How to get the best charity shop finds

Charity shops are the business. Where else can you get vintage designer threads alongside cat ornaments from the 1960s and 99 copies of Fifty Shades of Grey? I mean, really.

Earlier this week I read an interesting post on Racked about how the second-hand clothing resale market is predicted to hit to hit $41 billion by 2022 (wowzers!) and it got me thinking about thrift shopping. This past fortnight I’ve also binged on Layers, a clothes-and-stories podcast from Ana Kinsella and Stevie Mackenzie-Smith, and in one episode they mentioned stumbling across an incredible charity shop in Kensington. Cut to me musing wistfully about my college days when I would spend hours thumbing vintage clothing and lusting over things like a vintage 90s Escada suit but had nowhere to wear it to. Sigh.

If your experience of charity shopping has been less than rewarding and meant thumbing through sweat-stained Primark cast offs or mothballed jumpers worthy of a 1980s kids TV presenter, then you’re doing it wrong.

Here are some dos and don’ts of charity shopping so you can get your hands on amazing charity shop finds:

  • If something is too good to be true, chances are it is.  Much as I heart charity shops,  you have to ask yourself why it was given away. It could be a case of generosity, maybe it gave the owner a beer belly or it could be faded, have a belt missing or an invisible-under-most -lights oily finger stain. Look for flaws before you buy and test it out in the changing room by moving your arms, bending over etc, so you discover pre-purchase that those seemingly perfect jeans will reveal your bum at any opportunity.
  • Get creative and think what you could do with it. If it’s perfect but slightly pilled, a disposable razor (used softly!) will get those off. Likewise, if it’s a bit big it can be taken in, hems taken up or a belt added. If a dress is only a few euros to begin with, it’s still a bargain with a bit of work done on it. Similarly, cheap silk scarves for a euro in the bargain bin multi-task as headscarves, belts or to jazz up a battered, much loved leather bag (we all have one).
  • Following on from number 1 up there, make sure everything works. Try all zips, check for extra buttons and missing ones. If you’re buying electrical goods, ask the assistant to plug it in in the shop for a trial run. Stick your paws into the pockets of jackets and coats to make sure they aren’t ripped, investigate badly frayed seams and look for moth bites. I know – lovely stuff.
  • Changing rooms are a vortex of bad light so ALWAYS bring the garment into the light of day i.e. near the window and check it for pesky stains. You have to expect some wear and tear with second hand goods but getting home and finding grease stains that won’t shift or scorch marks from an iron will quickly turn the bargain you’ve been buzzing about into something you’re already binning.
  • Don’t barter. While I definitely think charity shops have gotten more expensive in the last few years, it’s all for a good cause so be less shameless and save your haggling skills for the Flea Market. I once saw a man haggle to get a pair of gold heels down from 7 quid to €6.50. Why?! You’re just gonna make the staff despise you and what you really want is for them to get to know you and your impeccable style so they alert you when a barely worn pair of Acne Pistols or a Rick Owens biker jacket with the tag still on it land on their shelves.
  • For designer bargains, seek out charity shops which aren’t trying to emulate boutiques. In my experience, certain charities are less fashion savvy and don’t realise the magnitude of the Carven bag they are flogging for a fiver. My best purchases were in low key shops which don’t just slap a ‘vintage’ price tag on everything.
  • Affluent areas are the best. Kinda snobby but very much true.
  • Don’t just buy because it’s cheap. This defeats the purpose of a good find. You can easily walk away from charity and thrift shops with stack loads of fast fashion but ask yourself if you’ll actually wear any of it. Buying tons of clothes, no matter how cheap they are, purely for the bargain buzz (and oh how I know this buzz) and then not wearing them is just as much of a drain on your finances as a blowout in Topshop. Resist!
  • Labels first. I’m no label whore but I always look at the label first and then look at the rest of the piece and this is the best way to find quality investment pieces that last.
  • Find out when they re-stock the shelves so you’re first to get your hands on new stock. In my experience mid-mornings are usually best whereas evenings offer slim second-hand pickings.
  • Watch those window displays. Most major second hand shops have fantastic window displays which only go on sale on a specific day. Don’t be that moron who tries to bribe staff to get items early. I’d also recommend you get some info on the much coveted window items before you plan on queuing outside for it. I once queued and participated in the ensuing in-store scramble only to discover the dress I loved from afar had been carefully tacked on to the mannequin and was too baggy. Ask the assistant for sizes, what shop it’s from, and any other info you want to know in advance.
  • Return the favour: Donate!  Give all your pre-loved items you’ve grown bored of to charities in need, instead of flogging them on Depop. Karma and all that. Second-hand clothes are more environmentally-friendly too.
  • If all else fails, the most surefire way to get your hands on the best bargains and charity shop gems is to volunteer your services. You’ll be the first to rip open endless bags of clothes, scavenge for goodies and pluck bargains from the backroom before they’re even hung up in the shop. And you’ll be doing your bit for a good cause too, so everyone’s a winner.

Happy thrift shopping!

8 thoughts on “How to get the best charity shop finds

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