Rifling through the racks of clothes, you stop and do a double take. You look at the label and your suspicions are confirmed. It’s a quality make - and it’s in your size. The price? Just a few pounds. What a bargain.
It’s a feeling experienced by more and more people as charity shops become a popular hunting ground for designer gear at rock-bottom prices.
There was a time when you wouldn’t admit to your friends that you’d bought clothing in a charity shop. But today it’s regarded as cool. You get a cheap item in these tough economic times, you help the environment by recycling and the money goes to a good cause.
Now it’s not a question of how much you spend on an outfit, but how little.
Oxfam is even trying to position itself as a fashion brand, with an ad campaign earlier this year for its expanding vintage clothing stock.
Charity shop chains such as Age UK, which has four shops in Portsmouth - one Southsea, one in Fratton and two in North End - have seen a five per cent rise in customers in the past year.
Age UK retail director Hugh Ford says the way we view our clothes is changing.
‘We have expanded our offering to a wide range of people and are making sure we’re a real contender with something different to offer, especially with the country’s economic struggles.
‘Lots of customers are looking for affordable, quality items in these strained times. Others are looking for one-off pieces to stand out from the crowd.’
Charity shops are realising that to attract customers, and hold on to them, they need to offer quality clothes.
Hugh explains: ‘Fashion very much comes into it. Often people are looking for a way to express their individuality and stand out from the crowd. With donated clothes and accessories, as well as new collections, there is something for everyone – no matter what you’re style.
‘We find all types of people coming into our shops.’
He adds: ‘We support sustainability and raise vital funds to help older people across the country. In today’s economic climate we’ve had to come up with creative and innovative ways to keep being successful.’
Nathalie Kerovampton, 40, lives in North End and has been the manager at the Age UK shop in Fratton for four years.
She says: ‘I just think charity shops have such a good system. I’m originally from France, and we don’t have anything like them over there. They just don’t exist.
‘It’s just great knowing that your money is going to a good cause, let alone how much cheaper everything is!’
Talking about the kind of clothes she stocks, Nathalie says she tries her best to stock vintage pieces.
‘It brings people in,’ she says.
I’m a typical girl who loves scouring shops for a bargain. So when the features editor set me a challenge of finding a charity shop outfit for £30 or less, I certainly wasn’t complaining.
The charity Age UK had offered us the money to take into any of its four Portsmouth charity shops and come up with clothing from head to toe.
With more and more people turning to vintage and second-hand clothing and charity shops responding to demand, finding items you love isn’t as difficult as it first sounds.
After visiting the Age UK and searching the rails, I had my outfit and even came in slightly under budget.
It was good that I knew roughly what I wanted before I started out on this clothing challenge. The first shop I went into I spotted a lovely Marks and Spencer coat and slowly an image of what I wanted to wear with it formed in my head. After that it was a lot easier.
I soon realised that a lot of the clothes in charity shops are from big high street chains and are a couple of years out of a date. But then at the rate clothing styles appear and disappear, nothing really stays out of the limelight for long.
It didn’t take me long to pick out some jeans. But for other items sizes was an issue. Size 10 was surprisingly uncommon, which made it difficult to find anything that fitted apart from fairly plain T-shirts.
But some bigger sizes gave me the loose appearance I was looking for, especially with the white blouse.
The bag was a last-minute decision. Nothing like a good accessory.
As for footwear, I got lucky in the end. The final shop I went into, 10 minutes before they closed, had a treasure chest of shoes. Big ones, little ones, heeled ones, coloured ones. The blue Clarks loafers I picked up were spot on. Never been worn - and they even match my glasses.
I ended up getting the outfit pictured for a grand total of £20.95, plus I picked up a striped T-shirt for £2.99 and leggings for £2.99.
With supermarkets now producing their own clothing brands and high street chains such as Primark selling cheaper and cheaper clothing, finding a bargain has never been easier.
George at ASDA sell dresses for £12 and cardigans for £6, while F&F at Tesco has boots for £15 and a pair of jeans for £16.
Even fashion giants such as H&M have started selling simple but stylish clothes at low prices.
But the appeal of charity shops is that for the same money or less, you could walk away with a designer bargain- and enable charities such as Age UK to raise funds for their work.
MAKE DO AND MEND
As well as scouring charity shops for clothes, there’s a growing make-do-and-mend movement where people alter or accessorise old clothes picked up for a song.
Here are Mischa’s tips:
Jeans - cut them, turn them up or transform them into denim shorts.
If you’ve lost weight or can only find bigger sizes in dresses you like, coloured ribbons can work wonders as waist belts.
If you’ve found some fantastic shoes or boots but they’ve seen better days, get them resoled.
Accessorise by visiting craft shops.
Learn to knit. A home-made scarf/hat/jumper could top off a cheap outfit