Second-hand September: 5 Charity Shopping Tips & Tricks

To see out 'Second-hand September', we're talking all things charity shopping!

Our Studio Manager Robyn is a master of charity and vintage shopping (follow and shop her vintage finds on Instagram @albertinevintage) and she's giving us her top tips on how to find hidden gems on the UK high street, and hopefully inspire you to go out and shop second hand!

You would be hard pressed to find a British high street without at least one charity shop & they are my absolute favourite place to shop for second hand clothes. These days, my wardrobe is around 75% second hand & a large chunk of that is thanks to charity shops as well as my frustration with high street shops, everything looks great on the hanger but never fits quite right.

Everyone has their own approach to tackling the sometimes-overwhelming rails but these are the things I consider when I'm shopping that help narrow down the search & make for stress free & fruitful bargain hunting!

1. Know your colour palette!

I like to bear in mind what colours I like most & those I know I’ll never wear (sorry red, it’s never going to happen). Charity shops are often organised by colour so this can be a great way of working your way around the rails. I start with my favourite & most worn colours & gradually branch out. Generally, I stick to shades of white, beige, pinks & greens which all complement each other well. By sticking to this & adding to my wardrobe of similar colours I find I have plenty of pieces that I can put together effortlessly to make coordinated outfits without having to think too hard about it.

Image via @traid

2. How will it feel against your skin?

I’m a sensitive soul & find certain fabrics irritating & uncomfortable to wear so even if I love the look of a garment, if it’s not made of a material I like, I know I won’t wear it. My preference is for natural fabrics like cotton, wool & silk. I know that if I take care of them, they should last a lifetime, they will feel great against my skin & are often kinder to the environment when washed. Some people prefer synthetic materials, particular as they are often safe from being eaten by moths & can be very long lasting. You know what's best for you & your lifestyle!

3. Check the condition.

Check the condition. Missing buttons? Does the zip work? Holes? Stains? Do the seams feel strong? Does it need altering & are you really going to do it? All of these things are totally manageable & could end up being a fun project if you’ve got the time but if it’s just going to sit in your sewing pile for the next 6 months it might as well have stayed in the shop. If you have assessed the damage & can handle it, go for it! It's worth seeking out your local tailor as they will easily & cheaply take up hems, adjust waistbands & mend rips or holes for you. I've always been reluctant to tackle these things myself due to lack of knowledge but after a particularly bad moth infestation have recently started darning in an attempt to salvage my knitwear & it has given me the confidence to approach mending in a new way. Turns out it can be really rewarding & fun.

Image via @crisis_uk

4. Don’t get hung up on gender!

Most shops are still separated into ‘men’s’ & ‘women’s’ which I’m not a fan of. I like to look through all the sections, especially the knitwear & t-shirts. You don't have to go to the high street to find those boyfriend jeans or oversized cardi that you're after, they are probably sat waiting in your local charity shop at a fraction of the price. I have found some lovely old fisherman’s jumpers & perfectly worn-in shirts over the years & find that menswear is often better quality than modern womenswear.

5. Is it an impulse purchase?

It has taken years of buying things I didn’t need just because I thought it was ‘the bargain of the century’ for me to learn to take a second & ask myself, “do I really love this?” Just because it’s cheap, doesn’t mean it’s worth it & it's okay to come away from charity shopping empty handed, there’s always next time. These days I try to imagine how I will style it, what existing outfits I can work it in to & whether it feels at home with the rest of my wardrobe. If it feels like I’m working too hard to wear it, I’ll put it back.

This is what I’ve learnt so far from 10+ years of exploring the UK’s charity shops & is the approach that works for me. It's not let me down yet & I hope these tips can be somewhat useful to others looking to buy second hand for the first time or hone existing bargain hunting skills.

Good luck & have fun!

We're based in London, and there's a few great charity shops in and around the city that never fail to disappoint us. Here's a 6 of our favourites:

  • Traid in Wood Green - A massive shop & everyone who works here is super friendly!
  • North London Hospice in Wood Green - I have never left here empty handed!
  • Fara in Angel - I found an amazing Dior t-shirt here.
  • British Red Cross in Wimbledon Village - I bought a gorgeous Versace dress here.
  • Crisis in Peckham - Beautifully curated with great homeware too.
  • Mary's Living and Giving (Save the Children) in Highgate - Lots of luxury finds with an Oxfam and a Cancer Research across the road too!

Remember to follow Robyn's vintage account @albertinevintage on Instagram where you can buy some of her amazing finds and get some fun styling tips too!