Eastlondon Lines is your guide to budget friendly spring fashion trends as two of our journalists hit the high streets to try to find fashion in the borough’s charity shops!
Bethany: As a size 18/20, it’s not so easy to just go into a charity shop and find some delightful vintage creation. Bigger sizes tend to have more luck finding contemporary and high street items though in the past I’ve found the odd gem. The fact that most stores arrange their merchandise by size (Red Cross in Lewisham was the only store we visited across four boroughs that ordered their stock by colour rather than size) means it’s relatively easy to quickly sweep the store and establish if there’s anything that will fit. It felt as though the shops of Lewisham and Croydon had a greater variety of garments above a size 16 than those of Tower Hamlets and Hackney, though that may have been circumstantial.
As a hopeless devotee of rummaging (jumble sales, branches of Primark, sample sales…), charity shopping is second nature to me and while poking around the shops of the Eastlondonlines boroughs, I was able to source some second hand beauties.
Lautel: To my mind, charity shopping was an oxymoron, an odd combination of old and new. It seemed unlikely that I’d ever be as excited about a trip to the string of them along Dalston Kingsland Road as I’d be about a trip to Oxford Circus, but ever eager for new experiences, I thought: “I’ll just have a look. There probably won’t be much, but it’s worth looking isn’t it?” It is.
Charity shops are like treasure chests: there’s no way to tell what will be in one unless you go and have a look. On a fascinating, at times frenzied rummage through the Eastlondonlines boroughs, I found some odd, interesting and altogether thoroughly worthy pieces.
Bethany: Black velvet generally falls into two camps: ‘90s fashion disaster, or teenage goth. I bought this black velvet t-shirt for a mere £3.49 in Age UK near Church Street tram stop in Croydon to see if I could find a third possibility. It’s made of pretty sturdy stuff, so I’m thinking of wearing this with printed cotton trousers when it’s not quite warm enough for light t-shirts and vests. The t-shirt gives just the right amount of texture to make an outfit more interesting without being too much of a statement. It would also look suitably chic with a pleated midi skirt and a low heel.
Lautel: Most of my haul came from Hackney: my number one pick for the best selection of items, particularly where brand-names are concerned. In the RSPCA shop in Lower Clapton, I spotted one of my best finds: a navy blue velvet blazer by J. Crew. I have never- in my life, owned anything by J. Crew, and I simply couldn’t pass it up: it was just £8, and it was like new.
That was one of the things that most surprised me about charity shopping- the sheer amount of items that were new or like new. There were pieces that obviously hadn’t been worn; at worst the tags had been removed before they were promptly donated by the original owner. Not to mention the items donated to charity shops by local retailers. Apparently, it’s common practice to donate surplus goods to local shops, and the items are just sold on brand new.
One last browse around RSPCA yielded a floral print H&M top for just £3.50 and after some consideration, I decided to pair it with the blazer and create a casual chic look. The sheen on the velvet adds an elegant feel while still being appropriate for daywear when paired with denim, and the floral print lightened up the look for spring.For an evening look, the blazer could easily be paired with a dress (my mind skips to a summery cream lace and chiffon piece hiding in the back of my wardrobe) while the floral print jumper would work well a pencil skirt for a classic 60s silhouette.
Bethany: Last year Topshop released jersey midi dresses in a few different colours. They were a big hit and I regularly admired them on other people, but never got round to trying and buying for myself. Fortunately my regret was unnecessary, and I managed to pick one up in Cancer Research in Lewisham, for just £7. This grey marl jersey midi is one of the easiest-to-wear items I’ve come across, and the fact Topshop have released another variation this year is surely testament to its popularity. I’m used to dressing things up, so I dressed it down to show how versatile it is. Make it prim and proper with brogues and a fine-knit cardigan or, as I did, play up the streetwear angle with a zip-up hoodie and wedge trainers.
Lautel: My next great find came from Mind in Stoke Newington: a one-piece playsuit from Topshop for just £10. High street brands like Topshop and H&M were in abundance in the Hackney shops, but I was particularly pleased with this piece. Easy to dress up with a black belt, heels and neat jacket, or dress down with just a simple pair of flats, the playsuit is versatile enough for the last dregs of winter and the oncoming spring.
Bethany: At the tram stop, heading home, I bumped into an acquaintance. I told her I’d been charity shopping. ‘Ah, I see you’ve been buying some Jackie O-level stuff’, she said, spotting the pastel tweed-esque material through the thin plastic carrier. Most jackets made of material like this are dainty doll-like bouclé affairs in the style of Chanel, but this one is drapey, roomy and a length much more useful for taller people.
Lautel: Charity shops are a great way to find items for the upcoming season because people are more likely to donate things after a big wardrobe cleanout. Most of us go through our clothes right around the transitions from winter to spring and autumn to winter, so on this trip, I wasn’t surprised to find the shops full of summer and spring styles.
On our last stop in Croydon, we visited Scope and I scooped up a pretty little tee with a bow-trimmed neckline for £2.50. I love simple pieces like that that are loose, flowy and cute, with a simple yet classic look to them. I paired it with my skinny jeggings for a slightly edgier look, but I plan to wear it with my long black maxi skirt.
You can retrace our steps using our interactive map of the shops we visited below:
View Charity Shops in Eastlondonlines Boroughs in a larger map