Confessions of a charity shop addict

Beautiful tin to add to my tin collection
I think I need to go cold turkey on the charity shops for a while. A week? Maybe two?
When it started I had it under control. I’d started seeing clients and realised that maybe I should invest in some new clothes so I could look more professional. Technically yes, I can counsels client wearing my day-job uniform of a Metallica t-shirt and ripped jeans. But that might give the impression that I specialised in heavy metal counselling. (Is that a thing? To Google! Nope, sadly ‘Learning to Love again with Help from the Insane Clown Posse’ will remain a product of my deranged brain.)
New clothes meant only one thing I would have to go shopping and I really HATE shopping. (As evidenced by the fact until now I’ve never had a shopping tag for this blog) I’ve never really had the body or the funds to be entirely comfortable anywhere near the seventh realm of hell that is the changing room. Even when I did have money burning a hole in my pocket there is something so dispiriting about going shopping and finding nothing to wear. Besides why shop when there were books, so many books to read? Because of the shopping-hatred I have clothes that I’ve been wearing since I was sixteen. This tells me too things firstly since I’m a little, OK, a lot bigger than when I was sixteen did I really wear tent sized clothes and think I looked good (Photo evidence tells me yes.) Secondly I should probably buy some newer clothes, like these:
(Apologies for the crappy photography, I had about ten minutes after work to take these before the light set and it really, really shows.)
There was only one problem: I have no money. I’ve taken a pay-cut to go back to university and any spare pennies I have go into the keep Rowan sane fund. (Translation: my personal counselling, which is a requirement of the course. But I like to think benefits society as a whole, as without counselling I get bitey.) Then I remembered that back when I was at University the first time around, I got the series of baggy unflattering jumpers I wore everyday from charity shops. So I took a stroll down George Street in Hove, or charity shop mecca and I became instantly hooked.
In between the granny nighties and endless worn copies of Jilly Coooper’s Riders like having to sort through an Aladdin’s cave full of weird and wondrous crap I found amazing tops like these for around three quid:
For a lot of people charity shops are full of musty clothes nobody else wants staffed by weird old ladies. But I’d forgotten how much I love charity shopping. like a lucky dip you’re never sure exactly what you’ll get and you had to shift through a lot of crap to find clothes you love like these two cardigans both under a fiver.
As well as restocking my wardrobe with cheap clothes I love the fact that I’m contributing to charity and doing my tiny bit in stopping the world from filling up with crap. So I scoured the charity shops in Hove, London Road and Kemp town looking for pretty things and learning some tips to make your charity shop experience a little easier. I’m all heart.

Top charity shop tips

Pick your area carefully. Does the area have a large student population? Expect teeny sizing and vibrant repurposed style. Grannies? Stock up on sensible outwear and amazing vintage handbags. Posh people? The clothes might be high end but the prices are too.

1. Avoid vintage

Charity shops aren’t stupid and have cottoned on to the fact that vintage is hot right now. So vintage has become a synonym for teeny sizes and big prices.

2. Be prepared to rummage

Some charity shops are organised by colour, creating an amazing rainbow look which I love. Or size, which is probably more useful. However they are organised you have to sieve through a lot of crap to find that Coast cardigan. On that note…

3. Be label conscious, but plump for what you like

It can be easy to get carried away as I was when I found a pair of purple hunter wellies in my size. I was heading for the tills until I realised a) I live in Hove not the countryside and b) I hate wellies, sticky plastic and uncomfortable soles.

4. Know your sizes

I never try things on. Changing rooms are a hell of their own making. So that means I know that I am officially slimmer in Marks and Spencers clothes than in New Look clothes and I have a good idea of what I’m searching for.

5. Prepare for disappointment

There are lot’s of almost-rights. The amazing sequinned dress that I would only be able to get my thigh in. The gorgeous billowing jade green top that almost makes me wish I could sew, almost.

6. Give it back

Do your bit by donating old clothes, books and junk back to your favourite charity shops.

7. Set a budget

This, as always was, where I ran into trouble. When I started I was very disciplined. I wouldn’t spend over a fiver and I allot myself ten pounds per trip to spend. I also banned buying any books or black clothes. However it was when having a quick browse and the lady working in the charity shop recognised me I knew I had a problem.
It was time for this charity shop addict to go cold turkey. At least until the stores have a chance to refresh their stock 🙂 At least I went out on a high. Want to see my top find?

