Charity shops

Charity shops

Charity shops, or vintage stores, can be a strange-smelling world of ugly support girdles or an Ali Baba cave of brooches and die-for one-offs. Anna Blackaby tells you how to turn the mysterious forces that govern charity shops into your ally, not your enemy.

When you enter a charity shop, or vintage store, you’re often stepping into an oddly-smelling world of beige knitwear and discoloured support girdles. But at other times you encounter a feast of wardrobe-defining garments just waiting for you to rummage excitedly through. There’s no logic to it – charity shops are governed by mysterious unseen forces.

That is the beauty of the charity shop – the sheer randomness of it all. You never know what you’re going to get. With high street shopping, it’s so orderly. You notice what your wardrobe is lacking, you go out and conduct a comparative study of the items available in various shops, then hand over your plastic. There’s no denying this is fun. But, in my humble opinion, not half as much fun as a successfully-conducted charity shop or vintage store hunting ritual.

Following the basic five rules below will help you savour the thrill of the chase… and increase your chances of a kill at the end of the day.

* Rule 1. Stake out your hunting ground well.

Rich neighbourhoods generally promise bountiful pickings and have a lot of upmarket labels represented on the racks. Some local high streets seem to specialise in charity shops whereas others don’t even have the slightest whiff of a British Heart Foundation.

* Rule 2. Choose your hunting partner wisely.

Perusing charity shops is best conducted in twos. That way you never miss anything. But make sure your partner is either two sizes bigger or smaller than you or has completely different taste in clothes – nasty situations have been known to arise over who can claim rightful ownership of an eighties houndstooth pencil skirt.

* Rule 3. Maintain a cool head and stay focused.

Just because prices are variants of £2.50 and £3.75, it is unlikely that that second-hand Primark T-shirt is going to be a wise investment. Look for special pieces with a touch of originality or a vintage feel to them and keep an open mind as to what you are looking for. Don’t forget to rifle through the jewellery and trinkets box – these sometimes hide complete gems. Creativity and imagination are required. That blue knit pullover looks pretty uninspiring on the hanger but with the addition of a groovy belt and some beads, it can be transformed. Which brings me nicely onto my next rule…

* Rule 4. Look beyond presentation.

Our modern consumerist world is obsessed with in-store merchandising and retail psychology – items are judiciously arranged to arouse our desire to buy. But going into a charity shop is like stepping back in time to an age of lost innocence. Clothes are categorised neatly according to colour. Thus baby blues fade satisfyingly into royal blue and pinks go from blush to rosy. What could be more simple?

* Rule five. Little and often.

It’s a numbers game really. The more you rummage, the higher is the possibility that you will find a seventies denim shirt dress that will look amazing with your pirate boots and opaque black tights. And you can bet your bottom dollar than no-one else in the pub will be wearing the same thing.

Armed with these basic rules, you too can find that satisfying glow that a successful hunt on your local high street brings. Oh, and did I mention the other benefits of vintage store hunting – the fact that your money is going to a deserving cause and that your purchase is saving space in a landfill somewhere? Surely that’s enough worthiness to win the favour of those mysterious forces that rule over the nation’s charity shops? I’d like to think so…