Isn’t it lovely when something that you always regarded as a bit of a guilty pleasure suddenly starts to attract the highest social acclaim? I’m talking about my secondhand clothes habit.
No longer is it a rather unsavoury pastime that involves digging around in others’ rejectamenta and confronting some rather dodgy-looking stains along the way. It turns out that we charity shop fiends are, in our own small way, saving the planet.
I acquired this habit at my mother’s knee. The best Saturday afternoons, back in the day, were those that took in a jumble sale as well as changing our library books. As a single parent for much of my childhood, she found jumble sales a reliable way of keeping two growing daughters clothed – though her purchases were not always well advised. I remember in particular a bizarre duffel coat that had been fitted with a zip, but not one that opened at the bottom. This meant that I had to step in and out of it, which, as you can imagine, caused a certain amount of amusement at school. (Can you hear the violins?)
But my sister and I got the bug anyway – to the point where her husband thanked her in his speech on their wedding day for turning up to the event, because he knew there were some particularly good jumble sales on in the area that afternoon.
If you had any aspirations to being a hippy, second-hand clothes were mandatory. How triumphant I used to feel, sallying forth in my black watered silk midi skirt, and black velvet coat, with red velvet stars artfully concealing the cigarette burns it had acquired during a particularly lively night at the Roundhouse! I could guarantee that no one else would be wearing the same.
Sadly, jumble sales seem to be a bit thin on the ground these days – replaced, in large measure, by car boot sales. On the other hand, charity shops are proliferating as never before as traditional retailers pull out of the high street.
I was shocked to learn from a second-hand clothes dealer that when charities sort through their donations, they cream off the best of the garments and send them to branches in the more expensive areas of town (well, of London, anyway.) No wonder there are such slim pickings in the charity shop at the end of my road. Of course, it’s entirely reasonable that they want to be able to charge as much as possible to boost the funds that they can distribute, but rather unfair on those who rely on charity shops to clothe their families.
But even the charity shop at the end of my road occasionally comes good – the key is persistence. You have to be prepared to come away empty nine times out of ten. It makes it all the sweeter when you do strike gold. My latest trophy is illustrated above (thankfully you can’t see where I managed to spill gravy on the tie belt on its first outing), but I still mourn the passing of a treasure from many years ago: a purple silk dress with a granny print, faded to the subtlest of colours, with rolled button loops and buttons of some early form of plastic that had become completely friable over time. One day the delicate fabric, washed and worn over decades, simply disintegrated. I’m sure there is some improving moral there, but I can’t think what it is right now.