Charity Store Shopping, Part 2

Posted by Jill Chivers in Shopping Strategies

In Part 1 of this post, I shared with you my observations of charity store shopping, in the overall context of non-mainstream shopping.

In this, the second and final part of this article, I’m going to share with you the pros and cons of this kind of shopping, and my top tips for making the most of it, should you venture into this kind of shopping territory.

For us as the consumer, charity store shopping offers a few things that mainstream shopping does not.


Firstly, items are available at discounted prices, sometimes drastically discounted prices.  In the Lifeline store (I mentioned in part 1), I saw a pair of coral patent high heels on sale for $5 that I had only recently seen in Myer (a larger Australian department store, similar to Macys in the US and Marks and Spencers in the UK) for $99.  Sure, they’d been worn, but ‘gently’ as the pre-loved market parlance goes.  That’s quite a discount.

Secondly, they offer the possibility of what I call ‘treasure hunt’ finds.  These are interesting items that cannot be found or purchased in stores that sell only new merchandise.  They might be items that were only available new many years, even decades ago (vintage and retro items), or perhaps even just a season ago.

They may be items from overseas that some traveller has dispensed with before returning home.  They may be a ‘collector’ item that has come from a long-held collection that is now being dispensed with (okay, let’s just say it: it may be donated from a deceased estate.  So, yes, a dead person once owned it).

Whatever its origin, there are potential treasures to be fossicked and found in charity stores.

You never know what treasures may be waiting for

You never know what treasures may be waiting for you


On the down side, well yes there’s a few.

Firstly, there’s almost always no choice in sizing (especially important when it comes to clothing).  If your size isn’t there, there’s no ‘phoning around to another store location’ to find it for you.  It just isn’t available.  What’s there is there, and there’s no more.

Secondly, the quality can be iffy.  This is where your skills as a savvy shopper come into play and you need to inspect the item carefully for signs of wear that will render the item uncomfortable, unpleasant, impossible (or just plain ugly) to wear.

I once bought a pair of Moroccan style kitten heel moccasin style shoes for 50 cents in a Lifeline store.  “What a bargain!” I thought rather smugly to myself, without fully inspecting them, as I fished 50 cents out of my wallet.  I subsequently discovered the little rubber bits on the heels were on the verge of falling off, which they promptly did on their first outing, and it cost $18 to have the heels fixed.  Not such a bargain.

Assess the condition of potential 'treasures' before purchasing!

Assess the condition of potential ‘treasures’ before purchasing!

If nothing else, an excursion into charity stores will be interesting.

Top Tips for Charity Store shopping

  1. Recognise that you cannot shop in charity stores the way you do in a regular boutique or department store.  The merchandise is too different (it’s singular for a start, and by that I mean there is almost always only one of each item – not a whole rack of the same item in different sizes, colours, etc).  It’s essential to recognise that this is a different kind of shopping experience to mall shopping so adjust your attitude before commencing.
  2. Get into the spirit of the treasure hunt.  To get the most out of charity store shopping, treat it like a treasure hunt where you don’t know what you’ll find. You may find a bit of treasure – something quality, unique, “you”, delightful, an item you’ll use and wear and will be able to integrate into your wardrobe immediately, something that will bring some personality, versatility and novelty to your existing collection of clothes.  Or maybe you’ll find nothing of interest or value.  Just like any kind of treasure hunting – the result cannot be guaranteed.  But it’ll likely be interesting, no matter the outcome.
  3. Go through items one by one.  In a regular boutique or department store, you can look at a rack of clothes or a set of shelves from a distance – just a quick scan from the aisle or the doorway or 6 paces away – and be able to tell if those are items you are interested in looking at further.  But in a charity store, you can’t do that because you can’t tell from 4 paces if the rack or shelf has items of interest.  Racks, shelves, boxes, rails, however the store displays its wares – they must be fossicked through item by item for you to be able to tell if the items are of interest.
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    2 Responses to “Charity Store Shopping, Part 2”

    1. Robyn says:

      Hello Jill,
      As a newly interested (since starting MYWCS) charity-shop shopper I’ve enjoyed these posts very much. Your tips are spot-on. If I could offer one other suggestion, it is that sizing can be misleading. For example, what was a size 12-14 (or Medium in Australian parlance) in the 1970s would probably be sold new as a size 8-10 now. It’s always worth trying on something you like but aren’t sure of. I’m very grateful to the Salvation Army for a pure wool, beautifully finished, and possibly unworn, pure wool kilt ($10), and to the Red Cross for a harmonising little red handbag ($5). With boots and inspirational styling from Vivienne Westwood/Punk I twirl through winter very happily. Plus there’s the satisfaction of knowing that this is an eco-friendly form of shopping.
      Congratulations on your birthday post too, and best wishes for many more happy birthdays ahead!

      • Jill Chivers says:

        hi Robyn – you are so right with your additional tip. Depending on the era you are buying from, the clothing size may be quite different to the size you are currently wearing in today’s clothing. I also thought I should add in something about the importance of inspecting – closely and carefully – the items you are about to purchase, for signs of wear in places that may not be immediately obvious (like underarms, and linings). I was with a girlfriend the other evening in a charity store in a very funky suburb of Sydney and she found a stunning chocolate leather coat, knee length, for $50. The lining was in perfect condition, but it had one button missing (an easy and cheap fix).

        And thanks for your birthday wishes!

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