My post from The Thrift: Why I’m still charity shopping in my forties

Last month I wrote a post for the wonderful The-Thrift blog, which promotes shopping at Barnardo’s charity shops.

I wrote about why I’m in my mid-forties and still sourcing my wardrobe from charity shops and other second-hand sources. Here is a (slightly) updated version:

As someone in their mid 40s you would have thought that charity shopping is something I’d grown out of by now. But I guess I have been second-hand shopping for so many decades that my brain is now hardwired to head straight for the thrift stores.  I also love the thrill of a bargain, the individuality of charity shop purchases and the feeling I get from giving to a good cause, such as Barnardo’s. And there’s other reasons as well:

1) It’s something I haven’t grown out of. I first started second-hand shopping in my early teens when charity stores circa 1985 were very different to the ones you see now. Ironically, although these places were frowned upon they were stocked with amazing pieces from the ’50s and ’60s that would now be classed as vintage.

Charity Shop find from early 1990s.

Charity Shop find from early 1990s.

2) It’s my own personal style and no one will have the same outfit as me. I have to confess this was the reason I began charity shopping many years ago. As a student I wanted to look individual. I wanted to wear the shirt, jacket or shorts that no one else had. I guess this is a habit that has stuck with me.

3) It’s cheap. As a teenager of the 1980s I imagined my future self to be some highly driven career woman buying all my clothes from designer shops  – or M&S at least. When I worked full time in my twenties I did buy my work clothes from High Street stores. However since having children and taking on a range of part time and freelance work, I have less of a budget, or indeed a need, for buying first hand workwear. As a result I can stock my casual wardrobe with low price second-hand clothes.

4) It encourages re-use, and donating to good causes. Long before we knew about the three Rs charity shops were there to enable us to buy re-used clothing. I truly believe that by purchasing second-hand we are extending the life of a garment. We are ensuring the resources that are used to make, transport and package it are stretched for just a little longer.  Our hard earned cash is also going back into the charity pot, rather than into the hands of an anonymous corporation.  But in order to keep the cycle going we must remember to donate our unwanted clothing to charity shops too.

donating to charity shops


5) ) I’m a ‘bargain hunter’ . This comes down to the fact that I love browsing and getting a good bargain! Last month I bought a brilliant denim shirt dress for a fiver from the British Heart Foundation shop. I’d been coveting a similar one from Fat Face for £45!

£5 denim dress

While I never believe you should dress ‘age appropriate’ there are a few charity shop outfits that I no longer aspire to wear. Browsing through all the great posts from other (younger) The Thrift bloggers I know there are dress lengths and styles that I no longer feel comfortable wearing. However the nineteen year old who used to wear a pair of shorts made from old curtains is still there – she just has to turn the curtains into a below the knee dress now…

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Last year I posted here about my love of orange and yellow (in particular my second-hand orange coat). As we are approaching the end of Spring and everything is lush and verdant I thought I’d jot down some of my thoughts about the colour green.

green tea caddy and tea cup

Many many years ago I picked up this Liptons tea caddy in a jumble sale. It came with me to university, lived in four houses and, nearly thirty years later, is still a much used household item. I can’t imagine putting my teabags in anything else! Pictured alongside is a cute second-hand teacup and saucer that my best friend bought for me a couple of years ago.

I do, of course, have some green clothing – but not as much as I’d like. This jumper was picked up from the school jumble sale earlier this year.

green jumper

I really loved this skirt but it is now too tight for me and, as I write, is being used to make a new upcycled skirt (made from an old pair of jeans)

green skirt

I also have these two gorgeous fifties dresses. They were bought from jumble sales when I was in my teens but, alas, don’t fit me any more.

But my absolute favourite item of green clothing is this dress that I bought from the Julian House charity shop in Bath two years ago. It’s a 1970s original, is warm and comfy and I just love it!

Green 1970s dress

Five of the best ‘second-hand’ style movies

It may have been the first time I watched ‘Pretty in Pink’ that I realised second-hand style was for me. Nearly twenty years later I still class it as one my all time favourite films. And not really for the romance between Andy and Blaine, or the friendship between Andy and Ducky. For me it was Andy’s brilliant thrift store style. From that moment I was hooked on trawling through charity shops (which were very unfashionable in the eighties), forever wanting to be Molly Ringwald.

