The largest proportion of the clothes in my wardrobe come from Charity Shops.

I feel reluctant to spend huge amounts of money of things unless they’re really special. I once spent nearly £80 on a 1930s vintage dress on Etsy that turned out to be too fragile to wear and tore the first time I tried it on. Since then me and vintage clothing have generally stuck to the cheaper end of the market. Hunting for unappreciated bargains on eBay, or trawling the charity shops for anything from the 30s-80s with the right look.


❤ Modern M&S cardigan and Vintage Skirt From a Charity Shop ❤

Whenever I’m wearing something from a charity shop and someone tells me they like it I invariably end up having a conversation including the words “Oh I never find anything in charity shops”. So today I thought I’d share my ultimate guide to thrift shopping. I use the term thrift shopping as these rules can equally apply to boot fairs, those weird house clearance shops, or second hand clothes shops. Those bargains are there, you’re just not seeing them.

Before You Go

Plan ahead. You need to go into Charity Shops regularly to find the good stuff. If there’s one you pass regularly while it’s open, then pop in and give it a scan. With practice you don’t need to rummage for hours through the rails, you’ll learn to spot patterns, fabrics or a style of waistband on a skirt rail that signify from a distance an item that deserves closer inspection.

If you don’t regularly pass any charity shops then plan a route for a days shopping that could take in the good ones, again, after a few visits you’ll start to learn how quickly stock is refreshed, how often it’s worth visiting and any that just aren’t worthy of a place on your route. I try and go out and do a big spree once a month, though since I moved in August last year time has been depressingly tight. It might suit you better to go and do a few shops once a week, if there are 2 or 3 areas with a selection of shops near you.

Pack Your Tools. My handbag essentials for a charity or thrift shopping trip are:

  • Hand Sanitiser – some shops can be horribly grubby, but they can also be where the best bargains are found.
  • A Tiny Torch – Shine a small torch behind a garment to show up any tiny pinprick holes in dark fabric that you might otherwise miss. You can also hold garments up to a window if the shop has one that’s visible!
  • Anti Bacterial wipes – A small pack of normal household anti bacterial wipes, or even baby wipes, can be used to give anything really grubby a quick clean
  • A Bag for Life – Increasingly charity shops are starting to charge for plastic bags, and besides, they’re difficult to carry and bad for the environment. A bag for life with a shoulder strap is far more comfortable.
  • A Tape Measure – Not all charity shops have space to try things on. You really should know at least your basic measurements, so taking a small tape measure can give you a clue as to fit. You should also try holding some of your existing clothes up to your body and see where the sides of the waist, hips, shoulder etc hit. It’ll give you a frame of reference holding a garment up against yourself in a charity shop.


Set your budget. But be flexible. I tend to set limit between £5-£10 per item, depending on what it is. Though I will go higher for something really special. I once bought a Mulberry dress that cost £12 and I currently have a Jaegar halter neck waiting to be worn for which I paid £20.

While You’re Out

Learn to shop smart. If you look at every single thing in a charity shop you could be in there for hours. That’s fine if you have time, but learning a few techniques to speed up the search still isn’t a bad idea. Scan the shop and get an idea of its layout. Some shops organise by colour, others split up jumpers, knitwear, blouses, skirts, dresses etc. Scan the rails and look for prints, fabrics, sleeve shapes, skirt lengths and waistbands that suit your style. Anything that’s obvious from the edge of the rails. Use your hands and learn to feel for quality fabrics as you flick through. Keep an eye out for labels that have been cut out. I have seen places trying to hide the Primark origins of clothes, look inside the skirt or the inseam of trousers for a care label that might tip you off as to where it’s from.

Ignore the sizes.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned Vanity Sizing on here before? I have clothes in my wardrobe from a size 10-18. The size labels and the little plastic tags the charity shops might put on the hangers are both equally useless.

tropical dress

❤ 80s dress from a Charity Shop ❤

Have an idea of date. Make sure you’re familiar with some basic dating techniques that’ll help you figure out whether the amazing dress you just found is a 1950s original worth the £15 tag the shop has put on it, or a more recent copy that should only be a fiver. The labels, construction methods and fabrics are all important. There’s more detail on this post on dating your vintage clothes, but just remember, if you love it and are willing to pay that much for it then the exact date doesn’t matter.

Be Ruthless. It might only be £3 but will you really wear it? What with? Same rules apply as to regular High Street shopping. Be realistic.

Use your imagination. I think this is where most people fall down. They don’t see a beautiful satin blouse, they see “old crap in a charity shop”. With charity shopping no one has done the hard work for you. They won’t tell you that these are this seasons colours, or even that this 80s dress will look a dead ringer for a 50s one if you add a belt and good hair. You have to be able to look past the fact that a blouse is on the shelf next to an atrocious cheap zebra print lycra top and imagine what you could do with it. If you’re looking just for clothes that can fit a look inspired by the styles and shapes of the past, then the same rules apply as when looking for vintage inspired styles on the High Street.

Don’t neglect the accessories. So often people focus on all the clothes in Charity Shops and completely miss the pile of leather 1950s handbags for £4 or the printed silk scarves for £1, or even that glass cabinet at the till that contains a 1940s brooch or a boxed string of faux pearls.


❤ Leather Handbag from a Charity Shop. Cost £1.25 ❤

Once you’re home

Try it on. Don’t just fling everything into a pile. Try it on with items from your own wardrobe, check it fits and suits. Look for any little repairs that are needed that you might have missed and try and do them promptly (ha, I am the queen of lazy repairs). If it’s not quite right don’t be afraid to try and resell it on eBay, or if all else fails, chalk it up as a loss and return it to Charity, if you don’t spend too much then it’s not a huge trauma, better than having a wardrobe full of clothes that don’t fit or suit you.

How to find bargains in Charity Shops