token girl: like a girl, but better

Thursday, 31 March 2005

Sick of ebay and tired of rip-off vintage rags? Me too.

I wrote this earlier in the week for Leonie. Then last night I met another Anna(-)Marie who thrifts professionally for her vintage shop on ebay. She was wearing Chanel pumps and a silky-soft peach-coloured top. She was inspired.

Ebay never really happened for me. At least not as far as my wardrobe goes. I've had it with the amateur copywriters and faux-fash jargon. One more ill-fitting frock and it would've been keyboard out the window. But that's another story.

Charity emporiums hold for me an allure that the standard high street outlet simply cannot touch, and that is of the one-of-a-kind, cut-price bargain. When shopping, I try to get into a 'special occasion' frame of mind to help me focus. I start the day as if it’s 1988 and I have to buy an outfit for a wedding reception. No one wears occasion outfits more than once or twice and charity shops are full of hardly-worn neglected items, such as cocktail dresses, veiled bonnets, fancy heels and matching handbags. We’ve all heard urban myths about picking up Prada sweaters for £10 in Sue Ryder, but for me, it’s all about the quirky one-off.

Here are some tried-and-testeds:

Oxfam, 52 Goodge Street, London W1T 4LZ. Tel: 020 7636 7311
Located on what I like to think of as the Golden Goodge Street Strip, this branch sprawls across two floors, and takes donations from some of London's most affluent neighbourhoods. Don't let that put you off. Bargain-hunters have tough competition from the hawk-eyed staff at the vintage boutique located on the opposite side of the street.
One bored lunch hour I picked up the kind of frock that Baby would have worn pirouetting into Johnny's arms in Dirty Dancing. I looked left and right and slipped into the changing cubicle. The top was jersey with spaghetti straps with a bodice that stretched into a perfect tiered ra-ra skirt. At £4.99 it was a steal, even though I knew I’d never wear it. When I got home I chopped the dress in two, ditched the top and sewed a waistband for the skirt. Ta-da.
Best for: After dark dresses, suits, woven hold-alls, beads, bangles and books.
See also: Notting Hill Housing Trust, 24 Goodge Street. Tel: 020 7636 4201; YMCA, 22 Goodge Street. Tel: 020 7323 5073.

TRAID, 59-71 Kilburn High Road, London NW6 6HY. Tel: 020 7328 1453. Branches London-wide.
TRAID (Textile Recycling for Aid and International Development) offers a unique twist on the traditional bric-a-brac charity shop format. It's difficult not to feel overwhelmed by this rainbow-swept warehouse, but garments are helpfully arranged according to colour, style and fabric. It's the reconditioned garments that make the TRAID experience unique with customised one-offs alongside the regular cast-offs. It's ace for bold statements that can be worn once and then chucked back into the wardrobe. Be prepared to pay more for the handmade items.
Best for: Crafty hats, t-shirts.

Geranium Shop for the Blind, 4 George Street, Marylebone, London W1U 3QU. Tel: 020 7935 1790
Discreetly tucked behind Oxford Street, this is a tiny trinkety treasure trove and its contents are necessarily esoteric. While West End lunch-breakers are looting the Salvation Army on Princes Street, take a peek in here for bygone glitz and sequined evening wear of the Old School variety. Always worth a look.
Best for: Broaches, clutch bags, photograph frames.
See also: Greater London Fund for the Blind, 4 George St, London, W1U 3QU Tel: 020 7935 1790; Relief Fund for Romania 54-62, Regent St, London, W1B 5RE Tel: 020 7437 6978; Salvation Army, 9 Princes Street, London W1B 2LL. Tel: 020 7495 3958.

Oxfam, 99 Ealing Broadway, London, W13 9BP. Tel: 020 8579 2896
On a rainy afternoon head to the suburbs for charity shops stocking generous donations from prosperous donors. At this branch I was delighted to find an excellent selection of luggage. Think Grace Kelly's overnight bag as Lisa in Rear Window. I picked up a near-perfect vanity case exploding with utility and desirability for just £6.99.
Best for: Bags, shoes, luggage and literature.
See also: Crouch End, Highgate, Hampstead.

St Luke's Hospice Charity Shop, 145 Burnt Oak Broadway, Edgware, HA8 5EJ. Tel: 020 8381 1022
Just 15 minutes on the Northern Line from Camden, Burnt Oak is a prime rummaging location. There's a ragbag of curious outlets along the Broadway, from the usual Oxfam to the more niche FARA Charity Shop. It helps that there are no fashionable pretensions in this part of London. Look for accessories from the Thatcher era and hunt for hidden gems amongst the tat.
Best for: Coloured Italian leather handbags, collectibles and pulp fiction.
See also: FARA Charity Shop, 13 Watling Avenue, Edgware, Middlesex HA8 0LQ. Tel: 020 8952 2885

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