With my inbox inundated with special offers, Christmas sales about to go live, this has really encouraged me to think about how to make Christmas affordable. It’s been a while since I posted a ‘Top 5 Tips’ style post, but after finding a couple of bargain dresses this week, I wanted to share how I did it and how you can bag a bargain Christmas party dress. For first hand shoppers and lovers of second hand alike, I’ve compiled five top tips to help you find a bargain dress this party season.
The Souvenir Print Shirt Dress
Over the past few months, my charity shop finds have dwindled in number and you’ve seen very few purchases here on the blog. I can’t complain because in July, the charity shop Gods bestowed some amazing thrift luck upon me when I found some key, quality pieces for my autumn wardrobe: a 60’s style Boden skirt, a Topshop trench coat and a Wheels & Dollbaby cardigan, to name but a few. I’m excited for autumn fashion, but I’m still embracing summer. Strangely, it was when I was searching for autumn fashion staples that I chanced upon the souvenir print dress, a dress I’d wanted to buy first-hand- until it sold out.
Although we didn’t find any mid-century furniture finds, we did find a dinosaur teapot! After the disappointment of not being able to find ‘that’ Morrison’s planter, we’ve decided to buy a succulent and make our very own version for a snippet of the price and a donation to charity. Even though I wasn’t supposed to be looking at clothes, how could I not? I found a vintage style handmade dress with a delicate, embroidered collar for just £1. I can’t wait to feature it, until then, Instagram Stories?
March. The month when my love hate relationship with clothes began. Trust me, there’s no one more surprised than I. One moment, I wanted all of the clothes. The next, I found myself clearing out liquidating my wardrobe with gusto, walking past most charity shops and browsing, lots of it, in high street shops. Despite this increased interest in finding new clothes, I bought very little; so little, I almost didn’t write this post.
And, that’s pretty much it. Spare a denim midi pinafore dress that was bought and returned almost instantly. Scores on the door…
Considering the weather, this is probably the most impractical outfit I’ve worn in a long time. When we left home, it was dry but as soon as we crossed the Welsh border… down came the rain! I swapped my leather biker jacket for a parka and my clogs for brogues and somehow, a slightly more appropriate outfit was born. You might recognise this gingham smock dress from February’s buyer’s archive. I bought it from my local charity shop for £2 and so far, I’ve worn it lots.
As you know, Elise is the founder of the Buyer’s Archive series: a series I joined during the summer of 2015 with the intention of tracking my spending habits. In January, even though I fell off the thrifty band wagon, I only spent £41.46 of my Christmas money (the rest went on bills, grown up life hey?) This month, did my thrifty ways see me buy more but spend less? Grab a cuppa’, this could take some time.
Kenneth Cole vintage tan heels £3 & Audley London leather boots, £3.50, Sue Ryder, Didsbury
Let’s start with the purchases that I’m most excited about! After a meeting in Manchester city centre, John and I decided to visit Didsbury’s charity shops for the first time. Charlotte is a big fan of Sue Ryder, so we made it our first stop. Finding nothing, I was almost ready to give up when I caught sight of not one, but two pairs of brown leather shoes. Perfectly fitting, they’re just what I was looking for. I think a little bit of Charlotte’s shoe luck rubbed off on me that day!
Purple Beret, £1.50, Jospice, Allerton Road, Liverpool
You might have seen my Vintage Village photographs on Instagram over half term, I dragged John along with the intention of finding a vintage red or black beret and eating cake. As it was our first visit, we were overwhelmed with the amount of vintage on offer and sadly, no berets were found. Lucky for me, a couple of days later I found this 100% wool beret in Jospice for an amazing price.
Topshop Nautical Jumper, £3.99, Barnados, Preston
The start of February saw a long overdue thrifty bloggers meet up back in my old university town of Preston. High on nostalgia, I was thrilled to find this red, nautical Topshop jumper that I used to own during my university days. It’s a size smaller than my usual size and a little shorter in length, but I intend to wear it under a pinafore dress so it’s not a problem.
