Many shoppers shudder at the thought of entering a charity shop. The dingy light, mouldy smell, and stacks of rejected clothes in no order can be off-putting – not to mention the annoyingly over friendly volunteers who run these treasure troves.
The disorder can be alarming but look a little harder and those Chanel sunglasses hiding under a pile of Primark’s finest can be yours. Charity shopping is hard work and you have to be prepared to rummage but the thrill of finding that Dior dress amongst the tat is priceless.
Many a celebrity has stepped out in a charity shop number. From Jarvis Cocker’s brown tweed Glastonbury suit to Kate Nash’s chiffon dress in the video for Foundations – celebs love the combination of being both charitable and fashionable.
Recently Mary Porter’s BBC programme, Mary Queen of Charity Shops, saw the retail guru transform an Orpington Save the Children shop into a high-end fashion boutique. With endorsements from the likes of Peaches Geldof (ugh), profits soared and scenesters migrated to the small shop in Kent to find their very own second-hand beauties.
Charity shops do not need to be reworked. The reason they are great for finding one-off treasures is because they are not high street shops. Mary’s mission to sex up these shops has alienated the staff and charity shop lovers alike who have treasured and cultivated these Aladdin’s Caves over the years.
When I lived in San Francisco I would regularly visit the thrift stores. Unlike charity shops in the UK, thrift stores will either let you swap your unwanted clothes for something in the store or they will pay you for them. This ensures that the quality of the clothes is high but the prices are still dirt cheap.
My advice for charity shopping is go alone. If your best friend spots every gem before you – clothing envy will ensue. Secondly try it on, don’t buy it just because it’s cheap as it will only sit unloved in your wardrobe for the next 10 years. Always check the jewellery cabinets, amongst the fake gold you can usually find glinting trinkets and always, always, always check the fabric – wade through the polyester and you will find silk (if you look hard enough).
In my early Cardiff days I have discovered many lovely charity shops, laden with delights waiting to be found and loved. Whitchurch high street and Albany Road have proved most successful but the city centre shops are also worth a quick browse.