Archives for posts with tag: New Look

My lovely husband and I made a big decision last night. Something we’ve been saving, but both felt now was the right time. It’s not a decision taken lightly, given the commitment, but all our friends reassured us it was the right thing to do.

We’ve started watching Breaking Bad.

I like to knit in front of the TV, but find myself in between projects. I wanted something relatively simple, since one always needs to concentrate during those scene-setting first episodes, and I wasn’t really in the place to sort out something big and complicated.

My daughter had been playing with a wooden bangle of mine earlier in the day, and as I looked at it, I remembered some intentions to knit a pattern from an old issue of Knit Now.

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I can’t imagine I infringe any kind of copyright by referencing this pattern: essentially, it said ‘cast on, knit chart, cast off’. Helpful. I’d never knit colourwork on straights before, so figured out the purls myself, but it was relatively easy.

In fact, the project didn’t need a pattern at all. It’s just about knitting a swatch and then sewing round a bangle. I’m thinking of developing it into a class, one with graph paper and felt tip pens. Yay!

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Here’s the result. It used miniscule amounts of my large scrap sock yarn collection, and I think it has a trendy ‘ethnic boho’ feel, similar to the style story I’ve seen in stores such as New Look. I think it would fit in quite nicely with their Desert Dreaming look.

What do you think?

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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.

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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.

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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.
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£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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!