s plundering the stock and there’s no bargains left. Either that or they are selling on Ebay instead of donating.They will remind you of the Mary Portas effect, and insist their local shops are full of bobbly Primark rejects priced higher than they were new.  Whilst there is some truth in these claims, there are still real bargains to be had; it’s just that the hunt is a little harder these days.

There are other ways to source second-hand clothes of course. The afore-mentioned Ebay can still turn up a gem or two. You need to shop outside of popular times (mid-morning and mid-afternoon during the week are best) but when you factor in postage and the risk that you might not quite get what you are looking for, it becomes less tempting. Elsewhere online, local Facebook pages often have clothes sellers, but in my experience individuals can be unreliable/dodgy/downright crazy. Mind you, maybe that’s a reflection on my local area…

For bottom-dollar pricing, it’s hard to beat car boot sales, especially if you can overcome that peculiarly British squeamishness about haggling. Now I love car boot sales, and I’ll buy anything at them, but generally not clothes as I prefer to try things on. The other downside to such sales is that they are seasonal, whereas the chazzas trade all year round.

So here are my top tips and advice on maximising your chances of a successful haul as you hit the shops.

Forget what you already know

For many years the golden rule of charity shopping was that you should visit the most expensive areas to pick up the best quality donations. So well-known is this adage, that the charities are wise to it and price their stock accordingly and you will often pay more for the same item in a posh town than a rougher district. Which is completely different to new fashion, where a top costs the same in Dorothy Perkins no matter what branch you’re in. Remember, this kind of shopping is a bit like fishing; if everyone is casting their rod in the same pond, you won’t all find what you’re looking for. Charity shops are evolved, sophisticated businesses, assessing and transferring stock regularly, meaning donations don’t always stay at source. I prefer city suburb shops, and particularly scruffier independents, as they can be where you unearth the real treasures.

Another generally accepted piece of advice is that you shouldn’t buy shoes or basics (vests etc), presumably because the former will be moulded to another’s foot and the latter is cheap enough anyway. Regarding shoes, the days where people owned four pairs in strict rotation are long gone. Retailers like New Look pioneered the way in cheap fashion for feet, and now you’re highly likely to come across shoes that are unworn. If you can’t justify spending £50 on some brand new mustard ballet pumps to wear with one outfit, maybe you’ll get lucky in the chazzas! I regularly buy vests from charity shops. They may only be £2 from Peacocks, but this way I can source higher quality labels for a similar price. I have a fantastic little red Mexx vest that has been a staple for some five years or more.

Some things you should avoid though

Whilst it’s a fact many charities don’t habitually sell random bottles of toiletries, the true cannot be said of gift sets, which are often displayed with the bric a brac. As a former manager for The Body Shop, I can date a White Musk body lotion from a mile away, and its not unusual for me to spot things I sold in store up to ten years previously. These unwanted items often languish in people’s bottom drawers for years before they hit the donation box. Don’t be tempted by health and beauty products, you might get a nasty rash. At best, they will have lost their potency or fragrance, even if sealed.

Lots of people donate items that they have incorrectly washed so they no longer fit. Whilst you may not see that as barrier to purchase if you’re a smaller size and it fits you now, I would approach with caution. Shrunken or faded garments rarely look good on. Sizing is so complicated, that just because that size 16 skirt now fits your size 12 frame, it doesn’t mean it will hang correctly or have an even hem, particularly if designed on the bias. Always, always try things on and get another opinion if you can.

Be fearless

About trying things on. Not many charity shops welcome refunds, so be sure about what you are buying. If you’re lucky, you might shop in one of the swankier stores with fully functioning fittings rooms, but more often that not it will be a curtained off area on the sales floor. My local one has wonky saloon doors that don’t fasten properly. There’s no point worrying about them swinging open at an inopportune moment, since any passing perverts can peek through the louvred doors and have a good gawp. I still try things on though. A bargain £3.99 dress is not a bargain if you get it home and it doesn’t fit.

Charity shops have a unique ambience. All human life is there. Embrace the random conversations with octogenarians, have patience with the volunteer cashier who is clueless when operating the till, singlaong to the Everly Brothers classic on Smooth FM (every charity shop plays Smooth FM). It’s all part of the fun.

Hunt, hunt, hunt (but play it smart)

First of all, the best time to shop charity is early to mid-week. Most donations come in on a weekend, so allow a day or so for things to be processed and hit the shop floor. Some people complain that the staff glean off all the best bits. That’s probably true, it’s a perk of the job (wouldn’t you?), but there’s no guarantees they are the same size as you, or have the same taste.

Maybe it goes without saying that you need time for an effective charity shopping trip.  Time is money; and you can only save one or the other. The advantage of new (rather than newtoyou) shopping is that everything is laid out nicely and your size easy to locate. Chez chazza you will need a broader approach. Check the sizes either side of your own; sometimes things are mislabeled, Gap US sizing is a frequent casualty of this, and labels vary so much anyway.  Check the mens section too and consider all styling options, but don’t go crazy.

This is probably the most controversial thing I have to say on the subject, but please exercise some sartorial caution with your choices. I do quite a lot of mooching on the internet about this subject, and Youtube in particular is a joy. There’s lots of ‘ haul videos’ where invariably bright young things show off their finds. The 90’s are BACK, and although these hipsters look fantastic in their oversized men’s check shirts and cut-off denims,  I am writing this as a 37 yr old squishy mother of two, and believe me reader, I would not. I did the grunge trend before, but back then I was a size 8 and drunk on lemon Hooch; these days I have no excuse. Shopping second-hand does not exclusively mean fashion forward, eclectic looks, any more than it used to mean tired and sad. A strong sense of identity and what suits you will really help before you throw yourself into the melee. The advantages of my age and style is that a lot of my contemporaries have disposable income to buy (and subsequently donate) clothes I like. Having said all of that, I am on the hunt for a little green velvet skater dress as I reckon I could still rock the Lisa Loeb look.

Lisa Loeb

Lisa Loeb looking lovely.

One more note if you are looking to build yourself that eclectic wardrobe; be aware that old does not equal vintage. Many shops now keep special vintage rails. In my experience these are unequivocally disappointing, and are full of polyester smocks with ‘Edna Potts’ care home name labels and dinner medals down the front. The best true vintage pieces are almost always snaffled up to be sold by specialist boutiques. Stay clear of these rails and look for repro or sympathetic high street pieces in with the main stock.

My best piece of advice here is to shop with an agenda, but keep it loose. At the moment I am shopping for clothes in Autumnal shades, with a particular focus on printed skirts and knitwear. I stand a good chance of picking something up, rather than limiting myself to a particular colour, print or item.

Don’t be begrudging

Don’t become one of the ‘How Much!?’ brigade. Charity shops are there to make money, not to furnish your wardrobes for pennies. Whilst it’s true to say that prices have risen recently, that’s true across the board, and a couple of extra pounds on a second-hand jumper is still going to be a significant saving on new, where even a Tesco acrylic cheapie wouldn’t come in under a tenner. Griping about pricing seems petty and churlish, so even if you do keep a healthy awareness of where the best bargains are to be found or who maintains a higher pricing structure (I find British Heart Foundation markedly more expensive), keep quiet about it when instore.

Lots of charity shops cluster together in the same parts of town, so you can make an afternoon of it. Take a friend, have some lunch and a giggle.

Have fun and be sure to share your bargains, I’d love to see them!