How to maximise your success in charity shops

The vintage market is no longer lost on most charity shops, many stores have vintage sections and in big cities most of the true vintage is often snapped up by savvy sellers during the week, when the stock is replenished. 

1980's does 1940's is still quite widely available I typically pay anywhere from 50p to £5 for 1980's dresses and won't pay more for a simple polyester day dress. I'd expect to pay more for true vintage these days even in a charity shop. As you'll see below these 70's/80's dresses were a snip and you don't have to spend a fortune to dress in a vintage style. 

Whilst the thrill of charity shopping is the rummage and the fact that you conceivably could find vintage anywhere (that's part of the fun!) There are ways of increasing your chances of finding those vintage bargains that are becoming harder to stumble across. 

Dress £1.99 Barnardo's, Golders Green. Shoes by Hotter £3.70, Ebay. Headscarf  50p, St Francis Hospice. Bag £7.50, Cardiff Indoor Flea Market.  Bamboo style bangles 50p, bootsale. Cardigan: From own wardrobe. 

Total outfit cost £14.19

Out of town: As mentioned above it's increasingly difficult to find vintage in bigger cities but step outside of this and the nearest village or town can be a treasure trove. These smaller places will often also have house clearance shops, local eateries and somewhere to buy local produce (that's how I discovered that mead is actually quite nice) It's good to support local businesses and tourism so don't stick to inner cities if your hunting for vintage, make a day of it elsewhere and see somewhere new. 

Seaside towns: These can be a relatively untapped treasure, firstly older people tend to live there, hence old people clothing donations, secondly they have less people traffic than inner city shops so vintage doesn't get scooped up as easily, in fact it's often underpriced. They often sell more fabric which can be reworked (sheets and linen etc), and vintage ornaments or homeware are readily available. 

Local charities: Many towns and cities will have a charity that is close to the heart of the area, whether it be a cattery or a local hospice, they often only have one shop instead of a chain. The best part about a charity shop being independent is that their donations stay in the same place, they don't have policies of vintage going to one store and designer too another. These shops tend to get lots of donations because people like to support causes locally. They are often not as glamorous or well organised as the Cancer Research's of this world but if this puts people off then it's all the better for us rummagers. 

Dress: £1.99 Bernardo's Golders Green, Shoes by Collection @ Debenhams £6.00, Ebay. Train case £2.50, Ebay. Cardigan from own wardrobe. 

Total outfit cost: £10.49

The one that smells: We all know that one charity shop, the one that smells like cigarette smoke and old spice, the one that looks like it's struggling because it's so disorganised and no one really seems to know what's going on. That's the one to rummage through, peg your nose and crack on! It's never failed me and as long as you know a good dry cleaner then you'll survive. 

The wedding dress shop: St Francis Hospice has a shop in my home town that has a specialised wedding section. What comes with that is vintage. Firstly even if you are always the bridesmaid and never the bride don't disregard the wedding dresses, this might be sacrilege to some but consider the vintage dresses and whether they could be dyed and worn as an evening gown. 

Then there are the hats and accessories, my best source of vintage or vintage appropriate hats it this one charity shop, they have such a wide selection and they can be very reasonable in price since hats aren't in vogue for most. 

Moths:  Especially if you are braving the smellier charity shops just check before you buy anything that it doesn't have any unnoticed moth holes or that the shop isn't damp. Look under collars for evidence of critters, a bargain is only a bargain if it doesn't infest your wardrobe! 

To little too late? 

  • Wrap your vintage treasures in a bag and put it in the freezer for at least 24 hours

  •  "defrost" and take to the dry cleaner straight away. 

The Boutique Charity Shops:

This blog is not to say you shouldn't visit the vintage boutique charity shops that sell true vintage. Oxfam Originals in Manchester is one of my favorite shops in the city and it is reasonably priced for the true vintage shopper but forget the fact that's it's a charity shop. They are on to us, consider it a finders fee or keep your money in your purse. I personally would never try to haggle in any kind of charity shop, it's for the cats/children/elderly, let it go! 

For me there are two types of vintage love. 50p love is for anything that could pass for vintage appropriate wear (non vintage beads or brooches, 1980's wear, modern rockabilly wear) they types of things you would be happy to part with jumble sale money for, up to a couple of pounds. My gorgeous friend Vintage Frills did a fantastic blog post recently of seven vintage inspired outfits on a  budget which you can read here. 

Then there is proper money love, the kinds of items you need for an event, to finish a collection or the true vintage that you are unlikely to find in a charity shop if you searched for 100 years. In a way having to part with real money stops you buying in the haphazard way many of us start our vintage collections with. 

Dress £2.00 PDSA (Cowbridge Road, Cardiff) Shoes by Hotter £18.00, Ebay. Bag £2.00 Oxfam Romford. 

Headscarf 50p St Francis Hospice. 

Total outfit cost: £22.50

How to Find Budget Vintage On Limited Time

If you only have a couple of minutes to dash around a charity shop here is how I best assess it's vintage-ability quickly: 

The Dresses: If it is arranged by size look at your size, the size below and all the sizes above (example if your a 14 look at 12-20) vintage sizing can be off so don't only look at your modern size. If there is no vintage there I check out the following: 

The Knitwear: There is often vintage to be had in the knitwear section. Cardigans your gran would love or cute little bolero's and shrugs. In one of my more misguided moments I once bought a vintage knitted bed jackets but the less said about that the better. We all make mistakes! 

The Handbags: Vintage handbags can sometimes be disregarded over and above a Cath Kidson or similar which will sell easily so look at the back of the rails. 

The Glass Cabinet: What is in the glass cabinet that so many charity shops have will tell you a lot about the shop and how they value vintage. Is it full of modern designer stuff or pretty enamel brooches? If the former then check out their jewelry section because they may have vintage there which is being undervalued, if the latter then have a look ,  if you're after a 50p bargain you probably won't find it here but you might find a Stratton compact. 

The Buckets and Baskets: These usually live in corners or under the rails of clothing, they are so often hidden. underneath a naff duvet set sits headscarves and belts and foundation garments, all the things some charity shops deem not good enough to hang. This your goldmine, flick though and flick quickly. I cannot tell you the amount of things I have only found because I crawled (yes literally I sometimes crawl) into nook of a charity shop to discover a beautiful item that had been deemed unworthy. 

I hope you find this useful and would love to hear about your best charity shop finds! 

Until next time 





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