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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 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 – without breaking your student budget.

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

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.

    While 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 items.

    Start your hunt with an open mind and 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 that 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 an item 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 snagging a pair of Levi jeans for a fiver or a Moschino belt for 50p is not beyond the realms of possibility.

  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 – 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 could be completely unworn items that have been donated.

  4. Frequently visit charity shops on weekdays

    Unlike 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? Weekdays are the best time for charity shopping as there's less competition for the best stuff.

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

    Don't be afraid to let them know what your tastes are – 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 really invest in store layout to make them as easy to navigate as possible, don't expect the same from charity shops.

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

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

  7. Visit charity shops online

    Man on laptop listening to music

    Credit: Mooshny – Shutterstock

    If you want to go thrifting in the UK but don't fancy leaving the house, or simply can't face the idea of physically rummaging to find your gem? 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 just because it matches the size you typically go for.

    But, before you rule something out for having a fault, think about whether you could upcycle it into something better first.

    Check out our interview with Instagrammer The Nifty Thrifter to find out how she manages to make use of clothes in charity shops that are outside of her size.

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

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

    But, while it's true that you're often more likely to find designer brands in affluent areas, it's also true that charity shops are wising up to the fact that charity clothes shoppers 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 going to be a bargain.

  10. Picture charity shop clothes in different contexts

    Charity shops aren't always 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, so you have to use your imagination.

    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

    woman sitting on the floor surrounded by shoes and clothes

    Credit: Touchstone Pictures

    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 get rid of all those clothes you never wear anymore – you'll free up space for all the new items you come across, 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 and what you should be looking for based on the dress code. 


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