The ups and downs of a charity shop 'shopper'

When I was a little girl I was mortified to be seen going into a charity shop with my mother, I was scared to death that somebody would recognize me and I would ultimately be talk of the school come Monday morning. It goes without saying that people often look down on other people who are less fortunate in life. My mother on the other hand didn’t care; she loved finding a bargain and didn’t hide the fact that her M&S shoes were in fact from Barnardo’s. What she saved on clothes, she spent on treating us to a family holiday or birthday party.

I learnt the hard way; my mother’s persistence paid off and charity shopping was much the norm in our family. It for one meant I never went without; I was forever changing my style often as quick as my mood.

By the time I had left school I was pretty much addicted to shopping in charity shops. Friends would often be astonished when I told them how little I paid for something, but in all the whole concept of shopping second-hand was alien to them. One friend in fact made a snide remark once about being able to afford to shop in high street stores and spend £50 on one dress… But this didn’t bother me any more, I knew I could probably buy several dresses, a bag, a coat and a skirt and still have some change left over out of that amount. The variety of choice and thrill of finding a unique piece outweighed everything that Topshop were offering; the bottom line was that I was proud to be a 'charity shop shopper'.

Seven years on and it hasn’t changed for me. I love finding a bargain and I love discovering a piece of the past. I will devote a whole day to charity shopping with my mother, and one thing for sure is that we will never grow old of this past time.

The popularity and growth of the quintessential charity shop means what once was a niche alternative has fast become an overcrowded surge of the market. This therefore brings upon the issue of pricing. I still believe tucked away in a small village there is a charity shop full of eccentric and wonderful wares being sold for pittance, but it seems the boom for business has ultimately sent the tills crazy.

If a charity shop (for example my town’s British Heart Foundation) is fitted out to the standard of a regular shop, tills, lighting, organised racks, mannequins, sizing tags, then usually it will be run like a shop, there are overheads to think about.

If you think about the small charity shop tucked away in the village for a moment - you know the one that hasn’t had power since 1984 and clothes are thrown in boxes, on top of bric-a-brac and the lady behind the till volunteers every Monday afternoon whilst her husband plays bowls - then baby, you’ve just hit the jackpot.

Then there’s the relentless problem with stock; the one rule that only exists within a charity shop, is that unlike the high street, and unlike any other shop you will come across where they embrace the mass market, a charity shop only stocks ONE of each item - simple. It’s literally a case of finder’s keepers. That sought after vintage satchel will be gone in seconds, those cameo pendants in the window – yes there already reserved for somebody else. So we’ve established a few nuisances already, but please don’t get me wrong the rise of the charity shop can only mean one thing right? More money for our charities. Which hopefully should mean we’ve achieved the goal we set out on achieving in the first place? Hurray!

But for the selfish bargain hunter like me, it can only be a downward spiral of disappointment. However I have come to realise that we can’t live in a petty war of pricing. At the end of the day however much something is, if it’s got that thrill factor about it, then you will pay the price (within reason). Be it 99p, £2.99 or £7.99 etc.

Not only am I told by my boyfriend that we live in a turbulent economy and therefore it is only natural that prices do increase, you have to remember that nothing is free. Though the strong argument is that the stock donated was ‘free’, giving it away would surely defeat the object of trying to raise money in the first place. The people who donate to charity (including myself) are able to feel a sense of good that they are helping towards a deserving cause, so surely it is only right a sensible and fair price for the consumer and shop is reached.

However, the problems a lot of us are facing are staff. Yes they’ve got wise. It’s almost like they swallowed a fashion dictionary of brands and designers. But what really is causing all the trouble is the fact that they sometimes fail to take into account the actual condition of the garment. The elusive ‘brand’ of tag sends them into so much of a frenzy they completely bypass the sweat marks and missing button. So this is why you would see a run-of-the-mill Primark sweater priced at a somewhat unjustifiable £4.99.

So it’s a little naïve to think that you are going to drop on a designer one off (though you might, you never know), when stock has been rigorously checked and pilfered through before it even hits the shop floor. And the first customer is in. And then there’s another one, and then that woman you passed in the doorway, yes she’s got your designer frock in her carrier bag! Ouch…

It’s not possible to be at the charity shop all day long, everyday. Just like it’s not possible to buy every single scratch-card in the newsagents. It’s simply a matter of luck, chance and perseverance. I personally find this combination the most rewarding.

So, the above may be a pathetic attempt at providing an observation/study/opinion on the modest charity shop we all know and love, but taking all of the above into consideration… am I worried? Not in the least, as I well know what may be a popular place to shop now, will not be popular tomorrow.


  1. Great post! I completely agree with you on the embarrassment of charity shops when you're younger, I was only eighteen when I really started shopping in them.

