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A Guide To Charity Shops And Thrift Stores

Updated on June 27, 2012

Charity shops, thrift stores and second-hand markets are the new direction of fashion, in this age of environmentally-friendly vintage revival. Around 90% of my clothes and books are from these shops and I frequent them around twice a week. It's extremely fun and highly addictive and I'd strongly suggest you give it a try. There is often something in these goldmines for everyone, but if you are a bargain buyer or retro-enthusiast, they are particularly wonderful. In France, I noticed that there weren't many around, but in England, in the outskirts of town, they are innumerable. I have also heard that they're pretty popular in the US, so seek out your local secondhand joint and here's how to shop there effectively!

  • Use your imagination; it's sometimes hard to comprehend the beauty of a lovely leather satchel when it's surrounded by old, and slightly pungent, grey handbags. But don't let your surroundings put you off. Imagine how appealing the item may be if you'd just found it in a high-street shop or how good it might look with your new jeans. For me, the is the key to successful second-hand shopping: you really need to focus on the potential of the product more than anything else!
  • Shop by area; remember that the shops reflect their town, if you go to a posh area you are more likely to find designer gear. I prefer to go to places heavily populated with older people because they often give away trunks full of vintage. But be prepared to pay a little bit extra in these upmarket places: said posh people will be pricing the clothes!
  • Give something back; the thrift/charity shop experience is not at all the same as chain stores because ultimately you are giving to charity, which may make you feel more proud of your purchases and gives you a more peaceful state of mind. It's a dream come true; guilt free shopping!
  • It's just so cheap; after a while you will gauge the average price for each item of clothing, and it's usually so cheap that you end up with a lot of stuff you don't really want. So remember to still be selective, but there is a special joy in buying a dress for $5/£5 when it cost around 40. I bought my prom dress for £20 from a charity shop, which is worth about £200!
  • Try before you buy; a rule my mother enforces - if you don't love it enough to try it on, then you don't love it enough to buy. This helps stop the endless stream of cheap so that you can find the best of the best, that look good on you in particular.
  • Look at the labels; it's nice to know where the item came from originally, and it will determine if you've just found a vintage jem or designer piece.
  • Wash your buys; some shops do was their items but others don't. Just for the sake of hygiene, give it a quick spin before you put it on: you may have heard some horror stories about charity shopping, but don't let them put you off! You need to be a little bold to charity shop anyway.
  • The window; most people walk straight through the door without giving the window display a glance. But this is where they show off their best products, so reign in your excitement and have a good look at the window display.
  • Don't be put off by sizes; if you're a size 8 and fall in love with a size 10, don't worry about it! My wardrobe ranges from size 6-18: you can always take things in with a sewing machine. If you're not keen on sewing, maybe only buy the sizes immediately around you, like 6-10 or 12-16; the sizing systems in charity shops are often inaccurate.
  • Ask for help; these people are volunteers, they won't bite your head off, and if you want something specific just ask. If it''s not on the shop floor it may be out the back; the storage area of a charity shop is usually brimming with things too.
  • Dedication; you need to be prepared to rummage through the whole shop, which may take a while, or that special piece of clothing may get away. Also, the stock turnover is pretty fast, so become a regular and you while soon see the sort of stock and price that each charity shop represents.

So, prepare for some secondhand fun and make your wardrobe unique, quirky, and a quarter of the price. All of this without feeding the consumerism machine: recycling and giving, while looking pretty awesome!

What do you look for in charity shops or thrift stores?

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    • profile image

      Nwajei 5 years ago

      Hmmmmn, maybe you should search intensively before buying.

    • 2patricias profile image

      2patricias 5 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      Tricia (the other Patricia) is a champion charity shop shopper, because she has more patience. She tells me that there are many bargains to be had for kids things - toys as well as clothes.

      I tend to buy cook books. I often use only a few recipes, so it never seems good value to buy a brand new book. This way, I can return the book to the shop if I find the recipes too difficult or inappropriate.

    • cloverleaffarm profile image

      Healing Herbalist 5 years ago from The Hamlet of Effingham

      Great hub. My favorite place to shop is Goodwill. They have a great selection of everything you could ever want. Thanks for sharing the great tips.