Pubs are pulling pints, hairdressers are back in business, and non-essential retail is open again – but the place I’m desperate to return to on the high street is the charity shop. Those small hubs of joy, where you find hidden treasures, undeniable bargains, vintage gold, and everything you never knew you needed.
I’ve decided to wait a little for my first jaunt to scour out secondhand clothes – mainly to miss the queues, but also to wait for everyone to donate their best lockdown throwaways. Others, however, were straight through the doors as soon as they opened – desperate to get back to find new, pre-loved garms.
Kim Salt, 35, from Leicester, went straight away when they opened on April 12. “After a year of lockdown (as I live in Leicester), I got my eyebrows done and then headed to Sue Ryder,” she tells HuffPost UK. “I think I’m missing the Ibiza-style hippy market and European vibe as I ended up with these two items... Spanish feels! Both under £10 and both giving me summer lovin’.”
Momtaz Begum-Hossain, 40, who lives in east London, was also back on April 12 to Emmaus, a homeless charity in Crisp Street Market. Why? Because charity shops make her feel like a millionaire, she says. “I walk in knowing if I really like something, I can buy it with no qualms as it will be cheap. But mostly, I love the exploration aspect, the fact there are so many possibilities. You don’t know what you’ll stumble on and that gets me excited.”
Begum-Hossain says she’d missed that freedom of the hunt for unknown bargains you didn’t know you needed in your life (until you stumble on them).
“On Monday, I picked up a book, Teach Yourself Visualisation, and an orange top with frilly shoulders,” she shares. “The labels marked them to come to £3.50 but at the till they said I could have both for £2 – total win!”
“We back baby,” tweeted Adele Walton, 21, from London while sharing a picture of these gorgeous vintage Prada heels she bought during her first charity shop trip back. What. A. Bargain.
“As someone who no longer buys fast fashion due the unethical production methods and exploitation of garment workers, going back to the charity shops to refresh my secondhand wardrobe has been so long awaited!” says Walton.
“I find Depop hard to use and you can’t find the same lucky gems you can on good days in charity shops. I grew up rummaging in my local charity shops and, having recently moved to London, I’m excited to explore the ones in my area!”
Back in Leicester, Maisie Bamford, 30, got her hands of a vintage yellow mini dress for £5.99 in Oxfam on Queens Road.
“I was really looking forward to the charity shops opening again as I’m trying to shop more mindfully so secondhand is definitely the way to go!” she says. “I’ve always been a big fan of charity shop shopping, you find so many gems and it’s amazing to think that the items you buy have a story.”
Others decided to splurge a bit. Rosanna Head, 39, who lives in south London, had a field day at St Christophers in Sydenham, buying a batch of clothes for £50 all-in. (Now that’s how to get a new wardrobe for summer.)
Head bought Oasis jeans shorts, Ibiza-inspired shorts with neon pink tassles, a rain mac, a jade green spring jacket, an M&S zip smart work jacket, a tie dye scarf, a print fleece, a kimono and a dressing gown. What a haul.
In London, Jennifer Barton Packer, 38, headed to the FARA shop on Northcote Road in Clapham. She only ever shops secondhand – so the charity shops opening again were a biggie for her. “Nothing beats the feel of snagging a one-off piece from a bygone era, a designer item at a bargain price or a coveted piece that you’ve had your eye on for ages,” she says.
“The pandemic has made me much more expressive with her fashion, so I wasn’t surprised I instantly gravitated towards a summer dress with a keyhole opening at the front,” she says, of the dress below, “something I never would have worn when I was younger, but now feels like exactly the mood I want.”
Packer went with her two youngest daughters, who wanted something, too. She ended up getting them each a costume jewellery brooch, which they immediately put on, she says, adding: “Bonus – I can wear the brooches too.
“My mother used to collect them and it’s become a favourite habit of ours to dig out her vintage/secondhand ones; perhaps one day they’ll do the same with these brooches and their kids. I love the idea that charity shop clothes have lived these past lives and had all sorts of adventures – it adds an extra element of excitement and emotion to each purchase for me. I spent £18 in total because I also found a double bongo drum (£6) I had to get because we all love pretending we’re in a band and playing all sorts of instruments.”
Catherine Warrilow, 41, from Oxford, also shopped for her kids. She was “straight into the charity shops” and got a parka, a denim jacket, an army shirt, as well as an as-new Vivienne Westwood wool jumper for her son for £1.
“I love giving something a new life, rather than buying new when I can,” she says. “My favourites are our local Helen & Douglas House shop, as well as the Oxfam Warehouse in Oxford and the Children’s Air Ambulance in Abingdon.”
Ele Ward, 26, from Margate, headed to Cats in Crisis – her local charity shop – earlier this week to rummage for bargains. “Forget the pub, my friend and I had been longing to hit up the charity shops most since easing was announced – we even made a pact that we had to go together for the experience,” she says.
“As someone who consciously tries to buy secondhand, I’ve missed digging around for gems plus seeing all the lovely people who run the shops.”
Ward picked up the trench coat below for just three quid. “It’s important to remember the devastating impact of fast fashion on people and the planet,” she adds, “plus there’s no greater feeling than snapping up a bargain that becomes a staple of your wardrobe.”
Of course, it’s not all fashion in charity shops. Kimberley Homer, 34, from Didsbury, Manchester, used her lunch break on Monday to pop into one of her locals. She collects pottery and ceramics and spends “half my life” in charity shops, she says.
She paid £20 for the set below, a specific design she collects, she says.
We’ll leave you with the cutest charity shop purchase of them all. Laura Rana, 36, who lives in Earlsfield, London, headed to Fara Kids in Balham this week and bought her 20-month-old twin daughters – Opi and Mahi – matching tutus. Originally from Jojo Maman Bebe, the tutus were just £3.80 each.