There is a myth that every charity shop will smell, be overcrowded and dirty… and I can confirm this is completely true, but their positives outweigh these minor “issues”. There is definitely still a stigma surrounding charity shops; the idea of digging through old people’s clothes doesn’t exactly equate to the simplicity of exploring the ‘New In’ section of Topshop – but it is far more fun and rewarding.
If I had to guess, I would say that 85% of my wardrobe is second hand, and I’m going to tell you how second-hand shopping allowed me to find my personal style and why they beat any other form of retail therapy.
It all started when I was around 17 years old, obsessed with trends and fashion (and believed I was destined to become a fashion designer). My cousin and I became really close during these transformative years and she would always wear the craziest outfits, clashing patterns, funky trousers, you name it. So, we decided to go shopping together, and lo and behold I was introduced to my very first charity shop. I can’t deny, I turned my nose up and questioned why I would ever buy used clothing when there were perfectly good new clothes on the high street? Then, I saw the prices. With a £10 note, I could easily purchase a whole new outfit! My mind was blown. It was exciting, it was a challenge and it pushed me out of my comfort zone in terms of style.
It’s difficult to create a personal style that is up to date when you’re constantly bombarded with new trends from fast fashion companies – it’s not necessarily “you” if everyone else is wearing it, right? Charity shops are the opposite, there are no trends and no advertisement. It is almost as if you are handed a blank slate upon entering, you can create the foundations of your style by exploring what styles and colours you naturally gravitate towards. I have never felt the pressure to dress or look a certain way, and I have to give thanks to my beloved charity shops for that. I don’t ever feel the need to follow trends, as I have now discovered my own personal style that I feel super confident in.
Once you get past the odd smell and the odd dirty jumper, second–hand shopping will become somewhat of a passion. If you’ve never entered the realms of charity shops, they are simply racks upon racks of random clothing from all sorts of retailers, sometimes organised, often not, which you have to plough through in order to find something you like. It sounds daunting, and it can be if you’re not in the right mindset. I’d suggest going in with an open mind and a vague idea of what you are looking for (turtlenecks, for example) and take your time. If something catches your eye, go for it! Charity shops usually have fitting rooms and whilst I ALWAYS recommend washing any item you purchase, trying it on for a few seconds won’t do any harm.
Without a trend or fashion influencer insight, this experience gives you a chance to browse and choose items you genuinely would like to wear. This lack of pressure combined with low prices creates a perfect environment in which you can take risks with your style – and if it doesn’t suit you, you can always re-donate. There is no right or wrong answer in fashion, if you feel confident and comfortable then that is all that matters. I suppose it’s self-explanatory to mention, but your clothes will be totally unique. There are never two things the same at a charity shop and often feature vintage pieces from the ’70s to the ’90s. Another positive is that clothing is usually of far higher quality in second-hand shops, compared with the flimsy fast fashion items available today. After a few visits, you’ll begin to create a style that is completely you, and you’ll feel great for it! Gone are the days where trends consume your life or dressing for those around you.
Charity shops are extremely hit and miss, they are solely dependent on the clothes donated. So, if you didn’t find anything the first time, give it another shot. They alternate stock frequently, plus, try and visit a few and you’ll soon find your second–hand haven. Years ago, I heard this ingenious piece of advice (which I’ve found to be true) that the more “posh” a city is, the better quality the clothing will be – and it makes sense! The higher the income of an area, the more likely the residents are to own branded or designer clothing, therefore the more likely it is for these designers to eventually make their way to charity shops. Now I really couldn’t care less about labels but if that’s your thing, then I’m sure you could find some amazing bargains just by browsing the fancier areas of town.
Of course, I’ve lived through some awful clothing choices and outfits I wouldn’t dream of wearing now, but it has all been a learning curve. Without these mistakes, I wouldn’t have been able to perfect my style or ever truly appreciate every single item in my wardrobe. Above all and the main reason I continue to shop second–hand these days, is to avoid contributing to fast fashion and its’ destructive impact on the planet. For anyone who has managed to get in the firing line of my rants, will know that I recommend watching The True Cost (on Amazon Prime) to everyone. It provides a scary, but incredibly informative overview of how the fast fashion industry is destroying the planet, causing disease and killing thousands of animals and individuals every year. Plastic pollution is taking over the world, literally, and it is surprising how large an influence this industry has on the world’s eco-system. A staggering fact, “85% of the plastic pollution in the ocean is due to microfibers from synthetic clothing” (Dr. Mark Browne). This is the polyester clothing you can buy for dirt cheap, the clothing that is designed to lose shape, so you buy more!