There's a certain irony to this post because I'd like to be posting a 'charity shop find' this week but despite having a look through some of my favourite chazzas, I've not had much luck, which got me to thinking about charity shopping for beginners. It's a bit of a mire out there and I think a lot of people are put off from charity shopping by notions that really aren't true, so I thought I'd put together some tips and tricks that I find help me out when I hit the chazzas.
Find your patch
Charity shops are everywhere (great for eco shoppers and the thrifty alike!) but it's important to frequent shops that you like and enjoy spending time in. There are a few charities who's shops are so beautifully laid out, there's no chazza stink and items are separated by size or colour. There are others who are much more of a jumble sale and bargains take a rummage to find. There's nothing wrong with preferring one or another, I love both kinds but I know that if I'm only going to have a quick squizz round the shops, I won't have the time or commitment to dig through piles of clothing, so I head to the ones that have already done the sorting for me. Likewise, city centre locations are often picked over and filled to the brim with last week's Primark cast offs, so scout out locations further afield - the suburbs of cities and more affluent areas often have charity shops in which you can find some real gems. However, charity shop chains rotate their stock often, so items travel around from store to store. You'll get to know how often the shops change their stock or replenish their floors by regular visits and chatting to the volunteers.
Don't be too prescriptive
What I mean by this is to disregard all previous ideas about fashion, trends, and even sizes, and try out things you wouldn't normally choose. You might surprise yourself! I shop in the mens section for t shirts and shirts, and I have items in my wardrobe ranging in sizes from a 6-20. It doesn't matter really if something isn't your set size, if it looks good, you can adapt it. Oversized shirts look great tucked in. Too-long trousers can be cut or rolled to fit. Blazers look great with the sleeves pushed up. Think about styling ideas when shopping and don't be put off by the department, or the stated size, of a garment.
Look for accessories
Some people get very funny about buying second hand shoes, and I do understand that, but some of my most cherished footwear was found in the chazza. A quick wipe down and often they are as good as new - I've got a pair of Celine loafers I adore that I picked up for £3. If you just can't do shoes, no worries - chazzas are full of great belts, necklaces, scarves and bags to add a flourish to any look. Leather belts in particular can be found in abundance - why pay £20 for a pleather belt from ASOS when you can often get the real deal for a quid? My watch was charity shopped for less than a fiver; it's Swiss made and looks really unique. It was working when I bought it but I have since replaced the battery, which after 8 or 9 years isn't bad going!
Not all vintage is good vintage
This is an excellent mantra to have, just because something is vintage, or cheap, doesn't mean you should buy it. I passed up a Celine silk blouse in a chazza the other day - I realised that it had been adjusted poorly and had had great swathes of the fabric cut about and re-sewn. I am fairly handy with a needle and thread but I know my limits, and I knew that I couldn't rescue it. Likewise, anything damaged, moth-eaten or unwashable should be treated with caution - will you actually pay to have it dry cleaned, or will it just sit in your wardrobe?
Most things will wash
I have always been a bit precious about washing vintage clothing, but when I started buying more actively from chazzas, sometimes a handwash just won't remove that musty odour. No one wants to smell like a granny, chic or not, so I'll always chance items on a spin through the washing machine. Silk blouses, velvet trousers and woollens have had this treatment and come out the other side just fine - most modern washing machines have cycles that are appropriate for delicate or woollen fabrics. If you are unsure of the colour fastness, handwash first to see if there will be any loss. Obviously there are exceptions, such as heavily beaded garments or coats, but if you love them, take them to a dry cleaners and get them professionally treated.
Will you wear it? Do you need it? Does it need considerable repair to be useful? Is it too expensive? Have you got the same thing in a slight variation? I always find that if I am willing to part with my hard-earned cash, the item has to be special, otherwise, you'll want to replace it because it's just not quite right. I have a leather bomber jacket I bought several years ago for a tenner in a chazza - I never even look at leather jackets when I'm shopping because I know that none will fit as beautifully as that one does. If you buy the best you can afford and find, it stops the perpetual cycle of wanting to have more all the time. Learning to love what you have is a process, one which fast fashion doesn't allow. As soon as one thing is bought, it's on to the next purchase. Consider this when shopping, even charity shopping, and you'll create a wardrobe full of pieces you love to wear, and reach for often.