Since moving to the outskirts of London, on the borders of Surrey, I have been blessed with some of the finest charity shops in the country. Before I moved two years ago, I lived in the rugged county of Yorkshire, which was sadly bereft of any quality charity shops selling menswear.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the idea of charity shops (which I believe are a specific UK phenomenon), these are shops which are run by charities, selling donated clothes, bric-a-brac and basically anything that people no longer want or use but which still have a useful life in them. Items are donated to the shops by the public and then resold, bringing income for the charity. The prices of items sold in charity shops barely compare to the original retail price, the only issue being that you’re buying second hand items. That’s occasionally a cause of snobbery, but when you think about the second-hand market in clothes on eBay, there’s not much difference.
Since moving away from Yorkshire, I have had the good fortune to furnish my wardrobe with designer labels, mainly from charity shops and at a fraction of the original retail price. A Barbour Northumbria coat with lining and separate hood would set you back about £280 in one of their retail outlets. I found one for £35. Armani jeans (£5), Dolce & Gabanna wool jacket (barely worn, £25), Ralph Lauren hoodie (last season, £12); these are just a few of the items I have found in charity shops in the local area.
My crowning glory was a handbag for my wife. I found an unused, genuine (it still had the tags and certificate of authenticity) Balenciaga handbag. The exact same bag was still on sale in the Balenciaga online store for £1240. It had all the right bits & pieces with it, still had the little plastic covers on the leather zipper bits, the only thing I could see was that the plastic cover from one of the handles had been removed. I paid £195 for it. That’s a difference of over £900!
I’ve yet to find anything to beat the Balenciaga handbag. That really was a one-in-a-million find. I think that since I’ve been living down here, the only thing that I’ve paid full price for was a black Barbour International biker jacket (produced to celebrate the brand’s 75 year anniversary), for £220. I felt guilty paying full price for it; before I moved I would never have been able to justify paying that much for a coat. When I consider the savings I have made on all the other clothes in my wardrobe though, I don’t feel so bad. Although I seem to be becoming a label slave, there’s no way I could ever justify paying full price for a new item from, say, Dolce & Gabanna, when I have so much choice in the charity shops.
A note of caution should also be struck; while I can find all sorts of designer labels in the charity shops, they’re rarely current season. This doesn’t bother me at all, as I’m less interested in following fashion than I am in creating a sense of style. Whereas fashion changes from week-to-week, style has a more enduring quality. And if vintage clothing is your thing, there’s no better place to start filling your wardrobe than charity shops.