I have a very stylish friend with an enviably canny eye for picking out gems in charity shops. She makes an outfit comprised largely of items purchased at the local hospice shop look like something picked from the pages of Vogue
I’ve spent some years analysing the secret of her success and have concluded that, apart from her natural sense of style (which sadly cannot be copied), the answer is fearlessness and spontaneity.
There’s no point going into a charity shop looking for the perfect pair of black trousers or a particular kind of dress for a particular kind of party. Nor can you expect to find the best items laid out appealingly right at the front of the shop. They are getting better in this respect (thanks, I think, to the much publicised efforts of Mary Portas) but the fact remains that charity shops are still run in the main by little old women. Would you let you Gran shop for you? Exactly.
So you have to be prepared to delve through piles of tat with an open mind, Try things you would never normally consider. Think about adding a belt or cutting off sleeves or a hem. After all, if it all goes wrong, your mistake will only have cost you about a tenner - which has gone to charity anyway.
And if you like it, buy it now. Unlike high street shops, if you go away to think about it, the chances are it won’t be there when you return. I still mourn a beautiful pair of Church’s leather brogues, priced at £10, which I dithered over and lost.
Bristol’s charity shops are utter goldmines - definitely among the best I have explored around the country. Try Cotham Hill, Clifton Village and Gloucester Road for some of the best pickings.
In the past couple of months alone I’ve picked up a cute tweed skirt, a silk, patterned tea-dress, a retro neck-scarf and a tailored, black shirt.
I think I may finally have cracked charity shopping, and it feels good. I could never eschew new clothes all together, but a shopping spree feels better for the soul when you know that your consumerism is actually contributing to society - by recycling and raising money for good causes.
And with Christmas looming charity shops are also a great place for gifts if you’re on a budget and/or feeling environmentally minded.
Browsing in Clifton Arcade last weekend I found a pretty set of tea-cups which had been turned into candles. They would have made a lovely present, but were a bit pricey.
Around the corner, I picked up a gorgeous tea-set in the Save the Children shop for a fraction of the cost. I’ll turn them into candles myself.
Once the Christmas spending frenzy is over, hit those charity shops again. Everyone will be clearing out unwanted presents and making way for their Christmas booty, so that’s the time to pick up some real gems.
Just remember to take some donations with you, to keep that cycle going. Happy shopping!