Monday, 10 January 2011

Charity Shops: Hidden Treasures Within!

This is an edited version of 'Charity Shops: Unexpected Treasures Within', originally posted on thefabulouscake@LJ

You may have passed charity shops by without a second glance, believing them to be full of bobbled knitwear and frumpy polyester dresses. You may have stopped for a moment to eye the chipped knick-knacks in distaste before going on your way.
But as you walk on by, you could be leaving behind a hidden treasure.

 Recent charity shop finds

Each and every charity shop is a goldmine in waiting for someone.
From the outside they may well look boring and full of quite rightfully unwanted tat, but once inside you may be in for a pleasant surprise.

Coming up after the jump: why charity shops are so great, plus shopping tips.

Amongst the rails of Damart and recycled Primark you might find the perfectly-fitting pair of jeans, a gorgeous shirt, or a jacket to die for.
If it wasn't for charity shops I would never have discovered my most long-lasting winter coat: black wool, hand-made, and a gloriously well tailored. It cost £8 and saw ten winters before it finally wore out. That’s 80p per year! More recently I bought a pile of gorgeous fabric for £5 (some of which I used to make cushions), a petrol blue cord skirt by Sisley (£3.50), and a cute leather handbag (£1!)

Yes, just £1 for this fab leather bag!

The beauty of the charity shop is that it doesn't 'do' fashion; it is high-end and low-end all at the same time. Look closely enough at the labels and you'll find a Hobbs skirt sandwiched between H&M and George, a leather Karen Millen biker jacket beside a Bonmarche trench coat. Last season's Matalan may well be neighbouring a vintage shirt; silk scarves and hand-stitched leather handbags could be lurking amongst the acrylic and market knock-offs--all at a fraction of what you'd pay on the high street.

Admittedly, charity shops do have their downside. Naturally the clothing found within is sourced purely from donations--sometimes entire bags filled with Primark and Matalan, though in other instances East or Jaeger. The clothes on the rails reflect the donations given; one week a charity shop may be filled with mass-produced summer cast-offs but the next you may find a treasure-trove of vintage and good-quality items. It's all about luck, patience and knowing where to look.

No charity shop will be the same. An independent shop in a village might have an entirely different variety of clothing to a shop that is part of a chain and situated in a town.
Many charity shops will price items according to the label sewn inside. You would be very lucky to pick up DKNY for £3, but at the same time, you will still end up paying a mere fraction of the original retail price, sometimes for an item that has barely been worn.

If you're not picky about the labels you wear, chances are you already recognise charity shops as being a fantastic way to save money--not to mention help a worthy cause!
Even if you do prefer certain brands, you may still find something. If you're really lucky you'll find something new with its original store tags, allowing you to see how much of a bargain you're actually getting.

Convinced? Here are some tips:

1. Do your research
Pick an area and find out which charity shops are there. Note that different charity shops will have different benchmarks for pricing--whilst one will charge 50p for a T-shirt, another might ask £4.

2. Have an open mind
Just because a charity shop looks run-down or boring doesn't mean you won't find some great items.

3. Be prepared to trawl
Looking for true gems requires work. A glance at a rail of clothing isn't going to tell you as much about the quality, price, and desirability of the stock as a proper look through will.

4. If at first you don't succeed...
If you don't find something one week, try again a week later. Charity shops are receiving donations all the time; often new items are put out for sale every day.

5. Shop around
You may find none of the shops in one place have anything to offer that is to your liking. In which case, try another town.

6. Examine an item carefully before purchase
Check fabrics carefully for marks and imperfections; take a good look at the stitching on bags and the heels on shoes. If you find something wrong but really love the item, think about whether or not you can repair it--and whether it’s worth the price. In general, charities do price according to the condition of garments, but it’s always worth checking them out before you hand over the cash!

Charity Shop locator
If you're in the UK, the Charity Retail Association has an online charity shop store-locator. It's far from complete, but a good start for anyone wishing to check out lots of charity shops in their area!  

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