My Thrift Shopping Tips

Thrift Shopping in London

Swallow Bags Vivienne Westwood Tote Bag
Thrift Shopping in Camden, London

Hands up who’s been scared to go thrift shopping? You’ll see my hand raise right with yours. Shopping is already a minefield, let alone going into shops that stock items in one size, one colour, and in a second-hand condition. But, thrift shopping can also give you the biggest thrills – there is treasure hidden among the junk, I promise!

Lose the stigma

I’ve found you can often divide thrift shops into two categories: grandma or hipster. Both have their own stigma (cue calls of “ew, someone died in that!” in the moth-ball-smelling shops, and nervous glances at the price tags on pairs of recycled acid-washed Levis cut into teeny tiny booty shorts in the “cooler” establishments), but neither deserve to make you feel like you’re out of place. You can find some hidden gems in the former, and some to-die-for pieces in the latter, no matter your style or budget.

Take half-baked ideas

It’s important to have a rough idea of what you want when you go thrift shopping. Second-hand shopping can be a nightmare if you go expecting inspiration to hit – you can either spend way too much buying every little thing that makes you go “ooh”, or spend way too much time fussing over nothing and leave empty handed. Half-baked ideas are best – in spring, I go for summery clothes with any holidays in mind, in summer I look for pieces that I can layer with my outfits (see my second-hand blue suede jacket), and in autumn it’s time for big, bulky jumpers!

Bring a bag

If you’re going to go thrift shopping, you better have the bag and shoulder-power to match!

For my last thrift shop, I took along my limited edition The Vivienne tote bag* from Swallow Bags, an ethical bag boutique that’s counter-culture with a purpose. It’s the perfect size for carrying around clothes without it getting in the way of diving into the rails.

I also love that the tote shows Vivienne Westwood campaigning against fracking as part of her Climate Revolution, and 25% of every bag sale goes towards rainforest saviours The Inga Foundation.

Learn the logic

Thrift stores all seem to have different systems. Clothes can usually be found ordered by colour, size, or type. Certain shops may even order their items by worth, for example Barnardo’s stores have different labels for different brands. Either way, it’s worth picking up on this early into visiting each shop, and working out which section is right for you.

Set a trail

So far, my most successful thrift shopping trail has been in Camden. It’s where I picked up my ethical fashion swaps for Sara Steele! You can walk from Chalk Farm to Mornington Crescent and back again in one straight line and cross five charity shops (British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research, Oxfam, Scope, Sue Ryder), three thrift stores (Traid, Rokit, Camden Thrift Store), and of course there’s Camden Market too. Setting a trail will help keep you to second-hand stores, and away from the temptation of buying first-hand from retailers who won’t let you know who made your clothes…

Check the cut

Finally, look for quality. I’ve found this can be sussed from the cut of the clothing (sharp lines, clothes holding themselves together well on and off the hanger, good stitching) and also the material it’s made from (check the label if you’re not sure). This way, your thrifted purchases will bounce back wash after wash, you’ll be happier to wear them more, and they’ll last longer too.


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