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How to get designer clothes for less

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Editor's note: this blog post was originally written in July 2014 and has since been updated for clarity and with the latest information. Enjoy!

Want new clothes, but can't afford the price tags?

Cutting your costs doesn't mean you should compromise your style.

Step forward the humble charity shop!

Frugal fashionistas are flocking to charity shops to scour the second-hand rails for hidden treasures. Join the revolution and you too can save money and bag some designer bargains.

Warning!

It can be difficult to see beyond the mass rails of stuff, so don’t go shopping before reading our guide to charity shop chic…

TV personality Mary Portas inside a charity shop as part of programme 'Mary Queen of Shops'

Credit: PhilMash Ltd

Visit posh postcodes

Shopping in affluent areas can almost guarantee high-end labels and luxury materials like cashmere, silk, linen and pure wool.

You’ll be surprised what designer cast-offs you can pick up for a fraction of the original price.

It's also worth researching the locations of designer charity shops.

Shopping guru Mary Portas recommends the British Red Cross off of the King's Road in London and Barnado's on the London Road in Manchester, but there are lots of other fab ones out there.

Plus, if you ever find yourself in a posh area make sure to pay a visit to the local charity shop.

You'll never know what designer bargains you could snap up!

Look for staple items and classic accessories

You won't find the latest trends in your local charity shop. Instead, learn how to adapt your shopping eye and look out for classic styles.

  • Little black dresses
  • Well fitting trousers
  • Elegant clutch bags
  • Smart blazers

These items will never date and will add class to your wardrobe.

But that's not all...

Second-hand shops are also a great place to find office wear.

If you've just got a new job in an office (congrats!), building up your work wardrobe can be a pain, as well as expensive.

Charity shops are a very reliable source of office-suitable trousers, blouses, skirts and blazers.

A well-cut blazer will last you a lifetime and sets you up perfectly for your new job.

Red haired woman looking through rail of clothes in a charity shop

Become a regular

Bargains inevitably get snapped up so if you only visit every couple of weeks, you’ll end up seeing the same leftover stock.

Popping in for a five minute browse every few days will make you more likely to spot hot new items.

Top tip!

It’s worth noting most people donate over the weekend and it takes a day or two for staff to sort through new items.

For first dibs on the best new items, we recommend visiting on a Tuesday morning.

Inspect for damage

Before you buy, check for broken zips, holes and missing buttons.

Minor damage that can be fixed easily may still be worth the buy, but if it needs professional help then the cost may be more than the product itself.

The same applies to shoes. Check they don’t need to be re-heeled as it may not be worth the added expense.

Birds eye view of tape measure, orange thread, pins and needles and a pair of scissors

Make friends with the staff

As in life, with charity shops it can come down to not what you know, but who you know.

Get friendly with the shop staff and let them know the sort of items or brands that you're after. Some charity shops have been known to call you when something great comes in!

And if you're after something specific don't be afraid to ask.

They might have exactly what you're after tucked away in the stock room, or they could note down your number and ring you if it comes in.

Think and buy ahead

People often donate out of season items that are taking up space in their wardrobe...

...so you’ll often find scarves and knitwear in summer and swimwear and sandals in winter.

It’s easy to overlook items you don’t immediately need but by thinking outside of seasonyou could save money on expensive items, like coats.

Check the care labels

Always, always look at the care label inside clothing!

If an item is dry-clean only then consider the extra costs before you invest.

If you’re after vintage pieces, they may not have care labels so be sure to ask the shop assistants for advice.

Hand holding a white clothes laundry label

Try before you buy

A charity shop may only offer a small makeshift changing area but don’t let this put you off trying it on. Lots of charity shops don’t offer refunds, so don’t waste your money by guessing whether it’ll fit you.

Top tip!

Clothing sizes have drastically changed over the years, so don’t expect older items to be true to size.

Unleash your inner stylist

Be prepared to rummage and think outside of the box:

  • Simple cotton tops can be transformed with the right accessories
  • Shapeless dresses can be cinched in at the waist
  • Jackets up-cycled with new buttons

The possibilities are limitless!

With a little creative thinking, you could fulfil the hidden potential of a bargain buy.

Glamorous woman wearing sunglasses, red lipstick and a red coat holding various shopping bags

Don’t be afraid to haggle

If you’ve got your heart set on an item but feel it’s slightly overpriced, it’s fine to ask for a reduction.

Just make sure you explain your reasons and be graceful if they refuse.

You’ll find there is more room for negotiation in privately owned places rather than high street charity shops - but it’s always worth asking.

Buy something special

Looking to save some money on your big day?

You can save money with discounted wedding and bridal dresses at one of Oxfam's eleven bridal shops around the country.

Some items are donated by designers so you could end up buying the wedding dress of your dreams – for half the price.

Need more persuasion?

Check out these 5 reasons to buy your wedding dress at Oxfam.

Bride and groom arm in arm on wedding day, holding pink and cream flowers

Stay at home and click online

If rummaging through charity shop rails doesn’t sound like your cup of tea then why not peruse the second-hand treasures from the comfort of your own home?

All the major charities have their own online shop with photos, measurements and detailed descriptions of items.

Here are some to get you going!

Have you picked up any great bargains at the charity shop recently? Let us know!

Colleen x