Budget girls’ guide to affordable fashion

We’ve all seen them on the high streets, especially now in this economic downturn, more than ever before. Some of them are seemingly filled with junk, others are surprisingly costly, full of yesterday’s t-shirts and fashion from bygone times. I am of course, talking about charity shops. But, are they just rubbish or can some good bargains be found?

Some people avoid them at all costs, telling stories of ‘that charity shop smell’ and how their clothes were always second hand when they were younger. Some are put off simply by the fact that the clothes are second hand, or can be poor quality. Other people, myself included, love a good opportunity to have a rummage through the rails, and I can’t be alone; charity shops reported a rise in sales of 14.3% this year, with new shops appearing all the time. It can feel more acceptable to spend money in there as well, because your money is going to a good cause. Granted, some things probably should be avoided (dog-eared shoes? Why even donate those?) but in most charity shops, there’s a chance to find something wonderful for only a couple of pounds, or even better, to find something from TopShop for only a couple of pounds. I’m not just talking about finding lazy day tops, I’m talking about genuine fashion bargains, and believe me, they are there. Around 60% of my current wardrobe is from charity shops, but I have spent a lot of time in there, perfecting the art of finding a bargain.

In honesty, I think it depends where it is; those in big city centres do tend to have a lot of things donated by the elderly that will only ever be worn again by the elderly or unfortunate grandchildren. These can also be a bit pricier, I once saw a Primark jacket for £8 in Birmingham city centre, when it was retailing in the shops brand new for £5. In smaller towns, charity shops can be genuinely amazing; although you can guess how nice the clothes in the shop are going to be based on how nice the area is. Little sea-side places or richer towns often have charity shops full of vintage clothes and items from places like Marks and Spencer, things that will never look scruffy or over-worn. Do check the label (if it’s there) to make sure you’re not paying over the odds for it. Checking the label also makes it much more exciting when you find a dress you like and it turns out to be from Monsoon. Always check for rips, holes, stains etc; sometimes it really can be too cheap to be true.

A great way of finding a bargain is to look in sizes other than your own, or even in the men’s clothing. A knitted jumper a few sizes too big still looks great, and oversized knitwear is fashionable (and comfortable) anyway. In the men’s, that tailored shirt might look great with the sleeves cut off and the collar decorated as a floaty long-line summer shirt. It’s all about being creative with your ideas, that way you can have genuinely unique clothes as well.

However, a few things that should generally be avoided (with exception, of course);

– White t-shirts – a yellow underarm stain might not be visible when it’s hanging up, but when you put it on in better light you’ll see it, and nobody wants that.

– Old shoes – If they’re worn and tatty, even if they would have been amazing new, they can be uncomfortable and shaped to someone else’s feet. Don’t be fooled thinking that they’ll be worn in and not painful for you. Unless you can tidy them up, stay away.

– Underwear – Do I even need to explain? Thankfully, not many charity shops stock second hand underwear, and it’s usually only bras and shape wear.

Charity shops can stock some wonderful clothes that are in good condition, if you’re prepared to look and know what to look for, and don’t mind that someone you know is going to try to suggest that someone died wearing what you just bought. In times where we don’t have much money but are desperate for a new outfit, charity shops really are worth browsing; not only for the chance of a bargain, but because the money you spend will go towards someone less fortunate than yourself.

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