Five Tips for Secondhand Shopping

I try to find ways to reduce my consumption where I can, and one of the main ways I do that is by shopping at second hand stores. Buy buying something that's not new you save the energy of having to make a new one, and you also save the old one from going into landfill. The item you buy is likely to be one-of-a-kind, so you're not likely to come across somebody with the same jacket/picture/table. Ever better than that, if you buy through a charity shop your money goes to supporting good causes. Good for you, good for others, good for the planet.

Sliding door cabinets, and the lamp where both second hand finds

Sliding door cabinets, and the lamp where both second hand finds

This Hobbs dress was a charity shop find, with great soft Italian gingham, quality way above it's price tag.

This Hobbs dress was a charity shop find, with great soft Italian gingham, quality way above it's price tag.

1. Keep a Wish List

Second hand shopping can be a bit of a lottery: you never know what you're going to find, sometimes nothing, sometimes complete gold. I keep a couple of lists on the Notes section of my phone with items I would like to buy, one for clothes and one for home. It means I don't miss an item I need when I see it and regularly keeps me from buyers regret, not just when second hand shopping, but all shopping. Just last week I bought a pair of Habitat poster frames in solid beech for £15; I had been looking to buy these new anyway, at a cost of £40 each.

2. Forget the Context

Second hand shops are rarely beautifully curated, and if they are the prices reflect that. Being able to look at an item and delete the context is a really useful skill, one that can be learnt and developed. Look for quality materials (feel stuff! Second hand or no, the "hand" of a fabric will tell you so much) but try to ignore labels. Imagine that dress with your favourite shoes and belt. Think about how that kitsch vase will look on your shelves next to your books and pictures

3. Keep Cleaning Costs in Mind

Lots of people are squeamish about secondhand being unclean. I always consider that there's not much difference between an item being worn many times by one somebody, vs tried on by god knows how many people in Zara, Topshop et al before you buy it "new." Whatever your take on it, factor in that you probably want to wash clothes before you wear them so you may not be tripping out the door in your new purchase tonight. If an item is dry clean only, that's an additional cost to consider when you buy and through your life with an item.

This powder pink tracksuit was a recent find. 

This powder pink tracksuit was a recent find. 

I'll wear it as separates though, to avoid the full on '80s tennis club look.

I'll wear it as separates though, to avoid the full on '80s tennis club look.

4. Repair, Restoration & Customising

Similarly, think carefully about damaged items. Will you/can you repair it? If you pay somebody else to do the repair how much will that cost? Factor in the cost of those materials and time.

Of course a damaged item offers a new set of opportunities. A torn skirt in a beautiful fabric could become a scarf, a shorter skirt, or entirely new item if you have the time and wherewithal to make it. Scratched wood, damaged varnish, and stained upholstery can all be repaired or replaced. If you're willing to strip, paint or re-cover you will be rewarded with a completely unique item.

5. Don't be Afraid to Haggle

Personally I don't do this in charity shops as they are so super cheap and all the money is going to a good cause, but any where else is fair game in my book. If you're buying multiple items, use that as bargaining for a cheaper total price. Note any damage and ask for money off because of it.

This fine fellow wouldn't fit in my car when I stumbled on Grove Antiques in Jedburgh. I still think about calling them up and asking them to ship it down to Oxford for me.

This fine fellow wouldn't fit in my car when I stumbled on Grove Antiques in Jedburgh. I still think about calling them up and asking them to ship it down to Oxford for me.

My Favourite Secondhand Shops

These are the top picks from my address book! They are all Oxford and Edinburgh centric (I'm only recommending places I know and love, but I'm also intending to check out The East End Thrift Store at some point soon); if you're in the area worth sticking your nose into.

Armstrong's of Edinburgh: The first vintage clothing store I ever went to will always hold a special place in my heart. The place to go for cashmere, but just wonderful for a browse. Don't forget to look up! The real gems (generally not for sale sadly) are hung from the tall ceilings.

Iconic, Edinburgh: Largely mid-20th Century homewares, with some small furniture pieces. Great '50s and '60s china, kitch paintings and some jewellery too. The lamp in the top picture came from there, as a gift from generous friends.

Liscious Interiors, Oxford: A beautifully curated shop which I visit mostly for inspiration, but is great for statement pieces when you're willing to splurge.

Sobell House Shops: Sobell House is an Oxford based hospice and registered charity with shops around the Oxfordshire area. This charity is particularly close to my heart as they cared for my Granddad at the end of his life, so I also send most of my charity shop donations to them. My favourite is the Botley branch, mostly as it's close to my office and so I can quickly dip in when I'm running lunchtime errands, and because 50p vinyl.

Richard Ford's: A properly old school junk shop with some awesome finds buried in there. Last time I was there I bought the two walnut faced boxes with sliding door fronts pictured above, the perfect size for 12" vinyl. For £15. That visit I also spotted a set of 6 Ercol (!) chairs for £50 (!!) and a lovely leather topped table for £75.