Fussy, picky, choosy. Whatever you call it, it pays to be picky when shopping second hand. Knowing how to spot clothes that will become part of your everyday wardrobe and will last the test of time can save you a fortune in the long run. If you caught my previous charity shop tips post, I spoke about how to find clothes when time is limited. In my second post, I intend to share the lessons I learnt the hard way and hopefully, help you to find great quality clothes that will last. 


1. Find the light

As I’m shopping, I like to take anything that catches my eye off the rail. Whether it’s a great collar, vintage pattern or great label, I never make a decision there and then. Instead, I take my time, continue to browse and ponder what my wardrobe needs. Once I’m satisfied that it’s a wise purchase, I head over to the window to look at what I’m buying in natural light. So often, charity shops are dark (especially in winter light) or lit by fluorescent lighting and it can be hard to see faults. In the past, I’ve unknowingly purchased damaged, faded and stained dresses. Some people may argue that for a pound or two, this is to be expected. However, I would disagree. You can find clothes in immaculate condition for less than a fiver if you’re prepared to be patient.

2. Check trouser hems
When I spot a branded pair of trousers in my size, 12 petite (polite for short), they’re off the rail quicker than lightning. Being short, trouser length is rarely an issue for me but for most, trouser hems need to be checked to make sure that they haven’t been hemmed. In the past, I’ve bought trousers from the tall range and hemmed them to fit my short legs. Make sure you try them on and if there’s not fitting room, put them aside your waist in front of a mirror. You’ll soon see! On the other hand, it’s important to check that the hems aren’t damaged but rips or stains where someone’s hem has trailed in mud. Most marks will come out in the wash, ground in dirt doesn’t tend to. 

3. Always try on flimsy material
I recently found a beautiful, red lace Topshop dress in a local charity shop. It had a Peter Pan collar, an undeniable sixties feel and was my size, I bought it without thinking. I always need Peter Pan collars (slight lie, but I’ll always wear them). On my return, I washed the dress, hung it up and planned to wear it. It was only when I popped it on that I realised big patches of my skin bursting through it, the dress was ripped! Even though I’d checked it, it was impossible to see due to the nature of the fabric. Moral of the tale, try things on. 

4. Don’t be afraid of a bit of bobbling
Whilst bobbled knitwear can look unsightly, with a little attention you can make knitwear look as good as new. Bobbling, or pilling, occurs when washing or wearing causes loose fabric to develop into small, spherical bundles. Some knitwear bobbles after the first wear so bobbling shouldn’t be seen as the marker of quality. It’s easy to remove with a bobble removing gadget: check out Erica’s post ‘Caring for Knitwear‘ to see the before and after results, or try A Thrifty Mrs for a lower-cost version and useful way to reuse your Velcro rollers. 

5. Check the armpits
Without doubt, stained armpits are grim, but unfortunately stains are a part of charity shopping. As the pits are the closest point of contact to the skin, they’re likely to show the most wear and give away the age and wear of the garment. While most minor marks will come out in the wash, I steer clear of any items with stains on the armpits. 

6. Zip it up, zip it down
Check the zip. It doesn’t take a minute, check it’ll zip up and down then pull it sideways to ensure it’s sturdy. If it buckles, or splits, or sticks, it’s probably going to need a new zip. Obviously, replacing a zip won’t cost a fortune, especially if you can sew but it’s always wise to find out before you take it home.

What are your tips for finding great quality clothes in charity shops?
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