Students, entry-level-jobbers, no-jobbers, new families, savvy grannies, Human Beings at large – roll up, roll up at the most bargainous of bargain-houses! Charity shops are manna from heaven to those with shallow pockets. It might be hard to get over the initial fear of the all-pervading smell of death, decay, perm solution and Parma Violets (come on, people; washing your clobber before bagging it and bunging it towards Oxfam is a matter of courtesy). But once your nasal passage has grown accustomed to the perplexing olfactory melange, it’s like stepping through the magical wardrobe into Narnia – though much, much better. There’s less snow and fewer evil witches, for one.
Where else can you find a moth-eaten magenta cowboy hat nestled between a bona fide 90s lurex bomber jacket and a linen shirt with lace ruffs around the wrist cuffs (other than on the hirsute chassis of Russell Brand) and lug the whole lot home with you for under a tenner? Not to mention the intoxicating array of ornaments up for grabs. If you can invest a bit of time and effort into a thorough examination of the offering, there are some serious antique bargains to be had. All it takes is a bit of elbow grease sifting through the wicker bins stuffed with bobbly scarves, shabby bags, bent candlesticks, broken teapots, dog-eared board games and the like. There might be a cut-glass crystal vase in pristine condition lurking amidst a sea of mismatching jelly shoes, or a complete set of Emma Bridgewater crockery shrouded beneath a cloud of cobwebs. I’m now the proud owner of an embossed brass goblet which, it turns out, is THE ONLY way to drink wine (the metallic taste admittedly takes some getting used to, but if it’s good enough for the Vikings, it’s good enough for me).
Since the dawn of shabby chic about a decade ago, charity shops have become sartorially eclipsed by vintage stores, where the same calibre of clothing is sold for at least quadruple the price. What gives these purveyors of general tat – the same charity-shop-esque amalgam of Stuff No-one Wants Any More – the clout to fleece the public like this is beyond me. During a recent jaunt to Age Concern, I picked up a brand-spanking-new Spanish leather belt embellished with gold elephant buttons for £2. Two measly squids! You can barely go five minutes on a bus for that much these days. I also picked up an intricately woven cardigan by Fenn Wright Mason, in blisteringly pristine condition, for £3. The mind boggles when you think of the amount of dosh places like Rockit or Beyond Retro would suck from one’s reticule for such items.
It’s a shame that charity shops are so pitifully neglected by those who aren’t short of a bob or two. Sure, the shop fronts could usually benefit from a lick of paint, but what did we learn about books, covers and judgment back in the day? And then there’s the bleedingly obvious fact that buying stuff from charity shops is a Good Thing. It’s such a flawless model – people get rid of stuff they don’t want without feeling guilty; charities can raise money to make the world a better place; the bootstrapped consumer can beef up their wardrobe or furnish their property for next to nothing; and the whole operation combats the harrowingly wasteful tendencies of our throwaway society. Everyone enjoys a spot of gold old consuming, so why not consume with a clean conscience?
If I had a pound for every time I heard someone bewailing their recent altercation with a belligerent charity mugger on the street, I’d have the funds to empty every charity shop in London of their leather belts (gold elephants or otherwise). So go forth and conquer, ye lovers of bargains: out with the old, and in with the… old.