Triangles – three points of view on charity shopping

A woman is browsing a rail of clothes at a charity shop

Many of us donate our unwanted clothes to charity. But how often have you bought something from a charity shop? And is it good value or destined to languish in your wardrobe before being donated back?

A woman is browsing a rail of clothes in a charity shopWe decided to find out.

So Deborah and Nadine decided to set style expert Lisa the challenge of finding outfits to suit their style, all from charity shops.

We were a mixed bunch, with Deborah a complete charity shop virgin. Nadine had bought from a charity shop before, but wanted to make sure what she was buying was right for her. And Lisa is a regular charity shop expert buyer.

Here’s what we thought:


Although I donate regularly to charity shops I’ve never been in and actually bought anything. The whole experience seemed pretty daunting to me, finding an outfit in a shop of second-hand one offs instead of the rails of sizes and colours in traditional retail shops. Add to that my OCD around germs, and the worry that I didn’t know where things had come from.

My concern was even greater as I stepped through the door – hands deep inside my pockets, I didn’t want to touch anything, and the first shop reinforced my view. It didn’t smell that fresh to me. Lisa gave me a pep talk: the clothes are steamed so germ free. I donate clothes, others buy them, it’s just the same.

Nadine and Lisa were really getting into it, and I pretended to look. We moved onto the next charity shops.

Two dresses bought at a charity shopThese were a much better experience. Someone had given the time and thought to lay things out in an inviting way, the smell was much fresher and the volunteers were wonderful – encouraging me to try things or asking what was I looking for. I relaxed.

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I spotted a dress that I knew would suit me and tried it on – yes little miss germ free trying on second-hand clothes. A perfect fit. Lisa nodded approvingly that I’d met the brief and I bought it!

Then the same thing in the next shop – although I did need some encouragement – a dress was too big for me according to the label but Lisa pushed me into the changing room.  It was another perfect fit so I bought that, too.

The charity shop virgin bought two perfect high-end dresses and a pair of earmuffs (great for Nordic Walking) for a tenner!


I’m not a charity shop regular, as I consider clothes shopping a necessity rather than a leisure pursuit.

But in the past I’ve gone looking for particular items, made a silent wish as I’ve crossed the threshold of my preferred store, and found just what I needed.

Before setting off on the shopping expedition I made a list of gaps in my wardrobe – something to wear under a kimono I’d just bought, a warm top to wear with a particular necklace, and an autumn jacket.  Maybe I could get one of these.

I wasn’t too keen on visiting any other charity shops than my favourite – in terms of good cause and size of range – so we started there. Although it has colour-blocked clothes – the latest and rather helpful thing in charity shop display – I was very disappointed. Many of the clothes were torn or dirty. One jacket had potential but would have needed repair.

Moving on, Lisa rapidly discovered I’m a ‘super coordinator’ – I like colours to match rather than tone. Armed with this new brief, she pounced on the perfect Joe Brown top to go under the kimono. And, added bonus, as I held the two together just to check, a lady said how lovely she thought the kimono was. Result!

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nadineI’ve been sent Joe Brown catalogues but never bought from them as I didn’t know the quality or fit – so charity shops are a great way to learn about brands.

Going off-list, I also purchased a pair of baby pink, winklepinker-style boots. I usually stick to black footwear and will have to make a conscious effort to make these into an outfit, but they are muted and fun, and were only a tenner!

I found I was enjoying myself – there are always entirely inappropriate clothes to laugh at when you’re with friends, and it’s great to find something you need for next to no money.

In the final shop Lisa found the perfect top for me – a purple v-neck in ‘cashmillon’. The label said £12.50 from M&S and I’d have readily paid that for it there. Here it was £3.99. I also tried on a gorgeous chocolate brown top, but realised there were quite a few fat marks down the front which I doubted would come out.

Instead, I took a lovely beige, trench-style jacket. Thin but lined so perfect for in-between temperatures and a whopping £6.99.  That was everything on my list, plus the boots, for just under £24. Fantastic. Can we do it again, ladies?


Lisa NewportI found the experience quite interesting from a stylist point of view. I usually take clients shopping after I’ve worked with them on other aspects of their style, when I know their clothing personalities, insecurities and preferences.

It’s usually quite a streamlined, focused process and there is a plan to what we are aiming to achieve.

Despite being very much on the hoof, I was pleased that we all bought something we were happy with. It was a case of quickly trying to establish likes and dislikes in terms of style by listening to Deborah and Nadine’s comments and a process of elimination as we looked around in terms of styles and colours.

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It was interesting, too, as usually women come to me because they lack confidence or want help, they don’t know what suits them or fancy an image update or overhaul. These were not my usual clients!

Our tips:

  • Visit frequently, as stock changes regularly.
  • They are worth checking out for party shoes and evening bags – things people buy and use once or twice.
  • Go with friends (or an expert) both for advice and for fun.
  • If you’re still worried about germs, try double bagging the items in carrier bags and freeze them for a couple of days. They’ll smell clean and fresh and germs don’t survive freezing (it’s a good general germ-free OCD tip).
  • Make a list of things you need to help focus your shopping trip.
  • Check clothes carefully so you don’t miss marks, especially on darker items.

So what did we discover? Charity shops are excellent value and a great way of trying out new styles for a fraction of the cost. Plus you’re giving to a good cause.

And it was fun! We had a lovely afternoon out together… why not grab a few friends and try it for yourself?