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How to find the best charity shop bargains

How to find the best charity shop bargains

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the first ever permanent charity shop in England, Oxfam Shop volunteer Lesley Wright shares her top tips on how to bag a pre-loved bargain

My earliest memory of secondhand shopping was when I was seven years old. My nan took me to Petticoat Lane market in London and I had never seen anything like it. It was the 1960s, and there was colour and texture everywhere. My eyes were like saucers! I remember her buying me a large bouffant pink dress that was far too big for me but I wore it until it fell apart. My romance with pre-loved fashion was born that day.

Over six decades later I am still proud to wear secondhand clothes and I now volunteer at an Oxfam Shop helping others to find their secondhand style.

Lesley Wright, Oxfam volunteer, guide to finding charity shop bargains

Lesley is a proud volunteer at Oxfam

Charity shops are treasure troves, fantastic places to rummage out bargain clothes. I once spotted a pair of Vivienne Westwood pirate boots in the corner of a store, half hidden under a hat. I bought them in the 1980s and I have them to this day.

A beginner's guide to finding charity shop bargains

Location, location, location

One of the first pieces of advice you normally read about shopping second hand is to go to shops in affluent areas. There’s no doubting that the volume of high-quality finds in certain shops can be quite high, but there are bargains to be found on every high street. You just need to know what to look out for.

Look with your eyes

It may sound obvious but when you walk into a charity shop for the first time it can be hard to know where to start. I always look for a fabric, pattern or colour that immediately draws me in.

Remember to look up

Hats, bags and accessories are often displayed on shelves above the clothes so don’t forget to have a proper look around the shop.

"Don’t limit yourself to just the rails"

Don’t limit yourself to just the rails. A lovely brooch or scarf can be a simple cost-effective way of brightening up an existing outfit.  

Look for labels

There’s no denying that the best bargains are normally the ones that come with a well-known label. It’s normally an indication of quality fabrics and well-made clothes. 

Have a list in your head of the brands that you know you like and what their labels look like.

Check for damage

Every effort is made by charity shops to ensure only quality clothes make it on to the shop floor, but things can be innocently missed.

Lesley Wright, Oxfam volunteer, tips for finding a charity shop bargain

Why not experiment with new styles and patterns?

Remember “age” is in vintage for a reason. These have been loved once, twice, maybe three times already, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve another spin around the dancefloor!

Be adventurous

When prices are so reasonable, shopping second-hand is a great way of experimenting with your style. Why not try something you wouldn’t normally go for? Unusual finds can become some of your most treasured.

Try before you buy 

If there is a changing room try before you buy. You may not have time to return the item and it is then unloved and unworn again.

I absolutely love visiting charity shops, it is one of my most favourite things to do, but you don’t have to leave the house to discover the joys of shopping second hand. Increasingly, charities are selling pre-loved fashion online.

"You don’t have to leave the house to discover the joys of shopping second hand"

Every day our amazing team of volunteers list hundreds of items including second-hand women’s clothing, second-hand men’s clothing and a range of one-off collectables. Not to mention homewares, vintage wedding dresses, vinyl, music and books. There’s always something new to discover in Oxfam’s Online Shop or on online market places like eBay.

Wear with pride

As well as looking fabulous, wear your not-new (but new to you) discoveries with your head held high knowing you have made a positive change to our planet.

Give back

The first rule of Fight Club—I mean Shopping Club—is remember to pass it on. Once you no longer have a need for any quality clothes that are starting to gather dust in your wardrobe, re-gift them back to charity so someone else can feel the love.

"The first rule of Fight Club—I mean Shopping Club—is remember to pass it on"

I volunteer with Oxfam as it gives me a sense of giving something back. My absolute hate of landfills and waste spurs me on to spread the message that anyone and everyone can buy and wear (with love) second hand clothes…plus it can be a whole lot of fun! What’s stopping you?

Fashion Fighting Poverty, Oxfam, how to find a charity shop bargain

Want to bag a catwalk bargain? Oxfam is hosting Fashion Fighting Poverty 23 on February 16 to raise awareness of the importance of shopping (and donating) second hand and the positive impact that has on people and the planet.

All outfits worn by celebrities and models during this event at London Fashion Week will be auctioned on the charity's online eBay store after the show. Shop Oxfam’s collection for London Fashion Week on eBay, and help get funds to the frontline of the climate crisis.

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