Charity shop chic

High-street fashion at bargain prices, charity shops are the ethical way to accentuate a wardrobe. All you need is a sense of adventure… By Laura Sevier

Dusty, disorganised, with nothing worthwhile to speak of? I must admit I felt this way about charity shops until I spent a morning trawling round some in London with clothing stylist and friend Mary Fellowes. ‘You have to be in an adventurous mood and willing to stray away from the comfort zone of what you normally wear,’ says Mary. ‘The most important thing is to walk into the shop with an open mind and be willing to experiment. Because there is a limited choice you need to be more creative.’

The moment we walked into the first shop, TRAID, I headed for the t-shirt tops. Mary, within an instant had spied a white tweed jacket, a mohair cardie and, from the men’s rail, a long white shirt, large jumper  and a waistcoat. I quickly learned that a bit of cross-dressing can work wonders. Why stick to the women’s rail when you can transform an oversized men’s shirt with a belt?

So I started to trust Mary’s styling skills. She spotted some grey, baggy, wool trousers in the Trinity Hospice Charity Trust shop I wouldn’t normally have touched with a barge pole. But she was right. They were gorgeous – a real classic cut that looked good with both trainers and heels. I bought them for a tenner. Mary was full of ideas on how to transform the duller items into something wearable and exciting. Three shops later we had enough clothes for five new outfits.

Each shop was a lucky dip and each shopping experience more fun and creative than in a high street chain. Okay, so finding the right size can be a bit hit or miss and it’s not necessarily the place to go to for things like underwear, but charity shops are beneficial to the planet as well as to people in need.

Mary's tips

  • View clothes in a different way A plain black dress can be dressed up – or down – with a few colourful accessories. Try it on in the shop, play with it in front of the mirror and think how you’d make it look modern. You can buy always buy something and then alter it by changing the hemline or buttons.
  • Trench coats or jackets can be transformed with the simple addition of a belt.
  • Mix old with new Mix the older or vintage items you buy from charity shops with things that are modern and new, such as trainers or biker boots.
  • Men’s clothes can be worn as women’s clothes An oversized men’s shirt or jumper can be worn with a belt and waistcoat over skinny trousers. You can customise it with colourful, funky buttons or by putting ribbon around the cuffs. Men’s belts are good too, but go for fabric rather than leather ones.
  • Look at things you wouldn’t normally go for If you’ve always been into skinny trousers then be open to different shapes. Get out of your comfort zone and go for a different look.
  • Buy quality or vintage items They’re more likely to last and less likely to date compared to low-quality, modern things.
  • Cool accessories
    - Big, chunky necklaces and bangles.
    - Long, skinny silk scarves in plain colours (can also be worn in the hair).
    -Colourful and quirky belts.
    - Sunglasses – the bigger the better.


Why charity shops are eco-friendly

Waste of clothes. Defra says 1.1 million tones of textiles are thrown away in household bins each year. To put this into perspective, a single tonne of textiles fills roughly 200 black binbags. Imagine 220 million binbags sent to landfill. According to Wastewatch, two million shoes are thrown into rubbish bins in the UK every week.

Charity shops reuse and recycle. An estimated 250,000 tonnes of clothing and other textiles pass through charity shops every year and are either sold for reuse or recycled. This gives a further use and a second life to thousands of unwanted items that might otherwise have gone to landfill.

Raising funds. Every year charity shops raise approximately £110 million, funding overseas aid, environmental initiatives andsupporting sick and deprived children, homeless people, mentally and physically disabled  people, animal welfare and a number of other causes.

Charity shop information

There are an estimated 7,000 charity shops in the UK and the majority are run by volunteers. To find a shop in your area, visit

TRAID (Textile Recycling for Aid and International Development)

TRAID has eight shops and more than 900 textile banks across the UK. Money raised funds sustainable projects and emergency aid insome of the poorest regions in  the world.


Oxfam has more than 600 shops selling clothing. 100% of shops’ profits helps to fund the organisation’s work in more 70 countries. Trinity Hospice Charity TrustTrinity Hospice cares for people with advanced illnesses. Its 20 shops raise more than a million pounds each year for Trinity.

Marie Curie Shop

Marie Curie Nurses provide free home-based nursing care to cancer patients and those withother terminal illnesses. They have 170 shops in the UK.

To get in touch with stylist Mary Fellowes, visit


This article first appeared in the Ecologist February 2008


For ethical and sustainable suppliers of Clothing goods and services check out the Ecologist Green Directory here


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