17 expert tips for finding a bargain at your local charity or vintage shop

·7-min read
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

There's no better time to discover your love for second hand clothing than in, the aptly named, Second Hand September. But hey, second-hand/vintage/pre-loved - whatever you want to call it, there are so many benefits to buying clothes that have already been worn by someone else.

For starters, it's kinder for the environment, and buying one-of-a-kind pieces will also give your wardrobe a unique style (no awkward 'they're wearing the same thing as me, where can I hide?' moments). On top of that, you can get luxury fabrics like mohair, silk and leather at a fraction of the cost - with budget-friendly shopping options increasingly welcome especially in light of the cost of living crisis.

The thing is, shopping for second hand gems requires dedication and patience. So how do the pros do it? Here to guide you on your pre-loved style journey is Cosmopolitan's former Fashion Director and second hand shopping expert, Amy Bannerman.

1. Know where to shop

Photo credit: Melodie Jeng - Getty Images
Photo credit: Melodie Jeng - Getty Images

Shop for specific pieces online and look for random potluck buys in second hand shops. Of course, you can’t expect to pay one visit to shop and find a vintage Chanel jacket. This way of shopping, like all good things, takes time and luck. But it does happen. Enlist the company of a great friend and spend a Saturday or Sunday scouring vintage markets, or an area known for vintage shopping, like Covent Garden or Brick Lane in London.

Check out our guide to the best vintage shops and online stores in the UK here.

2. Give items the once over

If something smells questionable when it’s hanging in the shop then, chances are, it always will always have a funky scent to it. Check the care label and fabric content, synthetic materials are harder to remove odours from, but something like a cotton dress can be washed on a hot machine wash and a wool jumper can be revitalised with a good airing outside.

3. Look for things you can dye

Photo credit: Christian Vierig
Photo credit: Christian Vierig

Cotton linen or viscose will dye to full shade. Nighties can make amazing dresses when dyed a darker hue (hello, cute new bar outfit!), also making them less sheer. Just be aware of the stitching material - if the thread is made from nylon or acrylic it won’t dye and you’ll be left with a contrast stitch.

4. Filter for your favourite designers

Do you love high-end fashion but don’t have a bank account to match? Look for your favourite runway brands in online second-hand stores (my go-to searches are Isabel Marant, Prada, Miu Miu, Marni Vivienne Westwood, Ann Demeulemeester and Proenza Schouler). Once you know the brands you're looking for, things become a lot quicker as you can add as many filters as you want. Plus, if you already own something by a specific designer and love the fit then you’ll have a less risky purchase arriving on your doorstep (an especially useful trick for buying shoes, as sizes can vary significantly between brands).

5. Resist defaulting to fast-fashion

If you are looking for something classic, like a pink sweater, try scouring second hand stores first. You’re likely to get a better quality material, such as mohair or wool, for less than the cost of a new synthetic piece.

6. Be patient

Second-hand shopping isn't the easiest route but, when you find 'the one', you'll experience a thrill like no other.

7. Have a list of 'the ones that got away'

I have a list as long as my arm that I regularly search for on eBay, Depop and Vestiaire. If you already know what you're after, you can swoop in quickly when you find it - time is often key in the vintage clothing world. As an aside, I'm currently hunting down Prada combat boots, a Chanel denim Boy bag and anything from the Kurt Cobain-inspired Dries Van Noten collection.

8. Hunt for denim bargains

Photo credit: Daniel Zuchnik
Photo credit: Daniel Zuchnik

Denim has a low resale value, for whatever reason, so if you’ve always had your eye on some eye-wateringly expensive jeans then hunt them down second hand. I am looking for the MiH Phoebe jeans which are timeless and go with everything. And, I have them in two washes already so know which size works for me. I also love hunting for proper vintage Levi’s, and '90s Calvin Klein jeans.

9. Shop by era

Photo credit: Melodie Jeng
Photo credit: Melodie Jeng

It makes sense to look to the era that specialised in what you’re looking for. Think: '80s for jumpsuits and padded shoulders, '90s for minimalist slips and tailoring, and the 2000s for sportswear and low-rise pieces.

10. Find a local alteration shop

If you love second hand, your local alteration shop will be a place you see more often than your family home. Have items nipped and tucked to exactly your body shape and, once you trust them, try getting a bit creative with the tailoring. For example, you can buy a super oversized denim jacket and have the back taken in dramatically to create shape, or change an oversized men's shirt into a dress. The possibilities are endless!

11. Know the sites

Photo credit: Christian Vierig
Photo credit: Christian Vierig

Some sites are better for certain things. For example, Depop is really great for sportswear and cheap designer gems, whereas Etsy is my favourite for proper vintage and denim. Meanwhile, eBay is a great starting point as it has so many listings (especially if people haven’t listed items properly so there's less competition when you’re bidding). Oh and, Fashion Director hack: French eBay is great for luxe French brands like Chanel, Dior and Celine.

12. Ignore the size on the label

Vintage sizes don’t mean anything, which makes it hard when buying online. It’s best to go for measurements or, if they aren't available, buy bigger to be safe and visit your tailor.

13. Spot trends on the runways

Photo credit: Kirstin Sinclair
Photo credit: Kirstin Sinclair

Fashion weeks are great for noting new trends, but it can be a bit depressing when you find out that the boots you've fallen madly in love with cost £2,000. I love lusting after something on the runway, like the Prada tank top, before finding the OG vintage one that the new Prada style was probably inspired by for £15 on Depop.

14. Ask yourself: 'would I wear this tomorrow?'

Sometimes I just love an item, but there is no rhyme or reason to why. When this happens, I ask myself 'would you wear this tomorrow, out of the house?' and if the answer is 'hell yes!' then GO, GO, GO.

15. Think of the rest of your wardrobe

We've all had that moment when we've fallen for a neon oversized tie-dye hoodie but it matches absolutely nothing you've ever owned. My advice: ask yourself, 'does this make sense? Is this me?

16. Don't be afraid to repair and restore

Photo credit: Edward Berthelot
Photo credit: Edward Berthelot

Have you found an amazing cashmere jumper that has been eaten by moths? Consider having pieces mended invisibly by restoration experts like The Restory or make a feature of the mending with an incredible visible mending service like Collingwood Norris Design, who create art out of hole-ridden items.

17. Start at home

Ok, it's technically not second hand 'shopping' but ask your relatives if you can rummage through their unwanted clothes. Maybe your grandad is throwing out that amazing old wool jumper, or perhaps your aunty is getting rid of her preppy cardigans - either way, if there's something going in the bin or to the charity shop, your relatives will likely be touched that you'd like to give it a second life.

Follow Amy on Instagram.


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