So often in life, our ambitions far outweigh our ability to achieve them, as anyone who has attended an orgy can confirm. In my case, I’m a chap on the kind of income that allows me to live comfortably with a few little luxuries to keep life bearable. However, that’s not to say that I’m exactly rich, particularly if you work for the Inland Revenue.
What I’m saying is, I can’t splash out quite as much as I’d like to. Therefore, as someone who likes to dress up and who reads a lot, I’ve become something of a devotee of charity shops.
The first charity shop in Britain opened in 1941 on Old Bond Street, and was owned by the Red Cross. There are estimated to be over 9,000 charity shops in the UK and Republic of Ireland, which is quite significant if you follow Internet memes.
They are a fine place to find vintage clothes at bargain prices – I’ve obtained some superb items for really very little money. The only thing is that charity shops these days have wised up to the vintage movement, and in many cases have raised their prices accordingly. Not that they are as expensive as your average high street vintage shop, but jaw-dropping bargains are harder to find in some stores than they used to be.
They’re not so great if you’re looking for something specific, but on the other hand you’re far more likely to be surprised. I’ve been introduced to some of my favourite authors purely by having found their books in charity shops. I’m not too inclined to gamble a lot of money on an author who I’m not familiar with and who comes without recommendations, but a couple of quid for a book isn’t exactly going to ruin me if I don’t like it.
These days, your average charity shop comes in three flavours:
1. The Specialist
Certain chains of charity shop have begun to organise their shops into categories. For instance, a number of them have stores that specialise only in books, or only in furniture. The great advantage is that, if you’re looking for something specific, you’re more likely to find it there than in a “general” charity shop. Unfortunately, they tend to be quite rare, and damned if I can work out how they decide on locations.
The New Sort
Charity shops have spruced up their image these days, and particularly in the case of the larger chains (e.g. Oxfam, Cancer Research) they’re much more inviting than they used to be. The specialist shops would appear to have sprung out of this revamp. A few of them, notably Oxfam, have branched out into selling new goods as well as secondhand. The aforementioned Oxfam does a rather tasty line of fair trade goods, for instance.
The Old School
It’s not so long ago that all charity shops used to be like this. They tend to be gloomy and disorganised and staffed by slightly odd individuals. I was hunting through one of these in Camden once, and was rather taken aback by the elderly lady also rifling through the clothes and muttering, “I’ll spend what I like – not just a pound here and there, not like he would have wanted.” At that point I remembered I had an urgent mumblemumble in the rffrrnmnrr and had to leave.
These shops are a relative rarity in London, but tend to be located on the less prestigious high streets, owned by the smaller charities.
- Consider the area. Somewhere like Kensington tends to chuck out a higher quality of goods than somewhere like, say, Tooting. A bookish place like Bloomsbury is an excellent place to find books. However, note also that more expensive areas tend to charge higher prices. They’re cunning like that.
- Vintage clothing shops get a lot if not all of their stock from charity shops. This was brought home to me when I saw a couple of waistcoats for sale in Wimbledon, only to see them a week later in a Covent Garden vintage shop for four times the price. Ergo, the optimum place to find a bargain is a fairly well-off place without a vintage scene.
- Not that I’d normally advocate leaving the city, but when you get out of town you’re more likely to find places that meet the well-off/no vintage scene criteria. However, you’re more likely to find shops of the old school in these places.
And, of course, it’s all for a good cause. A much better way of raising funds than the use of chuggers, and you’re getting something out of it yourself. It’s ethical, environmentally friendly and money-saving. Give yourself a pat on the back.