Saturday, 14 October 2017

Blogtober Day 14 - Getting the most out of charity shops!

Today, my Mum and I went clothes shopping! I've lost a lot of weight in the past few years, and more especially in the past two months, so I'm pretty much completely out of clothes that actually fit me. Add into that that a few weeks ago I had a wardrobe clear-out, and the result is that I've pretty much been wearing the same very small set of too-big clothes for a few weeks now. It is more than mildly frustrating, I have to say. So I was in desperate need of new clothes - yet at the same time, I don't have much money and I'm not done losing weight, so any clothes I buy now could end up being too big again. The solution? Charity shops!

Why charity shops?

I am and have always been a massive fan of charity shops. So much of my wardrobe comes from them, and always have done. They're my first stop when I need clothes in general, and I've found some great clothes that I love from them.

At the same time, I know that a lot of people avoid them. This could be for a variety of reasons, I think. Some people feel weird about wearing clothes that others have owned before, or that all the clothes in them are outdated and worn out. Maybe some people feel like buying and wearing clothes from charity shops carries a sort of stigma.

I - as is probably obvious - seriously disagree with all of these reasons. Sure, there are crap and ugly clothes in every charity shop, but there's nearly always some gems too if you look hard enough. I have no problem with wearing other people's clothes (within reason, obviously!). If you think about it, the vast majority of clothes that you'd buy new in a shop have probably been tried on by lots of people before you finally picked them up. I'll happily tell people when the compliment my shirt or my coat that I bought it in a charity shop, and the reaction I get is normally one of pleasant surprise.

Charity shops are great places. If you're concerned about the ethics of clothes production, but only have a high street fast-fashion budget, they're a great way to refresh your wardrobe without having to give money to companies who employ people in sweatshops in Indonesia and pay them pennies. In addition, the money you do pay for items goes to charity. It's a win/win!

What shop?

So I've talked you into checking out a charity shop! The first question is, where do you go?

Some places are great for charity shops. My Mum and I went to Derry today and in the city centre there were a few good shops. A few weeks ago we went round the charity shops in Coleraine - which is a great place if you want to really go for it, as it has loads. If you're in a bigger city, there are probably areas in it you can find a concentration of shops. In Belfast, Botanic avenue is well-known for its shops. There are plenty on the Lisburn road too, and it has the reputation of having nicer clothes as it's a nicer area. Honestly, I've only explored the Lisburn road charity shops once, and I didn't find it much better than anywhere else, and I think it was a little more expensive. But hey, your mileage may vary.

Now, some shops are better than others. Some seem to have a great range of stuff, some seem to have nothing at all. But I think they're all worth a hoke, as you'll never know what you'll find.

Have an idea of what you want 

So you've found a shop. It helps to know what you're looking for before you start scanning the rails. Don't be too specific - if you want a blue size 12 shirt with a bird print, you're going to have a hard time. Today I was looking for skinny jeans and jumpers. Charity shops are, 95% of the time, crowded and terribly organised. If you have a general idea what you're looking for, you can filter out stuff and find the things you'd actually wear.

Be brutal (but also open-minded)

There's a lot to get through generally, so be quick to rule things out. If you don't like the colour or cut or material, scan by it. Today I wanted jumpers and skinny jeans, so if it had short sleeves or was bootcut, I didn't even look at it. If it's ugly or really dated looking, don't even bother looking at the size. At the same time, if something jumps out at you and it's not what you're looking for, you may as well try it on even if you don't think it will fit properly or the colour won't suit you. You can afford to experiment more when the clothes are cheap.

Take your time

To really have a good chance at finding something half decent, you need time. It takes a while to look through everything, even after you've ruled out the purple section and all the t-shirts. Have a good rummage, and take things off the rail for a good look before deciding if you're going to put it back or try it on. Sure, you can have a quick browse, but it's better to really invest some time in hunting for the real hidden gems.

Size Schmize

Be sure to search through the sizes either side of the size you currently wear. Size labels in charity shops are always more along the lines of vaguely-approximate suggestions rather than rules. This is because you have such a wide range of brands and sizing systems, and then you have things that were put back in the wrong place by careless shoppers or clueless volunteers. Go by eye, rather than the label, and be more adventurous and optimistic when it comes to what you think will fit.

Try. It. On.

Pretty much every charity shop I've been to has a fitting room, even if it's a crappy corner curtained off. Use it. You'd try stuff on in any other clothes shop because sizes can be strange, or it could cling in the wrong places, or it might just look terrible on you. Those reasons do not change just because the clothes are cheap and the money goes to charity. Don't say you can't be bothered, and don't waste your money on stuff you never would have bought if you'd just taken a few minutes to see how it looked on you first.

Inspect things before you buy them

The reason those jeans might be in the shop in the first place is because the zip has broken. Check zips and seams and inspect the item for stains before you buy it. Just because there's something wrong doesn't mean you shouldn't necessarily buy it, especially if you're good with a needle and thread or at getting marks out, but not everything is fixable or worth the time to fix, and things in those rails are more likely to have flaws than new clothes. 

Also,  keep an eye on how worn the item of clothing looks. Sure, you might not expect it to look brand new, but avoid buying things that actually look old (unless you love it, will wear it regardless, and don't mind). I've found it's easy to overlook flaws because of a cheap price, but if you won't wear it because it doesn't look great as it's bobbled or faded or whatever, you've still wasted your money. 

Don't go nuts

It's tempting to buy loads because it's cheap and, hey, you're helping charity! But you could regret it. I don't know about you, but my money is a very limited resource and so I try not to buy things I don't need, no matter how much or little they cost. I saw a really pretty red dress today that I nearly bought, but I asked myself, when would I wear this? How often would I wear this? In the end, I walked out of the shop without it - I could have spent a fiver on it just to sit in my wardrobe, but that fiver could also buy me a few days worth of food.

Become a regular

If you have a shop easily accessible to you, call in often for a quick browse. They could have a quick turnover, and you could spot a gem that mightn't be there the next day. I work in Belfast city centre, where there aren't very many charity shops, but I do like to call into them every so often during my lunch break just to see what there is and if anything jumps out at me. If not, no loss. But you never know what you'll find.

As well, see if you can get to know the staff. If you make friends with them, they could let you know about clothes you might like or hold things back for you. I've never done this as a customer, but it might work for someone else!

And finally...

Give back

If you regularly use charity shops (and hell, even if you don't), consider donating your old clothes to one instead of ebaying them or chucking them out. Sure, you might make a few quid, but it's a lot of effort and the charity could probably do with it instead. My local charity shop is where most of the clothes from my wardrobe are going (minus any my Mum has claimed, or are too worn/have holes/etc for a charity shop to sell!). 

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