Topshop Plaid Shirt & Primark Stripe Dress, Each £1, Sue Ryder, Preston
Primark Navy Cardigan, £2.50, Cancer Help, Preston
Moving from the Tulketh Mill area, Charlotte, Jenni, Rachelle and I hopped in a taxi to Plungington Road. Despite its proximity to my old halls of residence, I’d never visited before. In the first local charity shop, I found an almost new long sleeved, navy Primark cardigan. Sure, not the biggest bargain or particularly exciting (hence, it’s not photographed) but it’s exactly what I’ve been looking for to wear with my Lindy Bop Matilda dresses in spring.
Uniqlo Skirt, £1.99, Age UK, Burnley
When I’m teaching, I find it difficult to visit my favourite East Lancashire charity shops before they close. Some days, I pack up my marking and bring it home with me just so I can make closing time! Although strictly not an essential purchase, I’m a fan of Uniqlo’s clothes so even though this skirt isn’t strictly my usual style, at £1.99 I’ll take a chance.
Oasis Deer Print Collar Top, £1.99, Age UK, Burnley
Emblazoned with a deer print AND complete with a collar, this quirky number was the first thing I spotted as I walked through the door. Its perfect collar means I’ve already layered it with a dress in this outfit, but I’m yet to find an outfit to really let its print shine.
Principles Peter Pan Collar Jumper, £1.99, Age UK, Burnley
Peter Pan collar + moss green = perfect jumper.
Next 1940s Tea Dress, £2.50, Age UK, Ormskirk
In the same trip, I found this polka dot tea dress. I loved the style of it (and of course the print) but when I tried it on, it was so flattering. Even though it’s missing a button, the condition is like new. It has a spare button attached so it’s easily fixed.
H&M Swing Dress, £2, Age UK, Ormskirk
Remember when H&M released a range of cotton swing dresses last year? I was saving every penny and despite trying them on numerous times, I decided not to buy one. It felt like my patience was rewarded when I found this geometric print swing dress. It’s a couple of sizes bigger than usual, but it adds to the effect.
Topshop Gingham Smock, £2 Cat Protection
Remember this spending ban wish list? When I spotted this gingham dress, I instantly recognised it from my hours spent trawling the internet for a budget version. In perfect condition, in my head, I’m already matching it with Dr Martens and a Fedora.
New Look Heart Print Dress, £2, Cat Protection
Same shop, same day. I think it must have been donated at the same time as the Topshop smock. Although it’s not different to the many other patterned dresses I own, they’re easy to look after and because I’ve now left teaching (I know, right? There’ll be a post about it soon), I’m building a new wardrobe of work clothes for a less formal look.
Pinafore dress, £10, Apricot (originally, £29)
As well as charity shopping, I also went high street shopping with my mum. As we park close to Debenhams, we cut through the store to reach the shopping centre. This Apricot dress stopped me in my tracks, even more so when I discovered it in Apricot’s online sale. I returned the original dress and I’m waiting to take delivery of the £10 dress.
Black cardigan, £8, Primark
Again, another cardigan from Primark. Nothing exciting, but matches everything and oh so practical and warm!
Monochrome stripe skirt, £8, Primark
Confession: my mum bought me the skirt and the cardigan. I know, I’m spoiled. I’ve never been a fan of Primark, if I’m honest; I’ve bought higher quality items for much cheaper prices, but Primark’s skirt game is so strong right now. I just really liked this striped skirt, the quality isn’t amazing but it fits well and I know I’ll wear it lots.
Deer print dress, £5, Boundary Mill
Enough is enough, I decided. No more clothes this month, I thought. But, how can you resist a dress with a deer print when it’s a fiver? I couldn’t, especially not when it fit so well. I’m unlikely to wear this until Christmas, however buying out of season seems to be what I do well.
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.