Since then, other films have played an important part in my personal quest to pursue a second-hand style. This is my Top Five:

5. Frances Ha

Frances Ha: thrift style movie

This Noah Baumbach film came out in 2012  and features Greta Gerwig as the clumsy and quirky eponymous character. She’s a dancer, she lives in New York and – as you would expect – she has great style. Most of her clothes come from thrift stores, including a black bomber jacket and nineties style floral dresses with leggings.  I read an interview with Ms Gerwig who said that nearly all the outfits were bought from second-hand stores or dance clothing shops.

4. Annie Hall

Annie Hall: thrift store style

Unlike many of the films featured here I also love this for its humour, characters and plot. That is, being a Woody Allen creation, there’s something more to it than some of the teenage romance flicks I’ve featured. While it is one of my all time favourite films I can’t remember where Annie Hall sources her clothes from. However her look is unique (although much copied now). I love Diane Keaton’s own personal style but it’s the men’s waistcoats, ties and floppy hats that makes Annie’s style so iconic.


3. Happy Go Lucky

happy go lucky

I love Mike Leigh’s work and this 2008 film, starring Sally Hawkins, is wonderful and uplifting. Poppy is a primary school teacher with endless enthusiasm and optimism. Nothing really gets her down. I really like the way all the female friendships are portrayed in this film too. Poppy’s dress sense is quirky and – I suspect – second-hand. She also has a great line in tights. I thoroughly recommend this film for when you’re having a bad day: Poppy’s happy-go-lucky perspective on life is wonderful.


2. Desperately Seeking Susan

Desperately Seeking Susan: thrift store style

This film actually features a thrift store scene that is quite pivotal to the plot. Rosanna Arquette’s character, Roberta, acquires the jacket (and stolen earrings) that belonged to the eponymous Susan (played by Madonna). Both female characters have great dress sense (that is after Roberta ditches the mid eighties yuppy look), although I think Madonna/Susan just has the edge. The plot’s pretty thin but to a thirteen year old me it was the clothes I was far more interested in. It also confirmed what a lot of us already knew: Madonna is the ultimate style icon.


  1. Pretty in Pink Pretty in Pink: the best second-hand style of all timeAlthough Ducky has fairly cool dress sense, the rest of the male characters are clothed in the awful mid 80s combination of pastels and linen and it’s the women who really stand out with both style and attitude. From the ‘I don’t give a damn’ punkish look of Andy’s friend Jenna, to the amazing dress sense of record store Iona  and of course, Andy’s perfect blend of thrift store finds and home sewing. I love Iona’s wardrobe collection (and oh the disappointment when she turns ‘yuppy’). How I wished that I could have worn even one tenth of Andy’s outfits to school (we had a uniform, although Sixth Form college allowed me to unleash my love of hats, inspired by Andy). I will watch this film again and again, and not really for the plot or the on-off romance. I only have eyes for Molly Ringwald and her dresses!

Charity Shops or Vintage Boutiques?

I wrote here about whether vintage has become an overused word. I believe there has been an increase in the use of this word over the past few years. It now seems to mean something old, precious and – ironically – fashionable. I still don’t know whether to refer to the clothes I wear as Charity Shop Bargains or Vintage Finds!

What I do find interesting is that when applying the word ‘vintage’ to an item the price tag can really rise.

Last month I went shopping for a 1970s inspired outfit for our annual party. I attempted to try on a couple of dresses that were seventies originals (I got the sizing wrong: old style size 12 means modern size 8/10).

vintage shopping for 1970s dress

Once upon a time these dresses would have been piled high on a jumble sale table, or hanging on a rail in a musty charity shop. Now they were on sale for £15 each and positioned in the dedicated vintage section of the local Julian House charity shop in Bath.

I don’t begrudge charity shops making money from older, vintage pieces. I find it sad that I can buy a dress from H&M, Primark and others for less than this price. But as I have written before these clothes are badly made (by garment workers earning a small wage), and will not have the history or care invested in them that older pieces possess.

Over the past few years I’ve noticed a rise in the number of charity shops that have been turned into vintage style stores. As I mentioned the Julian House shop in Bath has a dedicated vintage area, filled with crockery, magazines, suitcases, accessories and clothing.

Vintage Charity Shops: Julian House, Bath

Vintage Charity Shops: Julian House, Bath

We’ve also visited this brilliant ‘Vintage and Retro’ Thames Hospice charity shop in Windsor on a couple of occasions:

The latest addition to these style of shops in Bath is the Dorothy House vintage boutique and cafe, called ’76’ on Bridge Street. The shop is called ’76’ after the year that the hospice charity was founded and, I imagine, is also a nod to the date of some of the period pieces on sale in store.


