A dusty, tartan blazer sporting a label unknown to the high-street, overlooked for the hundredth time, hangs at the back of a charity shop’s outwear section. Add a label displaying the following description, ‘Pre-loved, vintage’, a £50 price tag and hang in the window of a retro boutique. Our perspective of an old-fashioned item unworthy of a second glance transforms into a timeless, statement piece belonging in anyone’s fashion-conscious wardrobe. Brimming with unearthed treasures, charity shops are a haven for those with a creative eye looking to give second-hand items a new lease of life.
The History of Charity Shops
A pioneer in the second-hand sector, the Salvation Army served at the frontlines in World Wars one and two providing help to those in need. Through their work, they found that amongst starvation, fear of homelessness and a lack of funds to buy clothing were major issues. The Salvation Army was, therefore, one of the first ever clothing shops dedicated to providing affordable items to the poor. Established over a century ago, these shops were known as ‘salvage stores’ and were also a symbol of their mission to encourage recycling. Based on the philosophy that our Earth’s resources are precious and we, therefore, need to reuse and recycle, charity shops became a booming industry. With more than 10,000 across the UK to date, the industry raises around £289 million a year. Britain’s biggest charity retailer, The British Heart Foundation, has more outlets than high-street chain, WH Smith.
The prevention of landfill is one of the main environmental benefits of charity shopping. An estimated £140 million worth of used clothing is wasted in landfill every year – the equivalent of 350 thousand tonnes. To put this into perspective, for every single tonne of textiles reused rather than sent to landfill, carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by 7 tonnes. Furthermore, clothing made from natural materials such as cotton, wool and leather are subject to producing a range of greenhouse gases during their biodegradation process in landfill sites. £5 billion could also be saved in resources used to supply, launder and dispose of unwanted clothing by extending the average life of a clothing item by nine months.
A Charity Checklist
If you have the time to browse, are looking for a bargain, or need a statement piece that you know no one else will own, then follow these three tips on how to make the most of charity shopping.
1. Think outside the box
When we enter a shop on the high-street, we are met by a number of mannequins dressed head to toe in carefully constructed outfits. Usually, representative of a season’s trends, this makes it easy for us as consumers to copy and pair similar items together. Charity shopping, on the other hand, is more about inspiration over replication. First, find items that will fit you, then isolate them from everything else hanging on the rail. Next, use your imagination to picture them in a different context. Think about how they would look with items that already exist in your wardrobe.
2. Pick timeless treasures
Look for good quality items that can become a closet staple. By shopping on the high-street, we tend to get drawn into seasonal trends. When these trends inevitably expire, we are left with a dent in our wallet and a pile of clothes that gets shoved to the back of a wardrobe. In charity shops, look for denim, suits, black dresses and smart, white shirts. These are all items that you know will outstand the cycle of fleeting fashions.
3. Step outside your comfort zone
“Black doesn’t go with navy”, “Don’t mix prints”, “Socks with sandals are a no-go”. Buying clothes at high-street prices may veer you towards the side of caution when selecting statement pieces. The low price of clothes in charity shops allows you to experiment with your style and try pieces that break the ‘rules’ without having to spend an eye-watering amount on something you are unsure of. Look for daring items that are outside your comfort zone to elevate existing outfits. You might end up loving your new combination of black stripy socks with navy leopard print sandals.