Sunday, 1 August 2010

Charity chic

The French for clothes bought from a charity shop – vĂȘtements d’occasion – somehow sounds so much more alluring than the dowdy connotations we tend to attach to them.

However, those who aren’t afraid to hunt for a bargain and aren’t put off by the sight of rail upon rail of mismatched garments know that charity shops can, in actual fact, be gold mines.

So, armed with a limited budget, an open mind, and a little patience, a few weeks ago my aunt and I set about correcting any incorrect assumptions about charity shopping.

And what a time we had. Admittedly, there were a fair few drab dresses, knitted jumpers and outdated neckerchiefs. But with a bit of rummaging we found some absolute gems:

These silk polka dot shorts (£1.50) reminded me of Dolce and Gabbana's Spring 2009 ready-to-wear collection, paired with my stepdad's shirt and a hand-me-down vintage YSL velvet jacket.

This wedding dress is absolutely gorgeous - the lace detail is so intricate.

This sheepskin coat cost £8 and is really warm and snug.

These Holmes shoes cost £4 and are made of beautiful leather.

We even spotted a pair of JIMMY CHOOS!!! (Alas, even at charity shop prices, our purse strings couldn’t quite stretch far enough to buy them.)

What bemuses me is that fashionable women are willing to pay extortionate prices in vintage shops for items that have often been bought in charity shops and simply marked up for ridiculous profit. Not only does this undermine the benevolence of charity shopping, but it also essentially exploits people’s laziness to go and do the hard work themselves.

Some would argue that you need an ‘eye’ to have any luck in a charity shop. Nonsense. A little patience goes a long way. And even if you do decide, like me, that the floral blouse was a bit too granny-ish after all, at such bargain prices an impulse buy or change of mind really doesn’t matter.

Charity bookshops also deserve to be exalted – I owe much of my bookcase to them, and most of the novels on it have been acquired for pennies and will be returned to be re-sold for someone else to enjoy. Many of my most cherished volumes were found in charity bookshops, from a gilt-bound copy of ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ to a meticulously annotated indispensable collection of critical essays on ‘Hamlet’. It somehow means so much more to read something that someone else has previously enjoyed and vicariously partake in their pleasure than to pick up a sterile, untouched version in a commercial bookstore. Well, that’s how I see it at least.

I challenge you to spend an afternoon perusing a few charity shops and not find at least one thing that takes your fancy. And while you’re at it, why not take the opportunity to clear out some of your unwanted clothes or books and donate them to a worthy cause? It’s great value, great fun and, most importantly, a great help to those who need it most.