The shop and cafe was opened last year by local resident, Midge Ure. The fact that a celebrated, and much respected, musician is happy to open a charity shop shows how far this sector has risen in popular esteem. The forerunner of this vintage shop was the Dorothy House shop on Broad Street (which has now become the charity’s record and book store). However with the addition of a coffee house ’76’ has taken charity retail therapy to a new level. I personally enjoyed browsing this shop and, as mentioned in this post, picked up a great 1970s style flared jumpsuit for our party. At £12 the price tag was slightly cheaper as well.

Sadly not all these charity to vintage shop transformations have a happy ending. The   Mercy in Action chain of charity shops opened a dedicated vintage store in the Widcombe area of Bath.  But sadly it stopped trading earlier this year (thankfully this charity still has other shops in the city). Perhaps there are so only so many Vintage Charity Boutiques that a city can take.

Jumble Sales Hints and Tips

jumble sale tips

Tomorrow is our school jumble sale.

For some people this word fills them with dread. The thought of queuing in the cold and then elbowing each other to sift through a pile of old clothes makes them shudder.

For me, though, some of the best and unique outfits I have ever picked up have been from old church and village hall sales in my youth. In fact some of the vintage items I blogged about here came from our church jumble sale when I was a teenager (the  Blanes dress is now worth  $130-£180 and I probably only bought it for 10p!)

1950s summer dress

Anyway this is all an excuse to re-post this list of tips from a couple of years ago:

1. Be prepared to queue. There will always be ‘professionals’ who have been waiting for hours before the sale starts. You may not want to wait that long but if you want a bargain be prepared to turn up long before the opening time.

2. Once inside there will be some jostling and  you may need to be forceful if you want to get to the front of a table.

3. The trick at a jumble sale is to not care about tossing clothes around. That original seventies dress might just be at the bottom of a pile of old t-shirts. By the time the sale ends clothing will have transferred from one pile to another so you may find women’s jumpers side by side with children’s trousers.

4. Another useful tip is to make sure you bring plenty of loose change and lots of  carrier bags. It helps the organisers and saves time so you can focus on the next pile of clothes, books or bric a brac.

5. While you may feel you want to haggle about prices do remember these events are being held to raise money for good causes. The joy of jumble sales is how cheap everything is anyway without having to negotiate a price reduction.

On a final note, having helped with the sorting of the jumble please do bear in mind when you donate to a local sale that items still have to be in a fairly okayish state (ie don’t give them that mouldy box in the corner of your garage that is filled with broken items and soggy old magazines!). Oh and if you do volunteer to help remember this is for a common cause and not so you can get first dibs on everything, ie if the charity runs more than one event a year make sure you help out at those too.

To find out when and where local jumble sales are taking place try looking at your local newspapers (in print and online) and other local listings websites.

(I hope to bag a few bargains on the day so a follow up post may be on its way…)


What to wear to a 70s themed party?

It’s a dilemma every girl has….

As you read this I may be suffering from a hangover but last night we held a 70s/80s/90s themed party in our village pub. This has become an annual event and always seems to come on the most depressing Saturday of the year (mid January, a long way from pay day etc). Coupled with the bad news about the passing of Bowie* (and may I add Alan Rickman) there seemed even more of a need to cast our troubles aside and get on the dance floor…

The party is dead simple: we hire the pub’s function room (£35), create our own playlist and let the festivities begin. We decorate the walls with album covers.

And nearly everyone who comes along gets dressed up. For the past few years I have stuck to the 80s for my clothing inspiration, but this time I wanted to go back to the 1970s and so last week I went shopping for an outfit.

I had a quick trawl through the Yellow Shop in Bath which has a good selection of vintage clothing.


I also popped into the Julian House charity shop which has a dedicated vintage section. I chose two pink nylon dresses to try on but forgot what I was writing about in this post about vintage clothing, ie dress sizes have changed. A size 14 from the 60s/70s is now a size 10 and there was no way I could even zip them up!


I then went along to the new Dorothy House vintage shop in Bath. This such a gem! It has a ground floor filled with classic outfits and accessories and on the next floor is a lovely coffee shop (post to follow).

