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CHARITY SHOP BOOK The guide full of tips, tricks and advice on how to become an expert charity shopper...

By Olivia Chapman





keep an open mind!

just read on. . .

you need to approach charity shops in the same way you would any high street shop. It’s easy to walk into a charity or thrift shop, see rails and rails of faded M&S blouses, old teddies and other such bric a brac and say “Nope, nothing in here, let’s go”. But have faith, ye of little. Mooch over to each rail, and purposely look for things that are in fashion. Have you just put back a bright green jumper because, at four sizes above your usual one, it looks ridiculous? Thought so. But would you happily pay well over the odds for an on trend, oversized, neon green jumper from the high street? Thought that, too. Chance it! It’s only a few quid. And if you get home and really hate it – donate it back! You’ve hardly lost anything, and may have gained something amazing.

Monday is the best day! This is your chance to get in there and get the good stuff before it all gets bought up and you’re left with the pieces that have been there for 10 years.

This may seem a bizarre one to start with, but if you don’t even know how to thread a needle, you are going to miss out on some items. You might find a gorgeous cardi, but with boring buttons, or a hem that may have come undone. If you’re able to fix these things, it expands your charity shopping chances that bit further.





is there much point in a puzzle with missing peices?

become bessies with the charity workers

It does take a certain amount of commitment this charity shopping lifestlye malarkey. You can’t just waltz in twice a year and hope to strike gold. Little and often is the best way, dash around your locals on your lunch break at least once a week. Sometimes you can even get to know the volunteers and bust out the old cheeky “Anything out the back?” question! build a rapport with the workers. They know where the good stuff is. And I like to find out the history of whatever I’m buying. Make friends, you never know what kind of rewards you may reap.

Is something missing? Is it damaged? When buying toys and games, check to see if it’s complete. Most shops will stick a sticker on if they know everything is in the box. If something is damaged, you could try to haggle on the price. Some people don’t believe in haggling in charity shops, but you would probably ask for a little discount in a high street store if something was damaged. The shop want to sell the item, and if it’s damaged, their chances are reduced, so it can be worth asking occasionally. (I wouldn’t employ this practice on a regular basis, but that’s me personally.)

Forget instant gratification -you have to be in it for the long haul. Have a list and be prepared for it to take weeks to find things on there. And have a little storage spot for things you need in the future. I have a giant suitcase of gifts that I have found and can pull out when the person’s birthday rocks up. January is THE BEST time for charity shopping new stuff, as everyone gives their unwanted pressies away. Buy them up, store them, and give them away!



DONT. . .


buy shoes or bags!

they are incorrect 80% of the time

Second hand shoes (along with underwear, but that goes without saying) are a step too far. The imprint of someone’s big toe, the sag and bag of the leather where it’s strained around their hot feet - I just don’t have the stomach for it. And as for bags, I have a theory: no woman would give a handbag to charity that she loved and used. She’d keep it. She’s never going to be too thin or too fat for it, so the good bags in the world stay in women’s lives. The bad bags - the plasticky ones, the uncomfortable ones, the mistakes - they are the ones that end up in the junk shop. You’ll get it home and it will be instantly obvious why she donated it.

Most people are different sizes in different stores. Don’t just stick to just searching through your ‘usual’ size. I can be a size 8-10 in higher end high street brands, such as Next, and up to a 12 ,in brands such as Primark. Sometimes things labelled Large and Small get sized at the guess work of the shop assistants too.





keep strict rules with which fabrics you purchase

DO NOT go charity shopping in wealthy areas

I try to have a No Polyester rule. It tends to hold people’s sweat and catches on my dry fingers, so I avoid it. And if I find some 100% wool going for a song I nearly always buy it. 100% wool is always a winner both for warmth and also crafting (once felted in a hot wash) and hard to buy economically from anywhere. However, I hate to be grim but do SCOUR for signs of moths. It is possible to bring them into your home with a vintage wool purchase- but you can usually spot them. Figure out the quality fabrics and classic items you want to fill your wardrobe with, and always scan for them.

Certain materials are great to look out for; anything leather / cashmere / sheepskin is very expensive to buy new, and is usually good quality so will be in good condition. Plus if you need a little extra cash they’re great for selling on ebay as ‘Vintage’ items!

Contrary to what you’ve read, posh areas often have the worst charity shops. And I mean worst for people who love to rummage. This is because so many people have written about how great charity shops are in, say, Chelsea, that these places have, sensibly, wised up, and now charge proper, vintage-boutique prices. The charity shops in ritzy parts of town have proper window displays - always so off-putting for a true junk hounds like me. Instead, you need to target retirement zones: East Sussex and the south coast, the West Country. But the real joy of charity shopping is that you never really know what you’re going to find - it’s always a gamble - and that, for me, will always be the appeal.





you cant be icky when charity shopping

wash it air it spritz it wear it

I understand the squeamishness people have about thrifted clothes. The sort of dead-person waft about it all. I love junk but I also love that fresh, tissue-wrapped deliciousness of new clothes. So everything I buy from the charity shop gets washed as hot as possible before it makes it into my wardrobe or kitchen. If I can’t wash it hot, it needs to be dry cleaned. And note: if it smells bad in the charity shop, the rot may well have got so deep into the fabric that you’ll never get it out. If there is even a slightly bad whiff about it, leave well alone.

It’s not like buying something brand new from a high street store; you won’t feel bad about cutting off those sleeves or sticking some gems onto that old shirt. The smallest bit of customising can give an item new life.





you get discount

DO NOT go charity shopping in wealthy areas

Quick tip for students, either trying to save money on cheaper clothes or looking for fancy dress costumes. If you show any Salvation Army your NUS card they will give you a 10% card! Charity shops are also a great place to by a cheap (£20-30) Dinner jackets from as renting costs about £50 a time, and you don’t even get yo keep anything!!

Your first few forays into charity shops COULD surprise you. You will inevitably find clothes that could be cheaper in Primarni. Sometimes it can be baffling. Don’t dwell on it. Think about the huge amount of goodness these charity shops are doing, by selling on these clothes. I kind of think they almost have a responsibility to get what they can from the things we donate. I pretty much count every penny I spend as a donation, rather then a bout of consumption. (Although, I have been known to have a proper grumble about it sometimes, so I understand, I do. I do.

New charity book