I took £10 from charity shops in Colchester to try and find a summer outfit and it was hard work – Hope Woolston
I love the idea of charity shops. With fast fashion becoming more of an issue and the cost of living rising, it’s a great way to recycle, save money and donate to worthy causes all at once. .
However, I can’t get on board with them. I love to shop, but the idea of sifting through rail after rail of used and unwanted clothes just isn’t for me.
Maybe I’m just being lazy, but I find it so much nicer to go to the high street shops like Primark, New Look and River Island. That said, I know there are some absolute hidden gems in charity shops, so I wish I had the patience to visit regularly.
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There’s also the smell, if you’ve ever been to a charity shop you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. They all seem to have a musty smell that really rises up your nostrils and lingers like a house guest who just won’t leave.
To try and change my mind, and to see how much it costs to find a complete outfit, I took just £10 with me to shop in the charity shops in Colchester. The city has many charity shops and during my visit I visited nine different shops on several occasions.
With the sun finally starting to make regular appearances, I decided to shop for a summer outfit. In my head, I imagined a flowy mini to midi dress (because it doesn’t matter if it’s a few sizes too big) and a nice handbag, maybe even a hat if my budget allowed.
My search has started well. In the first shop, pdsa, I found some really cute summer shorts in both white and coral with a ‘paper-bag’ style waistband on them.
They looked pretty new which was a bonus, but unfortunately they weren’t my size so I had to put them back on track. Shortly after, I found a very colorful skater dress with an eye-catching fish pattern and it was brand new and in my size.
However, it was very short, and at 5’8′ I would definitely show a little more skin than is decent, so my quest to find an outfit continued. I walked down the street to one of the most famous charity shops, the British Heart Foundation.
In this shop, there are quite a few “new things” such as jewelry and accessories made especially to be sold in the shop. As nice as they are, they kind of defeated the purpose of my challenge, so I tried not to pay too much attention to them.
After only a few minutes of browsing and trying to get away from other people in this busy store, I struck gold. I found a cute summery top in a gorgeous teal color with a “ditsy print”.
Not only did this top, which was from Shein, fit me, it was also reduced from £3.49 to just £1.75 – sold. Now I just needed to find something to pair it with and thought denim shorts would be perfect.
There were actually quite a few cute pieces I found in the BHF store, including a maxi dress and a cute tank top. There was also a black skirt that I considered but ultimately rejected because it looked way too similar to the one I wore in high school, which got me a phone call home because it was too short.
I bought my top and went hunting for matching shorts. I thought it would be easy but I was so wrong.
I searched all the charity shops I could find, but couldn’t find a pair in my size. Went back to the pdsa shop as I remembered seeing some nice ones so hoped I was lucky.
There were cute Levi’s denim shorts in the “vintage” section. I noticed a few stores advertising ‘vintage’ sections which gave me a chuckle as there were a lot of items that clearly dated back decades but weren’t trendy enough to be on the prestigious ‘vintage’ rail .
There were quite a few pairs available, for just £5, but sadly I couldn’t fit my backside – damn covid ‘earnings’ into them. I decided to broaden my search to jeans that I could cut up and turn into shorts – beggars can’t choose and all that.
To my surprise, it was also quite difficult. I found a few pairs that I liked the look of, but again, they never fit me. I thought I had found the perfect pair that matched my top perfectly until I took a closer look and realized the inner thighs were all ripped up – why would anyone give something that didn’t? isn’t wearable unless you want to risk exposing your underwear? I also found a white pair that was unfortunately covered in stains.
Eventually, after what seemed like an absolute age, I found a simple pair of black jeggings in my size that could be turned into shorts. They were only £4 in the Salvation Army store so I decided they would work.
I now had a good chunk of my budget left to spend on accessories, £4.24 to be exact. Although I know I could have looked for shoes, I’m afraid that’s a “step” too far. I can wash clothes before I put them on, but I don’t think you can ever completely remove someone else’s foot from a shoe, so occasion just won’t be an option for me.
I was so tired of wandering around charity shops at this point that I went back to the one I knew had plenty of props, BHF. Here, there was an entire wall filled with necklaces and bracelets, all arranged in a very satisfying color order.
To get a good look at the bottom shelves, I had to pretty much sit on the floor, but by then I was so tired from walking around all the stores that I was happy for the rest. It finally paid off as I found a sparkly teal bracelet that coordinates perfectly with my top.
I had £2.26 left, so I knew my options were pretty slim now. At this point, my outfit was very summery so what better to add than a pair of sunglasses. There were a few pairs to choose from, but I opted for a pair of sparkly pink and rose gold aviators that still had their Claire’s tag on for just £1.99.
With 27p left in my budget, I knew there was no way I could find anything else, and I was completely exhausted. I put my leftover change in a donation box and went home with my new outfit ready for summer.
I admit I ended up with a lot for my money, but I really don’t know if it was worth it. I really struggled to find something that I liked or that fit me and it took a lot of time and effort to put an outfit together.
If I was looking for an ugly sweater, a t-shirt that’s obviously been used a lot, or a party dress that even the 80s wouldn’t want to go back to, I’d have found an outfit in no time. Unfortunately for me, I was looking for something a little more elegant.
Now that I’ve been there, I’ll probably find myself visiting a charity shop once in a while if I have free time, but if I have a certain type of outfit in mind, the high street will be calling me.