Dorothy House Vintage Clothing Shop, Bath

I found these two 70s classics to try on:

vintage 1970s outfits: blue evening dress and black jumpsuit

This dress made me feel like Margot Leadbetter (from The Good Life). It fitted well but was slightly too long:

1970s evening dress

This £12 (!) jumpsuit, though, was the outright winner!

1970s inspired flared jumpsuit

Although it has flared trousers and the plunging neckline is reminiscent of Studio 54 style I don’t think it’s originally from the seventies. The label states that it’s made in China and is composed of polyester and spandex. According to the brilliant Vintage Fashion Guild website here spandex wasn’t widely used in clothing until the eighties.

The jumpsuit fitted perfectly. Funnily enough it’s the second black jumpsuit I’ve bought in two months having never worn one before. I love wearing them as I still think they are dressy but low maintenance (you don’t have to shave your legs to wear them). I wore the jumpsuit with these lovely silver shoes I picked up for £1 in an Oxfam sale:

silver shoes from Oxfam


Couple with some oversized sunglasses I felt like Liza Minelli at Studio 54

Liza Minnelli, Studio 54

what to wear to a seventies themed party

I am seriously tempted to wear the jumpsuit again, although I think I’ll remove the gold studs from the sleeves. I’ve recently discovered the brilliant Over 40s fashion blog, Fake and Fabulous, and Sam has a great post here about wearing jumpsuits. I will be following some of her tips and ensuring the seventies lives on….

*we did, of course, include a Bowie tribute segment.

My ‘vintage’ collection

Having spent the last thirty years trawling charity shops and jumble sales I have a few little gems that I have kept onto. I realise that being in my mid-forties means I can no longer fit into the size 8s and 10s I could as a teenager but I have been unable to part with some of my more wonderful finds. Thankfully I have three daughters and one niece so I am holding onto these items so that they may be able to wear them in the future.

At present I have two boxes of ‘vintage’ clothing which are stored away.

vintage clothing box

They contain a range of clothing, including a few items I bought in the 1990s. There is this early 90s ‘grunge’ dress that I bought while living in the US in 1992/3.

1992 'grunge' style dress, bought from Nordstroms dept store, California 1992

I also have a red two piece suit from Karen Millen that I wore to my wedding reception in 1999.

Then there are the finds from my student and school days which I have kept onto because they are unique:

lace blouse

My white Victorian style blouse picked up from Birmingham Rag Market in 1990/1. I wore this for my university graduation in 1994.

I was fortunate enough to begin my second-hand shopping in the mid eighties when charity shops and jumble sales were frowned upon yet, conversely, held the most amazing items that would sell for more than 50p now!

These two summer dresses have been with me for decades. I can’t remember where I picked them up from (possibly jumble sales in the late 1980s). I believe they are 1950s, or early 1960s. They have the telltale signs of metal zips and the brilliantly designed bra holders (small straps sewn in that clip your bra into place – genius invention). I was able to wear them until a few years ago and am deliberating over whether to get them altered so that I can wear them again.

1950s style summer dress

1950s summer dress

1950s dress: metal zip and white bra carrier strap

1950s dress: metal zip and white bra carrier strap


Blanes of London label

Blanes of London was a clothing company from the 1950s and 1960s, according to Vintage Fashion GuildThis website also says that if the label had a diagonal background then it dates from the 1950s. A quick search on the web revealed similar day dresses from Blanes on sale for $130-$180, although I have no intention of selling this one! (NB vintage sizing is higher numbers than today. I comfortably wore this size ’14’ when I was a size 10; being size 12 now means I can no longer squeeze into it)

One of the most precious collections in my box are my baby dresses from the early 1970s:

1970s baby clothes

With label names like ‘Rob Roy’ and ‘Little Imp’ and their heavy use of nylon they seem to come from another era. They are also incredibly short. While I have kept onto them for years there weren’t many of these dresses that I could put my own girls into as the styles have changed so much.

1970s baby dress

This is the one dress that my girls did wear, with leggings or trousers:

1970s baby dress

My collection also includes a couple of designer named items that I picked up in charity shops in Bath. I am always on the lookout for tips on how to store them better (especially as I now realise how much the jumble sale Blanes dress is worth!). I don’t feel sad that I can no longer fit into the clothing. As I have mentioned before with good quality items we are only the temporary custodians. I hope that the 1950s dresses go on to tell many more tales when my daughters wear them…