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11 great charity clothes shopping tips

Charity shopping for clothes is kind to your wallet and the planet (win-win!). Here's how to find the best picks among charity shop rails.

Bright clothes on a rail

Credit: New Africa – Shutterstock

At first, trying to find clothes that both fit you and that you actually like in a charity shop can seem like an impossible task. But with a bit of digging, you can end up with some real gems.

Not only can you find unique pieces you'll never find on the high street, but you can also feel good knowing that your purchases are contributing to a great cause and that you're buying sustainable fashion.

Walk into charity shops with an open mind and a few of these tricks up your sleeve and you'll be able to reinvent your wardrobe. And this is all possible without breaking your student budget.

Buying secondhand clothes is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.

Things to look out for in charity shops

Got a local Oxfam or Cancer Research UK (or any other wonderful charity) store you'd like to support, but not sure if it's worth going in? Here's what to look for in charity shops:

  1. Look for vintage clothing

    You're never going to find all the latest styles and trends in your local charity shop, so the key is finding timeless pieces that never go out of fashion.

    Your local Oxfam probably won't be full of clothes straight off the catwalk, but it is likely to be a treasure trove of vintage items.

    Start your hunt with an open mind. You could come across some amazing clothes in charity shops!

  2. Aim to find cheap, unique clothes

    Without a doubt, the most exciting part of charity shopping is the thrill of uncovering a unique gem.

    Finding the perfect 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 if you replicated a mannequin's style in Topshop.

    It may be that you find something you'd never usually think to buy (but actually love), or a pre-loved designer item pops up at a bargain price. It doesn't happen often, but you could end up getting a pair of Levi jeans for a fiver or a Moschino belt for 50p.

  3. Buy label-free items

    two friends shopping for clothes

    Insider tip: Believe it or not, some of your favourite high street stores will have deals with local charity shops to donate stock that isn't sold during fashion sales. Part of the deal is often that they need to cut the labels off the clothes.

    It's worth keeping an eye out for items that have had the labels purposely cut off. These could be completely unworn items that have been donated.

  4. Frequently visit charity shops on weekdays

    So, what's the best day to visit charity shops?

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

    While you might find absolutely nothing one day, there could be something on the rails tomorrow. Weekdays are the best time for charity shopping as there's less competition for the best stuff.

    Save even more money by trying these swap shop sites – you'll be surprised by what's up for grabs.

  5. Make friends with shop staff

    It's a good idea to make the effort to be friendly with charity shop staff.

    As well as just making you a nice person, an added bonus is that staff will be much more likely to point you in the right direction. If they become more well-acquainted with your style, they may even save some of the best charity shop finds for you. It pays to be nice!

    Don't be afraid to let them know what your taste is. If they know you as a friendly and loyal customer, they'll happily go that extra mile for you.

  6. Stay patient and rummage to find the best clothes

    While a lot of high street brands will invest in their store layout to make it as easy to navigate as possible, don't expect the same from charity shops.

    Most charity shops will only organise items by colour or size, so be prepared to get rummaging.

    This can work in your favour though, as it means other shoppers are finding it hard to find the top items. And once you get acquainted with the store layout, you'll know exactly where to head on your next visit.

  7. Visit charity shops online

    Man on laptop listening to music

    Credit: Mooshny – Shutterstock

    Want to go thrifting in the UK but don't fancy leaving the house? You can now do your charity shopping online from the comfort of your sofa. While some have their own site, many also sell from their own eBay stores.

    Best online charity shops

  8. Try on charity shop clothes and check for faults

    The golden rule of charity clothes shopping is to always try before you buy.

    Measurements can vary vastly, particularly with vintage items, as a size 10 in the 70s is very different from a 10 nowadays.

    This means that you shouldn't rule out clothes that aren't in your usual size or assume something will fit because it matches the size you typically go for.

    It's often not until trying clothes on that you'll spot a fault or stain. But, before you rule something out for having a fault, think about whether you could upcycle it into something better.

    Check out our interview with Instagrammer Becky Hughes to find out how she managed to use clothes in charity shops that are outside of her size.

    It's not quite a charity shop, but if you're happy to buy shoes with tiny scuffs or marks, schuh 'Imperfects' sells loads at a fraction of their normal prices.
  9. Choose charity shops based on location

    You've probably heard that the best charity shops are in the wealthiest areas of town, as they get donations from people with a fair amount of money. This can often include barely-worn items or ones that still have a price tag!

    But, while it's true that you're generally more likely to find designer brands in affluent areas, it's also true that charity shops know that charity clothes shoppers go on pilgrimages to scope them out. As a result, prices can be pretty steep.

    If you find you're getting priced out, don't be afraid to go elsewhere.

  10. Picture charity shop clothes in different contexts

    Charity shops usually aren't the most luxurious venues. While high street chains invest in decor, lighting and music to make their clothes look super glamorous, charity shops can be drab and dull in comparison. You'll have to use your imagination when trying to find some charity shop bargains.

    Try to imagine how the item would look in the front window of Zara, in a fashion magazine or on your favourite fashion icon. Looks much better now, right?

  11. Donate your own clothes

    Charity shops rely on a continuous stream of donations in order to survive, so you can't expect to benefit from all those gems if you're not prepared to donate yourself.

    Have a wardrobe clear out and donate the clothes you no longer wear. You'll free up space and you'll be helping a good cause by doing so.

On the hunt for a new work wardrobe? Here's how you can find work clothes on a budget.

Laura Brown

WRITTEN BY Laura Brown

Laura Brown, Head of Editorial at Save the Student, is an award-winning writer with expertise in student money. She project manages influential national student surveys and has presented findings to MPs in Westminster. As an expert on student issues, Laura has been quoted by the BBC, the Guardian, Metro and more.
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