I’ve been buying things from charity shops and vintage shops for at least the last fifteen years, and possibly even longer; I started when I was at university studying fashion journalism, and wanted to find a way to avoid turning up to lectures wearing the same H&M / Topshop / New Look / generic fast fashion brand as everyone else. My love for charity shops lasted way longer than my university attendance (I finished after one year with an HNC…) and for the last two or three years, I’ve pretty much avoided buying anything new at all.
When I first started shopping this way, it was a style choice; I liked things that were a bit different, and had a bit of history to them. Fifteen years ago you could find excellent vintage dresses in charity shops for a couple of quid (they’ve since got wise to this, and you’ll find most of them have special sections where vintage and retro pieces are waaaay more expensive than everything else), and I used to go home and pair them with old leather jackets that I’d added studs to, and a pair of clunky boots. I had cupboards full of florals, stripes, leopard print and some seriously questionable knitwear, oversized collars, the skinniest belts and some necklaces which made a pretty big statement.
Now I shop this way because I think it’s imperative. Fast fashion is crippling the planet; from the workers who are forced to endure low wages and the most horrific working conditions, to dyes that poison the waterways and manufacturing processes that produce carbon emissions that can be seen from space. There are heaps of ethical brands around, but fair fashion comes at a fair price and not everyone has that sort of budget – so fifteen years later, my empty wallet and I are still as in love with charity shops and secondhand shopping as I was when I was a student.
I read the other day during Fashion Revolution Week that the secondhand market is predicted to be bigger than the luxury fashion market by 2022, and if it’s true, that’s going to be amazing. But a lot of people are still kind of hesitant about buying things second hand, saying they never find anything they like or they’re never sure where to look – so I’ve put together a guide with all my top tips for some successful secondhand shopping, and hopefully we’ll meet that goal by 2022!
My top tip for secondhand shopping is to go on weekdays, and to go frequently – a couple of times a week is ideal, as charity shops add new stock more often than regular chain stores. Saturday is one of the busiest days, so for a really good rummage, avoid weekends!
Embrace the Challenge
The best things I’ve found in charity shops have been hidden under things, hooked onto other coathangers, shoved under shelves and put in the 50p bin. Charity shops aren’t like high street stores where clothes are merchandised into outfits for your convenience – they usually organise things either by colour or size, so you have to use your imagination when you’re searching. Be prepared to flip through every single rail, and really get in there – your hard work will pay off in the end!
Make Friends with the Staff
The best way to get insider information on new charity shop stock is to get to know the people who work there – once you’re a regular you can find out when the new things are usually put out, and even ask them to keep certain bits for you.
Keep a List
I’ve got a list when it comes to secondhand shopping, which tends to change from season to season; at the moment it consists of interesting jackets, straw bags, jumpsuits, vintage pieces and blouses. The great thing about charity shops is that they’re not only way more ethical and sustainable than high street stores, but they’re also budget friendly – and the worst thing about charity shops is that…. they’re budget friendly. It’s so easy to see a top for £1 and become convinced it’s the best thing you’ve ever seen, only to get it home and realise that it doesn’t go with anything you’ve already got! Writing a list and sticking to it will mean you don’t end up re-donating sack fulls of clothes, or worse, sending them to landfill – because that’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid!
Buying secondhand doesn’t mean that you should see your clothes as disposable – waste is a huge part of the problem with fast fashion, and this documentary is a real eye opener to what happens to all of the discarded clothes from the West. Just because Topshop has decided that chaps / sequinned bodysuits / tie dye (I actually quite like tie dye, but you get the point!) / PVC trousers are the latest ‘thing’, it doesn’t mean they’re YOUR thing. When you buy from a charity shop, buy with the same mindset that you would from a pricey ethical label – choose carefully, make sure it’s timeless, that you LOVE it and you’ll wear it forever, and check for any damage before you get your money out!
Charity shops aren’t the only place to buy secondhand – there are loads of great resources online that you can reach from the comfort of your own sofa. These are my favourites:
I bloody love the Depop app – in fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s my favourite place to shop secondhand. The search function is excellent; you can search a broad term, and then refine by gender, brand, size, colour and price – and the users are friendly and responsive. It also helpfully tells you if a user is inactive, so there’s no chance you’ll buy something from someone who’s abandoned their account – and even if you do, all purchases from the app are covered by Buyer Protection.
eBay really needs no introduction – we all know how the worlds biggest online marketplace works! I have a love / hate relationship with bidding on eBay – I find loads of bargains with low starting prices, but then usually get sucked into the ‘I-will-not-be-outbid’ mindset, which has cost me more than I wanted to pay in the past. I’ve discovered a good way to get around this is to bid my absolute maximum, and then make sure my notifications are turned off – that way I can’t get Bidders Rage and get carried away!
ASOS Marketplace is great for vintage and independent boutiques – but it’s a lot pricier than charity shops and eBay. It’s got a really extensive search function; you can look for things by gender, colour, brand, product type and even vintage era – just make sure you don’t stray into the main ASOS website by accident!
I’ve never actually used Vinted, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about it – I had a quick browse and the prices seem to be comparable to eBay; tops range from between £1.50 and £5 for high street labels. You can search by product and then refine your results – and there seems to be quite a bit of kids stuff on there as well, so one for all the parents out there!
I’d not even heard of Patatam until I stumbled across them while researching online secondhand retailers – from what I can grasp from the website, they buy stock that’s headed to landfill (some secondhand, some brand new with labels), and then sell it on at a discounted price. They also have a ‘Sell to Us’ function, where you can send them your unwanted clothes in a pre-ordered bag which will be exchanged for a Paypal deposit or website voucher. Sounds good to me!
I’ve also found so many amazing Instagrammers lately that are shopping secondhand, and absolutely killing it – I’ve linked five of my favourites below, and I can guarantee they’re going to get your creative juices flowing!
Are you into secondhand shopping? What’s been your absolute best thrifty find ever? Let me know in the comments!