    I hate British heart foundation! Every single one I've been into has been filled with overpriced, rubbish tat.. I generally don't talk about it 'cause people call you cheap for saying charity shops are too expensive, but really, I've found Primark dresses which were up for more money than they cost originally in store, vintage bags they've put up for £15 because they're 'vintage' but they're half falling apart. It generally seems the least expensive ones have the best stuff, and certainly wouldn't be putting out stock which has stains, rips or damage, which seems a little odd.


  2. Lol Agree about charity shops and youngersters... It used to be 'put your head down and run in quick before that loud mouthed oik saw you and spent monday taunting you in front of the class'... now I enjoy going in, I just down have too much time... :(

  3. Great post, I love the untidy kind of charity shops - that's where you can find the smashing little things that other people might oversee for a bargin. One little "untidy" local charity shop sells vintage knitting and crochet patterns for 10p each, yet the more "upmarket" charity shops say they don't stock them because people don't buy them. Maybe it's just the ones near me but it's a shame.

  4. Completely agree and was saying this yesterday, found a cheapy primark dress (you know the ones which are different patterns for about £5) missing a button and very worn for £8 , I know many of them have over heads and I will pay more for something in great condition but I think expectations of how much they can charge has been blown out the water as it has become more popular.

  5. I don't really buy clothes from Charity shops anymore, a lot of older pretty dresses tend to be in tiny sizes which isn't any good for me.
    I do always look for books and trinkets which you can't buy on the hight street.
    Now I work full time I don't have so much time to spend trawling through the charity shops which is a shame x

  6. double the £4.99 for Primark tag and you get the charity shops in my town :(

  7. it's great to be reading you again, alice! brilliant post :)


  8. This was such a great post! Really agree about the whole brand thing, sometimes I cringe when I see Primark being sold for a fiver! x

  9. Wonderful post, Alice!
    I love the tatty chazza where everything's out from stained tee shirts to 1950's magazines and you have to get down on your knees and rummage hard. xxx

  10. What a fab post! I'm a keen charity shop shopper too and have my favourite shops where I know they are honest and keep their prices affordable. My husband used to volunteer at an RSPCA shop in town and quit as all his fellow volunteers would simply take home all the good donations, brand names and expensive items and filled the shop floor with overpriced Primark tat. It made me SO mad! x

  11. Loved this post! I agree with everything you have wrote!

    A part of me has been annoyed many a time when I see a crazy price tag on an item but at the same time I know it's going to a good cause.. I just put it back and let the next person buy it!

    Another thing which really annoys me is that the Volunteers in my favourite local charity shop dress in vintage.. they know their stuff which means they get first dibs on everything that gets donated and leave the cast offs to the rest of us. Do we really know that they are charging themselves a fair price? We'd hope that they are but you never know!

    I went in the most disorganised charity shop when I was on holiday in Dartmouth about 2 years ago. It had stuff piled everywhere and some things even had cobwebs on them in the window! That was ran by 2 old biddies who had probably never even heard of eBay.. that's the way it should be!

    I find that those old fashioned messy charity shops are mainly found in little seaside towns! xxx

  12. I love this post Alice! I still have NO IDEA how you find such bargains! I do go in to charity shops but the only things I seem to find I want to buy are books! I can't find the sweet vintage purses and bags you seem to dig up :)

    However any Oxfam bookshop is somewhere I want to be I can't pass one without popping in and checking the children's section <3 xxx

  13. Great post Alice. I think you just have to measure prices up against the high street and if it compares favourably you're on to a winner - a new item and a warm glow of knowing your money hasn't been sucked into the bottomless pockets of Philip Green et al.

    It is infuriating when tatty bottom end high street is priced so high, but presumably we can vote with our purses and pricing may become a bit more realistic again. That said, this year I did find a Galliano dress for the same price as the Monsoon one next to it - so things do still slip through!

  14. I think you know my thoughts on this - I seemed to get a bit ranty in my last blog post! I'm very much of the same mindset as you though, right down to the temporary teenage embarassment over being seen in a charity shop!

    There are always gems to be found, even in the more overpriced ones, but sometimes they do take a bit of finding. I suppose it's all down to how much time you have to browse. If I'm pushed for time I'll just check out the ones I know are cheaper and I have more chance of finding something great. More fun than trawling through ebay as far as I'm concerned.

    There's nothing better than finding a little hospice shop where everything is really cheap and they have brilliant stuff like dress patterns and boxes full of buttons. We found an amazing one in Sandwich on holiday this year - it was in a former haberdashers shop and still had all the original shop fittings. Drawers everywhere, all crammed with zips and bits of lace and so on - AMAZING! Sadly it's a little too far away to go very often.

    My two most disliked charity shops at the moment are the BHF and Barnados. It's not just a one-off store either, they all seem to be laid out in a similar, annoying fashion and the stock is a) dull and b) overpriced.

  15. Brilliant post - I was agreeing with literally EVERY BIT. Definitely used to be so embarrassed being seen going into charity shops, not it's more the fool others for not! I love it. Let's hope prices don't go crazy... x


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