How To Find Stylish Clothes At The Charity Shop

Aoife Hanna

One of the greatest lessons ever imparted to me when, penniless, I moved to the UK from Ireland, was a detailed how-to on making the most of charity shops. Since then, I've picked up a slew of tricks of the trade including some so personal I've considered trademarking them. Although I usually keep these close to my chest, out of the kindness of my heart I've decided it's time to share my expert charity shopping tips.

Hitting your local charity shops is one of the easiest and most mutually beneficial ways to do your bit. Aside from the charitable giving aspect, it's a more planet-friendly option than say for example, buying fast fashion.

Apart from feeling like a fully-fledged philanthropist and environmental activist, you'll also look a billion dollars in your one-of-a-kind look. I've lost count of the amount of times I've had someone marvel at a piece of clothing that cost as little as 20p and, let me tell you, if you've not experienced this sweet, smug satisfaction you've yet to truly feel alive. For this piece I hit my favourite shops, decked out in charity shop finds (apart from my smalls of course).

Patience, preparation, and of course a sharp eye are vital. The rest is instinct and personal style, which I'm sure you have in abundance.

1. Location, Location, Location

Aoife Hanna

This was the first and perhaps the most important lesson I learned. Knowing neighbourhoods that are good to trawl is a must. You might think that going to very posh, cosmopolitan neighbourhoods is the best plan of action. I strongly disagree with this. If you want posh, make it regional posh. City shops are often oversaturated and overpriced, which either means you'll struggle to find the good stuff or your budget will be gone lickety-split.

I favour charity shops in less populous, regional areas because this is where you you find the holy grail of charity shops: the £1 shops. Yes, everything costs a pound. Coats, dresses, trousers, tops, you name it. I have whole outfits that cost under a fiver.

Now if that's not worth a day trip I don't know what is. Check out the charity retail association's shop finder to see what's near you.

2. Cash Is King

Aoife Hanna

Don't be ridiculous, most places don't take card or if they do there's a minimum. So bring cash along with you to streamline the process and keep you on budget.

3. Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover

Aoife Hanna

Or in a way, do. You might see a shop that looks a little higgledy piggledy. GO INTO THIS SHOP! This is where you'll find the greatest garms and where you'll almost certainly meet the most interesting volunteers.

4. Fashion Is Genderless & Ageless

Check. Every. Single. Rail. I'm serious. I want the precision of a microsurgeon here. No matter what size, gender, age you are — rummage. I'm a size 14 and have clothes raging from a women's size 8 up to a 24, men's S to XXL. Guess what — they all fit in different ways and look fab.

5. See The Potential In Things

Aoife Hanna

You might be looking at an ankle length-skirt and feeling sad it's not shorter. That can be taken up. You might be looking at a mini dress screaming 60s dream child that's too short for your long upper body (constant issue in my life). Cut the bottom off and make a top and hair scarf combo. You might love that coat but hate the buttons. They can totally be replaced.

With a little bit of imagination, you'll see that some pieces only need a cinch, nip, tuck, or just a bit of love to look like they came straight off the runway.

6. Pick It Up & Put It Back

Aoife Hanna

Treat yourself like a fashion Buckaroo. Every single thing you see that you might potentially like, sling it over your arm, because you'll never recover from going back to a rail to see that item you had your eye on is now gone. And hey, carrying all that stuff around is actually good exercise. But do make sure you give the shop's staff a helping hand by putting anything you don't want back where you found it.

7. Be Nice

Aoife Hanna

As I constantly remind my five year old niece and nephew, "it costs nothing to be nice but it saves a lot."

When it comes to your favourite charity shops, this is extra true. Be kind to the people who work there and before you know it you'll be on first name terms and they may even keep things aside for you. I even get a cup of tea and a catch up with my local ladies and honestly, it's often the brightest moment of my week.

8. Leave The Bric-A-Brac Section To Last

Aoife Hanna

Every shop has one and it's an absolute treasure trove. As a matter of fact the lion's share of the crockery, frames, and tchotchkes in my flat are from charity shops.

But leave browsing this bit these till last. Items are often heavy and cumbersome, and fashion comes first on this expedition.

9. Scissors, Glue Guns & Sewing Kits Are Your Friend

Aoife Hanna

One of my favourite and super quick ways to change a look is to take a T-shirt, chop the lower part off, and then use said chopped piece to make a hair scarf. The perfect combo. My advice is to try on the top first and mark where you want it to sit. Otherwise you might end up with something that doesn't cover your nipples. Shout out to all my fellow larger bosomed ladies.

10. One In One Out

Aoife Hanna

Hey, it's me Marie Kondo. OK, just kidding but you should have a strict one in one out policy with clothing or at least a quarterly clear out. Donate them back to the charity shop and pass on the style. Your very own sartorial pay it forward scheme.

Kondo actually might be someone to mentally thank when you're in your local treasure trove. The BBC reports that after her show premiered on Netflix, many UK charity shops saw an increase in donations.

11. Get Your Washing Machine On

Aoife Hanna

Right, this might sound obvious but some stuff you find in charity shops might be musky, dusty, or, worst of all, ripe with the tangy scent of someone else's B.O. You only need to experience the rising pong of second hand clothes once to never leave the house without washing them first ever again.

Here's some environmentally friendly washing tablets that will make your new clobber as fresh as a daisy.

12. Keep Your Intel Close To Your Heart

Aoife Hanna

Finishing with something that's a bit hypocritical as I've just spilled all of my secrets but you should only share the locations of your favourite charity caves with people who truly deserve to know them.

As I'm feeling generous, my favourite is the charming charity chain Cats In Crisis. If you pop in the Margate branch, tell Deb Aoife sent you and you might even get a cuppa.

Thrifting through charity shops is a bit like life, you have your good days and your bad days. Take these tips into the fashion jungle and let the universe be your compass. Before you know it, buying new clothes will be a thing of the past in your life. The planet and your bank balance will thank you.