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How I popped my charity shop cherry

Posted by on Tuesday 7 June 2011 in charity shopping | 8 comments

After reading this post on Homestead.org, I thought back to my first time – the first time I bought something from a charity shop I mean.

We didn’t have a lot of money when I was little – certainly compared to many of the people around us – but as far as I recall, we didn’t get any clothes from charity shops – maybe a couple of things from jumble sales when we were very little but not after that. My mum knitted so we had a lot of homemade jumpers when I was under 10 and for casual “playing out” clothes (which, aside from our school uniforms, were all we really wore), I got a lot of hand-me-downs from my older brother – which possibly inspires my not-exactly-feminine style to this day.

When I hit my teens, I started getting a little more interested in fashion – not much compared to most girls but more interested than I had been. That coincided with New Look and the like, cropping up with their cheap clothes and perpetual sales. But while those shops were perfect for little vest tops and minute skirts, they weren’t great for everything – particularly heavy winter coats – and at 16, I also started to like the idea of vintage clothes, so I decided to finally cross that threshold…

It really was a threshold – it felt … wrong. Not necessarily that very first time but over my first year of charity shopping, I remember being embarrassed about going into the shops – hoping no one saw me. I didn’t want anyone to know I went to charity shops. I guess I had embarrassingly inaccurate prejudices about charity shops myself – that they were for poor people, that they were dirty – and I assumed all my peers would have similar ideas, and I didn’t want to get tarred by those brushes. (How times change – I’m now really happy to tell all and everyone about my love for charity shops and the like!)

But despite my worries, skulking into the British Heart Foundation in Southport was worth it: on that first visit, I found a nearly new black woollen winter coat for £5. The coat was a bit too big for me but I didn’t care, I was delighted. A woollen coat would have cost me £60+ new, which at 16 I couldn’t really afford – so big schmig. I wore it every day that winter and when I was done with it – when I’d moved onto charity shop vintage velvet blazers or the fantastic swinging ’60s leather trench coat I found at Barnados for £12 the following year – it went back to a charity shop for someone else to use.

I do wonder if I’d have caught the charity shop bug if that first visit hadn’t been such a success. Over the years, I’ve probably had as many charity shop clothes failures as I’ve had successes – wasting money buying stuff without trying it on – but the successes have been worth it.

Do you remember the first time you went to a charity shop?

(Photo by ell r brown)


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  1. damnthebroccoli

    I don’t remember going into a charity shop for the first time but I grew up in a little country village, there weren’t charity shops but there were regular charity jumble sales for one local group or another. I grew up in a family of three with a low single income back in the day when Firemen were severely underpaid instead of just really underpaid.

    Hand me downs were very much the norm and as I was second to an older sister I was glad she was a tomboy! But things from friends and anyone were exchanged. I do it now. Divorced with a visiting child I buy things for her to keep at our house (normally from a charity shop) and then pass them on to friends or send them back to charity shops to go round again, she out grows things before she wears them out so a lot of new stuff goes back.

    It is shameful how much women and children’s stuff ends up in charity shops, we have bought plenty of both with tags left on. It shows where the consumerism is at the moment. I have to say this is particularly annoying when I try and find clothes as there never are any for men!

  2. moonroot

    I buy virtually all my clothes from charity shops (or jumble sales, or car boot sales or secondhand on Ebay). I’m quite shameless about it! And I’ve been doing it so long I can’t even remember my first time. I think I was quite lucky as my teenage years coincided with the Punk and New Romantic era when buying up secondhand stuff and being creative with it was the done thing, so I never really had a ‘shame hurdle’ to negotiate. Nowadays I love the feeling of getting one over on consumer culture!

  3. sara

    Hi louisa..hmm..i never had hand me downs as i was the eldest so i got it all new..i was a very young mum and had 3 little girls in quick succession,hubby worked long hours and we never got WFTC or TC like you do today..hubby got paid in cash on a thursday night in a little brown envelope..i would sort it out,rent,rates(now known as water rates),electric,gas,tv license,life insurance,house inurance..all paid out by me on the friday morning at various places..what was left was ours..but that got very quickly swallowed up by food,nappies,baby milk..usually by friday night we had about £10 left..my girls needed clothes and i really couldn’t afford them…i took the bit between my teeth and went into a barnardo’s charity shop…it was like clothes heaven..and i got 3 carrier bags of beautiful clothes to fit them all a 3 yr old,2 yr old and 1 yr old..all for a fiver..a fiver can you believe it…i was so happy..i never told hubby what i had done as he had the same mis-conceptions about charity shops as you did…i had to eventually..but he was surprised by the quality and price so much he went with me…the ladies in there i think took pity on us..and gave us clothes that had buttons missings and little tiny tears in for free…i used to mend them and girls had lovely clothes for many years…over the years i kept using them,we got better paid and girls grew up but i always go to them first for stuff..if not then ebay..the only things i insist on buying new are undies and socks,shoes for the tots and slippers..apart from that i would say everything in our wardrobes is charity shop finds or ebay buys…there is no shame in it at all…i love them.
    take care

  4. Hazel

    I use charity shops a lot, and try to get stuff in there wherever possible. I got a fantastic (brand new!) Red Herring winter coat a couple of years ago for £7.50 which has been much admired.
    I struggle now with finding clothes, especially trousers, for 10 year old DS, but I’ve found some lovely things for him in the past.

    I bumped into a colleague in one the other week, who said hello, muttered something about looking for children’s books and hastily left! I had to smile- I mean, I was in there too!

  5. Shoestring

    This is so funny – I bought an item of clothing from a chairty shop this week for the first time in years (I buy books from them all the time). I think you are right in that how charity shops are viewed has changed drastically. I’d buy more but I live in a small town and most of the clothes available are for the 70+ lady. I’ll keep looking though!

  6. louisa

    Oh, I wrote a really long reply yesterday but it doesn’t seem to have posted – erk…

    Damn the Broccoli: I agree it’s shameful about all the BNWT items that end up in charity shops – I’ve given away a fair few myself in my time, when it felt more hassle than it was worth to try an item on in a shop (always super long queues) or take it back afterwards (another trip to town/super long refund queue). Needless to say I’ve changed my ways now!

    moonroot: The 1970s vintage/indie look was popular when I was in my very late teens – when I scored that ace leather coat – and I think that probably ended my conversion to a charity shop-aholic. Hurrah for fashions that celebrate secondhand :)

    sara: Thanks for sharing the story of your first time – I can see why you’d see it as clothes heaven – what a great shop. :)

    Hazel: good score on that coat! what a funny reaction from your colleague :)

    Shoestring: Southport, where I grew in and started doing my charity shopping, has a rather large elderly population so I know what you mean about the clothes not being suitable for us whippersnappers – but there were some gems inbetween the ‘old’ stuff, and I found it was generally better quality than at a ‘younger’ place. Even now, when I’m not particularly buying clothes, I can’t help but look, just in case :)

  7. Su

    It’s totally amazing that I enjoy charity shop shopping after some of the horrors of my childhood, including a matching fake leather skirt & waistcoat (it was the 70’s) and worst of all an original pencil skirt, which my GRANDMA was tasked with buying! It was supposed to be my school skirt, but I hated it with a passion and would rather risk wearing an nearly grey skirt that was a bit too short. I am still not a pencil skirt sort, but that thing was so tight that I struggled to get on the bus!

  8. louisa

    Su: hehe, I’m amazed you can visit charity shops at all with those introductions! :)

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