My top find: a Bravissimo dress
I’ve been lusting after a Bravissimo dress for years but at its cheapest it retails at over 50 quid and I could never justify it. Then I spotted a Bravissimo dress in purple (my favourite colour) in the British Heart Foundation shop on London road… and almost walked away. On the hanger the dress looks odd the waist bagging and bulging, but on, it’s absurdly flattering. The waist acting like a fake corset sucking me in, in all the right ways. It cost me a whole seven pounds (two pounds over budget) and was worth every penny.
So tell me dearest readers what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever found in a charity shop?


  1. Penny January
    March 21, 2012 / 1:52 pm

    I have been an avid charity shop shopper since I was about 13 – so going on for 20 years now ( humour me please) – ok 40 years and a bit more. I was trawling through piles of discarded clothing long before it was trendy to do so, and I have to say the shops were in some pretty grotty parts of town. There was no apparent retail strategy – clothes were just kind of dumped, sometimes on tables, but usually on the floor. There was no regular opening times, you just turned up and hoped there was a volunteer working that day. Did I mention smelly – well they were – but you just had to see past what a really good wash and iron could do to bring an item back to its former glory. When my mum asked me where I had been and I was deciding whether to be economical with the truth, she would see the bag of clothes I was secreting towards the laundry and send me straight off to de-louse in the shower. I’ve had many lovely complements about items of clothing I’ve bought in charity shops over the years and a significant number of the clothes I have are still purchased there. At the risk of sound a grumpy old woman, charity shop shopping ain’t what it used to be, but I still love it! Weirdest thing? A pair of false teeth in the pocket of a coat – and no I didn’t buy them. Rowan, we need to go shopping!

    • March 21, 2012 / 8:03 pm

      Haha, aunty Penny you do make me laugh. Unwashed seriously? A pair of false teeth, ewh. We definitely do, I can show you the best haunts in Brighton xxx

  2. March 21, 2012 / 6:57 pm

    like the Bravamisimo dress right colour and style, I have never thought about weird things in charity shops but will work on it. Mainly to distract me from the crass stupidity of the people down the chain in my house move who are causing us such tension.
    S.A.J. xxxx

    • March 21, 2012 / 8:01 pm

      🙁 Poor Mummy, it will all work out in the end. Love you loads xxx

  3. Penny January
    March 21, 2012 / 8:43 pm

    Hang in there Shirl, it will all come out in the wash….sorry no pun intended. Row, I’m impressed with African-forward-slash-serengeti theme on some of your charity shop purchases – well done!! And yes, the clothes were NEVER washed or hanging on rails – but then I got some really good gear for like 5 cents (NZ$) each – TOTAL bargain even in those days – it was more to do with the find, rather than the cost – you will appreciate the difference!!! 🙂 xxx

  4. Beth
    March 23, 2012 / 1:16 pm

    I have a vast knitwear collection, about 2/3rds of it is from charity shopping. I’m also getting into tweed at the moment (don’t ask) and the St Peter’s Hospice shop is a godsend.
    My favourite purchase of the last year is a pair of vintage crocheted gloves – and they fit! So delicate, so lovely, so incredibly likely to be destroyed by my sausage fingers or a ragged nail.
    Even better than charity shopping (in my opinion) is the joy of clothes swapping. I held a recent swap at my place. There were about 10 of us and MOUNTAINS of clothes to sift through. Sizes 6 – 22 were represented and every single person left with at least two new pieces of clothing, footwear or jewellery. It was a lovely, relaxing, fun evening without the stress of being in public and with no expense. We all got to clear out our wardrobes of things we no longer wear, in some cases we saw someone else looking way better in the clothes than we ever did and knew they were going to a good home. Everything that wasn’t claimed by the end of the evening went to a charity shop. I ended up with a load of new, work appropriate stuff.
    Next time I host one you should schlep over to Bristol with a bag full of cast offs and head home with a bigger bag full of new clothes.

    • March 27, 2012 / 5:37 pm

      Tweed, really? I’m just imagining you with a bull mastiff under one arm walking stick under the other. Oooh vintage gloves, send me a pic. Yes, I’ve never been to a clothes swap and I’ve always longed to go to one. But all my friends are teeny and have much better dress sense than mine. Will have to go back to the drawing board. Let me know when you’re next hosting one and I’ll see if I can make it West xxx

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