Charity Shopping

I’ve already posted about my recent plan to try my hand at refashioning clothes from charity shops, both for the creative satisfaction but also as a thrifty way of adding to my wardrobe. Of course, much of this goes back to my discussion, much earlier in the year, about finding ways to save money.

As autumn is rolling around, Mike and I have planned a shopping trip (it’s been in the planning for at least a month). Although I often start a new season wistfully wishing for new clothes, this year the shopping trip is prompted by what I think qualifies as a practical need: I need to replace my (dum da dum DUM) black boots. I’ve had them for five years now, and they’ve seen me through snow and rain and miles of walking. I could rely on them. They were always on my side, probably an average of six days a week for five solid months of the year. I don’t regret a penny of the price I paid for them. But they’ve reached the point of needing weekly dabs of superglue to keep them together, and have already had the soles replaced twice. It is with regret that I think I must resign the use of them.

Anyway, since resolving to undertake a shopping trip, I made a list of a few gaps in my wardrobe I wanted to fill. Mainly things that I noticed, last winter, seemed constantly missing. And I also have a gift card to spend! I then did some research online to narrow down the stores I wanted to ‘hit’ on the shopping trip, in the hope of saving time on the day itself. (Shopping on Oxford Street is fun for about two hours, and then it is tiring.)

In that ‘reconnaissance’ work, I grimly noted that, as usual, the things I really liked were all of the expensive variety. I have never cared about ‘labels’, but I’ve come to accept that many good labels do come with an increase in quality, fit, and longevity of the garment, so that’s often what I’m attracted to when I shop.

At that point, although I do regularly swing by our local charity shops, I decided to make a few concerted rounds of the shops to see if I could find anything from my list in advance. I could then fill any gaps still remaining.

Over a period of weeks, I gave the charity shops several good scours, and in fact purchased quite a few clothes I deemed to be good quality and fit what I needed and wanted. A few fit me perfectly as they were, and a few went into my pile for refashioning. I also bought a few fun items that weren’t on my list. I kept a running tally of costs to prevent myself going overboard, and since our shopping day is tomorrow, I’ll probably declare a shopping embargo after this point. But to my surprise, the only vital things remaining on my list are jeans and boots, and a few nebulous ‘maybe’ items.

Are you ready? Here’s what I got:

A white cotton blouse; this is a style which usually sends me running screaming away because these kinds of tops usually fit so badly it becomes frustrating even to try them on (I suppose everyone has their just-can’t-wear-it style). But this one does fit.


Three skirts (in fact four, but one is a summer one which I haven’t included). I wear skirts a lot, but over the years some of my favourite basic ones have bit the dust and I was looking for something that would look good with bulky knits in the winter.


Two sweaters. I’m quite pleased with these. The cardigan exactly matches one of my summer dresses, and is light enough to wear in the summer if needed, so it feels like a ‘bonus’ item which will span seasons. (I don’t really care if burgundy is supposed to be a winter colour!). The green pullover is merino wool, and I even haggled down the price because of a hole (which I mended). Both of these fill specific requirements for sweaters I had put on my list.


And then, a few fun items which weren’t on my list. The shoes make me drool. Believe it or not, I’ve never had a pair of real heels before (I usually stick with kitten heels and have had the occasional wedge), and when I saw these I just thought, ‘I’d really like to wear shoes like that sometime before I die.’ I don’t mean to boast, but they are patent leather, barely worn, and I saw the same shoes still available online at a retail price more than 16 times what I paid. I keep looking for excuses to wear them, but I think I’ll have to wait till the next wedding! I also found a selection of handkerchiefs (only one is in the picture) – now don’t laugh, but I really do use handkerchiefs. I have a collection from my grandmother, who was a classy lady. But it’s good to have some extras because they get a lot of use. Completely frivolously, I bought a red velvet cloche hat, and a beaded vintage evening bag.


I have what I once christened ’emptiophobia’, in other words (in Latin coined after the manner of Greek ‘phobias’…) the ‘fear of purchasing’. Even handing over £4 for a jumper makes me flinch with guilt. However, when I look at the big picture, I’m pleased to say that I got all of these items for about the price of one of the sweaters I had on my list.

I stuck to a few rules for myself during this shopping:

  • I only bought what I could realistically see myself wearing
  • I only bought items which needed altering if it was an alteration I was really willing to make
  • I only bought what already went with my wardrobe and style
  • I kept my eye open for good quality
  • I established some price guidelines beforehand: for a dress that fit without alterations, I was willing to go up to about £8; for anything needing altering, or any separates (tops, sweaters, skirts) my max was £5; for anything ‘iffy’ (though I tried to avoid those items), about £2-3 was my max.

I haven’t posted pictures of myself modelling these, partly because I don’t have time to make outfits out of them all and get photos. However, I’m also a little self-conscious. Because as soon as I jump around (figuratively) exclaiming over my wonderful clothes for wonderful prices, I suddenly think, ‘But what if someone else just says, “Your outfits look cheap”?’ You know, I’ve been thinking about how we evaluate what looks good in clothes. It’s material for another post, but in short, I’m coming to the conclusion that what ‘looks good’ to anybody is heavily influenced by their values in other areas. To someone who loves Prada clothes, maybe my ‘look’ is a bit eclectic and shabby. But, to the kind of people who love charity shopping and secondhand clothes, a secondhand outfit looks cool. It signifies thriftiness. It signifies less waste. It signifies creativity. That’s certainly my own approach.

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