Do you find yourself gazing at your edited wardrobe as soon as you awake? Do you spend mornings realigning your delights on beautiful wooden coat hangers? Do you swoon at your ever-growing shoe and bag collection? Do you dedicate drawers to your colour-coded bangles, meticulously fold your rolled-edge silk scarves and cherish your necklaces? Has the majority of your wardrobe once belonged to somebody else? Welcome to preloved fashion, welcome to my wardrobe.
The wearing of other people’s cast-offs started early in my life and has never left me. I grew up on my cousins’ hand-me-downs, joining the Saturday morning queue for a Jumble Sale rummage and exploring for hours my grandmother's wardrobe and jewellery boxes. As a teenager the vinyl I was listening to led me to 1960s clothes: a camel coat or a piece of mod knitwear and the opening of charity shops became and remains an exciting gateway to express my style.
Charity shops have long since lost their end-of-the-line jumble sale feel and now it’s normal place for garments to be steamed and checked by trained staff before reaching the rails, customers can use brightly lit changing rooms, contactless payment and returns policies and now the move to online by Cancer Research UK and Oxfam makes shopping that much easier. In an ever-changing British high street the charity sector have their own distinctive customer message: donate, shop, volunteer, give back. This circular economy makes perfect sense to me: a balance of supporting my local community or chosen charity, shopping local, accessing frequently updated ‘new’ preloved stock and when I’ve finished simply donating the clothes back so they start a new life once more.
In 2015 I styled myself in 365 different top-to-toe preloved looks (other than my pants, obvs) my Knickers Model’s Own fundraising campaign raising over £67,000 (incl.Gift Aid) for Cancer Research UK in memory of my mum Mary and at the same time helping to shine a light on this vibrant retailing sector. My 2016 book Knickers Model’s Own - a year of frugal fashion - which continues to raise funds for the charity - is a preloved style journal which aims to capture my year through the lens of fashion showing how different looks, colours, textures and accessories can lift a mood on hard days, tap into key trends and help you find your own fashion style.
So here’s my top tips to help you access the rich seam of high street, high end and vintage pieces on sale now up and down the country. Endorphin pumping natural highs guaranteed.
1. Get to know your local charity shops
If you are new to the shop allow yourself 25 minutes to look around in detail. Work through all the rails as it’s possible stock can find its way to the wrong section. Menswear can be a useful place to look for women: small size tees, boy fit jeans (think Levis, Wrangler, Lee), scarves, caps and smaller size trainers. Once you know your way around the shop you can then pop back next time for a much quicker scan.
2. Shop online
Cancer Research UK and Oxfam sell womenswear and menswear online, you’ll find the pick of vintage and retro, easy delivery options and a returns policy. This is easy peasy shopping.
3. Know your wardrobe gaps before you go shopping
(new or preloved, online or in store) and whatever you are looking at ask yourself: do I already have this in my wardrobe? Why do I need it? How is it going to add value? What is the quality like?
4. Ignore sizing
Get into the changing room and try everything on that you like and aim to see the potential in how it can be styled rather than be restricted by the size label (as a rule expect vintage pieces to generally come up 2 sizes smaller). Think about simple modifications: removing shoulder pads, adding new buttons, defining the waist with a belt, styling a top backwards.
5. Buy ahead of the season
Planning ahead means you’re ready with an edited wardrobe at the start of the next season, in the cooler months start sourcing finds for Spring and in the warmer months think about knitwear and layers.
My love for somebody else’s clothes will never leave me and I hope I’ve inspired you to explore preloved, just leave me something on the rails!
Knickers Model’s Own
Be inspired by her looks on