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Ultimate guide to charity shop shopping

Uninspired by what high streets have to offer these days? Charity shops are chock full of designer-labelled treasures just waiting to be discovered! charityheaderIf you've always had the tendency to avoid charity shopping for fear of tatty clothes you wouldn't want to be seen dead in – be prepared to be proved wrong!

Sure, there's always going to be an element of digging to do before you find your treasure, but we're confident you'll be pleasantly surprised by what you find if you put the effort in.

Not only are you likely to find the kind of stylish one-off gems you'll never see any of your mates wearing, but you can also feel good about the fact your purchases are actually contributing to a good cause.

Walk in the door with an open mind and a few of these tricks up your sleeve, and you'll be able to reinvent your wardrobe – without breaking your student budget!

On a serious budget? Be sure to give swap shop sites a try too – you'll be pleasantly surprised to see what's up for grabs.

11 essential charity shopping tips

  1. Go timeless

    vintageclothesWhile your local Oxfam isn't likely to be full of clothes straight off the catwalk, it is likely to be a treasure trove of vintage and timeless items.

    The beauty of vintage clothes is that they literally never go out of fashion! Start your hunt with an open mind – don't go searching for the sort of stuff you'd be looking for in the high streets, and you won't be disappointed.

  2. Ditch the preconceptions

    laundryThe most important rule of charity shopping is to leave your preconceptions at home. There's nothing embarrassing about shopping at charity shops whatsoever – you'll be the envy of your friends when you wear a great charity shop find, and unless you tell them it's second-hand, we bet they won't have a clue.

    Don't be put off by any items that look a bit grubby round the edges either – we're sure you've got a washing machine and some laundry powder at home!

  3. Embrace the thrill of the chase

    thrill-of-shoppingWithout a doubt, the most exciting part of charity shopping is the thrill of uncovering a gem. Finding that dream item might seem like searching for a needle in a haystack, but you'll get way more satisfaction from working hard for your discovery than you would picking something off a rail at Topshop.

    It doesn't happen often, but snagging a pair of Dolce and Gabbana jeans for a fiver or a Moschino belt for 50p is not beyond the realms of possibility in the charity shop game!

  4. Zoom in to label-free items

    clothes railCredit: Vicki Burton – Flickr
    Insider tip alert! So believe it or not, some of your favourite high street stores will have deals with local charity shops that they donate stock that isn't sold during sale periods.

    Part of the deal is often that they need to cut the labels off the clothes – perhaps so as not to give the game away, we're not so sure.

    Anyway, it's worth keeping an eye out for items that have had the labels purposely cut off, as these are normally the completely unworn items that have been donated!

  5. Pop in frequently

    frequent-visitsUnlike a lot of high street stores, you'll often find that charity shops will have new stock out every day.

    Sure, you might find absolutely nothing one day, but who's to say what might be on the rails tomorrow?

    Always be prepared to leave with nothing – please don't buy something just for the sake of it!

  6. Make friends with staff

    friendsAs you'll be popping in to your local charity shops, it's a good idea (as well as a nice one!) to make the effort to be friendly with staff.

    Working in retail can be undeniably boring, whether you're in a charity shop or not. A bit of friendly chatter hurts no one!

    An added bonus is that staff are much more likely to point you in the right direction, or save awesome pieces for you if they become more well-acquainted with your style and the sort of items you love. It pays to be nice!

    Don't be afraid to let those you're friendly with in on what your tastes are – if they know you as a friendly and loyal customer, they'll happily go that extra mile for you.

  7. Be prepared to rummage

    jumblesaleclothesWhile a lot of brands will invest some serious dollar in laying out their shops to look their best, don't expect the same from charity shops.

    Most shops will simply organise items by colour or size, so treat it like a visit to TK Maxx and be prepared to get rummaging.

    This works in your favour, too, as it can make some top items harder to find for other shoppers.

  8. Feel free to sit on your backside

    online-charity-shoppingToo lazy to leave the house, or simply cannot face the idea of rummaging to find your gem? You can even do your charity shopping online from the comfort of the couch if necessary!

    Trailblazing the way, Oxfam has an online vintage shop helpfully categorised into decades from the 1950s to the 1980s. A few clicks and you can have bargains delivered straight to your door!

  9. Be adventurous

    braveAs mentioned, the key to really acing the charity shop game is to be as open minded as you can possibly be. This includes trying on colour or items you would never normally go near – it's all part of the fun!

    Even if it's not your size, don't be afraid to give it a try anyway. Measurements can vary vastly, particularly vintage items as bizarrely a size 10 in the 70s is completely different from a 10 nowadays.

    Sizes can also vary from one brand to the next: when in doubt, try it on!

  10. Location is everything

    charity-shop-locationYou've probably heard that the best shops are in the richest areas of town, as they get all the rich people donations (which often includes barely-worn items or ones that still have a price tag!).

    While it's true that you're often more likely to find designer brands in wealthy areas, it's also true that charity shops are wising up to the fact that charity shop lovers go on pilgrimages to scope them out, and as a result prices can be pretty steep.

    If you find you're getting priced out, don't be afraid to go elsewhere – just because it's in a charity shop doesn't mean it's always gonna be a bargain!

  11. Think outside of the shop

    catwalkIt's easy to get put off walking into a charity shop by the fact you're in a room where you know wouldn't wear 90% of what's on the rails. Don't let this stop you!

    When you see an item you think you might like but you're unsure, try to imagine how it would look in the front window of Zara, or on someone you know who always seems to look amazing in the most unusual of outfits. Looks much better now, right?

Follow these tips and you can be sure you'll pick up some seriously stylish bargains that you'll look and feel great in.

If you've got any great charity shop tips you'd be up for sharing – give us a shout in the comments below!

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