A hidden treasure trove

Charity shop fashion is cheap, chic and charitable as Liam O’Brien and Li Peng Cheok discover with relish

Charity shop fashion is cheap, chic and charitable as Liam O’Brien and Li Peng Cheok discover with relish.

Charity shops are a tricky one. A lot of young people have preconceived ideas about buying second hand clothes. However, the resurgence of vintage clothing a few years ago through the wardrobes of Kate Moss and Sienna Miller has served to endear such garmets to the trendier crowd. There is a big difference, of course, between the contents of the Knightsbridge Oxfam and York’s PDSA, and the ubiquitous ‘vintage’ was soon replaced by ‘archive’ (the collection of designer garments from previous seasons’ collections). The notion that charity shopping is a pursuit reserved for the elderly and badly attired was thus rejuvenated.

The perennial high street favourites of the fashion crowd can be deceptively expensive unless you’re an experienced sale-rack raider, and so it’s necessary to find a cheaper alternative. In amongst the plethora of nylon skirts and Dynasty shoulderpads, there are gems to be found in nearly every charity shop. Put aside your misgivings: clothes from charity shops are not dirty. They are washed, and steamed, and sorted meticulously. In fact, if the shop staff open a bag of donated clothes and find that the items smell badly or are damaged, they are usually immediately disposed of. The fact that the clothes are cheap does not mean that they are bad, the profit margins and overhead costs have simply been largely eliminated.

The Nouse team trawled York’s charity shop row, Goodramgate, to find the diamonds in the rough. Chunky knits, a Sonia Rykiel inspired look for this season, can be found in abundance in charity shops (pictured). If you’re looking for jewellery, scarves, shoes, bags, etc. York’s charity shops are particularly good. At the PDSA shop we found a gorgeous blue and green plaid skirt that simply screamed Lily Allen. The fit wasn’t bad, and it was light enough to be worn comfortably during the day, but warm enough to stop you from freezing in the now-colder weather. And the best part about it? It only cost £3.29. A versatile taupe shoulder tote found at the same shop was only £3. A red chunky knit dress from Scope (which supports people with cerebral palsy) cost only £4.50, and was found on the same rack as a £6 fitted leather above-the-knee skirt (pictured). Services for Autism had a dazzling range of gold and pearl jewellery as well as shoes (pictured).

Oxfam was our last destination. As the most well-recognised charity shop and by far the most expensive, a visit there is more about achieving an upmarket vintage look rather than saving money. To complete the look, Oxfam offer retro leather suitcases, colourful, sweeping dresses, and a good range of accessories.

Some people, like Aimi Syarizad, a first year undergraduate, will always be prejudiced against charity shop clothes. “Of course I wouldn’t buy clothes from a charity shop,” says Syarizad in surprise, “You don’t know where these clothes have been, or who has worn them before. Besides, clothes from a charity shop are out of season and out of date. I would rather just pay a bit more.” On the other hand, most people, like Sharon Chiu, see nothing wrong in the idea, with the defence that “As long as they’re in good condition, I don’t see why not. You can find a lot of label stuff in there, and a few brand new pieces too.”

Charity shopping can be an arduous process, but if you go with a group of people it can also be a lot of fun. In between trying to pick up a bargain and emulate effortless Kate Moss chic, laugh at the shoulder-padded rack of dresses with patterned turquoise and mauve sequins (quietly, of course, because charity shop workers are uniformly adorable). Even if you have a severe dislike of everything that isn’t brand new, remember that charity shops sell books, vinyls and all kinds of other things, and that every penny spent helps good causes.

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