A Charitable Affair...

There's something I've been meaning to write for quite some time now, in defence of one of my favourite pastimes... some people do it in secret, in the middle of their working day - fervently popping out on 'an errand', returning to their desk a little happier... others are proud of it, boasting their pursuits to friends... and, depending on a number of varying factors, including your upbringing, current social status, and view on what is a 'treat' VS what is 'getting by', my hobby can seem like a real drag... Of-course, what I'm getting at, is shopping in charity shops!

And not just for outfits - but also for material to work with... my Laurel Dress, from one of my first blog posts, was made from a Sanderson curtain, salvaged from a charity shop. Of-course, if you're reading this in the US, you're likely to call it a thrift shop, in Australia they're called 'Op Shops'... I often wonder, when I'm over visiting family, when Spain will cotton on to the trend, they're VERY few and far between over there...

To those of you 'in the know', none of what I'm about to say will come as a surprise, if anything, hopefully you'll comment on a treasured vintage find that you adore - or share a particular shop you like to frequent... This post won't tell you anything you don't already know, but it may well have you nodding along, in a smug I-Could-Have-Written-This-Myself kind of way... So - I figured I'd have some fun, and write this in the form of a love note. That way, no matter how YOU feel about charity shops and 'thrifting' in general, by the end of this you'll be left in no doubt as to how I feel! And the musical accompaniment for today's writing..? It seems only right to use an uplifting track, even if Pharrell Williams' Happy is EVERYWHERE at the moment... indulge!


Dear Charity Shop...

Firstly, please let me apologise for not giving you a name - you know why this is! Unlike a job application, where I'd have to be precise about who I'm directing my energies toward, you know I feel the same way about various shops of your kind... there's little point in pretending I'm monogamous, but that doesn't take anything away from the strength of feeling I have for you...

When did our love affair start? A LONG time ago! I don't remember the exact date, but I do have memories of holding my Nan's hand, wandering around large shops, picking up necklaces, playing dress up in high heels (me, not Nan...), and marvelling over badges and buttons in glass jars... In fact, I went on to work in a Banardo's in my home village (again, with my Nan) - which introduced me to the people behind the donations, and the importance of their generous contributions. I will admit there was a short period in my life when I turned my back on you, afraid of what other teenagers would make of my affiliation. Maybe it was because I was so proud of my Mum, the fact she brought me up single-handedly without me ever feeling poverty-stricken - even though I know it was a struggle sometimes for her, financially. I didn't ever want people to pity us, or think we were poor (in my mind, we weren't). Many of Mum's friends and family donated furniture for our home, which we were both grateful for... this is an obvious example of real charity, and charitable donations, which makes it even more ridiculous to think I was too proud to come to you! I apologise for that, and I feel I'm more than making up for that time now!


I'm also proud to share details about refashionings I've attempted, like the dress I created from a skirt bought in a charity shop (shown here) - it makes me feel like I'm doing something inventive and creative, breathing new life into an everyday garment that's been discarded. 

On the rare occasion I get to go to a 'grand' event, I always hope to find a 'show stopper' to wear within your four walls, something I can wear that means SOMEONE (anyone) will say to me "Oooh... that's nice, where did you find it?" - to which I can apologetically say "In a charity shop, sorry...". Do I take any smug sense of satisfaction from delivering that news? NO! Well maybe a little bit... But I feel generous in spirit, introducing the concept of finding a one-off vintage piece to someone who might otherwise overlook that kind of shopping. So, karmic balance is restored. AND, the chances of me wearing the same dress as someone else are next-to-nil. I love those odds! 

Let me share details of some of my precious vintage finds... A couple of years ago, whilst out with Mum and Nan, I salvaged a sequinned flapper dress, with the tags still attached - telling me it was originally £160, and not yet worn... owing to there being a few sequins missing, it was marked at £20! Previous to that (with Mum) I bought a long 70's style leather jacket with fur trim - although, owing to an unfortunate incident involving Rod, I'm currently trying to find somewhere to repair (or re-fur) said coat... I don't know where I'd be without a long fitted cosy jumper I wear A LOT, originally from a designer shop I don't ever go into (at their prices I can't afford to start wanting their pieces!!). Oh, and there's my black fitted Comptoir des Cotonniers jacket; a girl needs her capsule wardrobe pieces, don't y' know..?! The list goes on...

The jewel in my Charity Shop Finds crown..?

An amazing Elizabeth Emanuel dress I found, and later wore for a glittering TV event, to mark the 50th anniversary of Coronation Street (I kid you not)... 


 I also wore it at a later date for a photo shoot, and felt like a princess! (That may have had something to do with the fact that Elizabeth Emanuel was credited with designing Lady Diana's wedding dress...).


What do these pieces have in common?

They are all well-made. 'Designer' does NOT always mean well made - but, generally speaking, it usually means you get better materials and workmanship; and it often means they have been better taken care of by their 'first owners'. You could extrapolate that spending more money on clothes means you look after them, you're much less likely to leave clothing on the floor, or in the laundry basket for weeks, if they cost you an arm and a leg. Of-course, I could be wrong, but that's my feeling on the matter... anyway - how did I get onto that? Back to the love letter!

Now that you're becoming more and more popular with the general public, Charity Shop, I don't feel at all jealous! I know you'll always have time for me, always offer me something unique, and will pay back my loyalty in kind; introducing me to styles, and designers, I've never considered before... And not only that, every time I visit you I'm reminded of many happy times spent with Mum and Nan. You are part of my past - and now, as I explore my new hobby of customising clothing, you've taken on a whole new appeal for my future...

I LOVE YOU, CHARITY SHOP! And I don't care who knows it... I'm not the only one, in fact, a group of women calling themselves The Refashioners set themselves the regular challenge of reinventing vintage finds into something new... and they're not alone. There's a growing feeling out there, a fondness for vintage, for sustainability, and for reinvention. You play a big part in that, and for that, I'm grateful.

Yours,
Gema x


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Coming soon...
  • In keeping with this post, I'm writing a piece for popular local listings website, Totally Richmond, 'The Insider's Guide to Charity Shopping in Richmond'. The title is a work in progress... but you get the picture ;)
  • My refashioning of a gold dress is nearly complete - and will likely be my next post!
  • There's another competition underway, with one of my favourite Blogs, Coletterie... Do I enter? Knowing how many hours these sewalong competitions take is a little off-putting - but I always learn new techniques... and this one's for a duffle coat. CUTE! Hmmm....


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