Gucci? No, darling, it's Oxfam

Knowing where - and how - to shop is the key to stylish dressing. And we're not talking Bond Street, says Melanie Rickey

Eight years ago, while sitting in the middle of a tonne of dusty second-hand clothes, I had an epiphany. There I was, straight out of school, choosing to spend my year out working in a smelly warehouse filled to the rafters with second-hand clothes. Old jeans, suits, shirts, ties, bags, shoes, dresses, skirts, nylon tracksuits - I sorted them all. "Absolutely fabulous" and "groovy" went into the store I worked for, Rokit, who imported the clothes from the US; "average" was sold to Ghanaian market traders.

The day-to-day work was nothing compared to the indescribable rush of pleasure (my epiphany) that accompanied the discovery of a gem: a Thirties hand-made tea dress, a Salvador Dali hand-painted tie, a pair of selvedge- riveted 501's, an old Yves Saint Laurent polka-dot blouse, a Chanel handbag, bejewelled Ferragamo kitten-heeled sandals...

My list of "finds" is now endless, but it was when I found the Yves Saint Laurent blouse in a pile of old polyester that I became hooked.

It's the same story for everyone with a passion for second-hand clothes - and there are plenty of us. Fortunately our addiction has positive points: it is the best way to look good on a budget, donate money to charity and recycle, and, even better, the only way to look truly individual.

Since 1990 the number of charity shops on the high street has increased by two-thirds, to 5,000, and turnover has more than doubled, to pounds 300m. Indeed the pastime has become a trend in itself; today there is even a magazine, Cheap Date, dedicated to the art of fashion-oriented second- hand shopping.

One of the few charities to target this market is Oxfam, which in spring 1998 introduced a new concept to its shops - Oxfam Origins. From today the four standalone stores, and 29 nation-wide concessions, have been renamed Oxfam Original - and they are chock full of fashionable, well- priced "finds". Recent high-street cast-offs rub hangers with Sixties, Seventies and Eighties gear, all carefully chosen, then mended and cleaned, from tonnes of donated clothes. "We are targeting the young fashion-conscious audience who want second-hand clothes, with a clean and modern way to buy them," says Rachel Fleming, of Oxfam.

So far the project has been a resounding success, and helped Oxfam raise their profits to pounds 15m last year.

True aficionados, however, will tell you that Oxfam is not the best place to make a discovery. Car boot sales, jumble sales, local weekly markets and charity shops in towns away from student strongholds provide much richer pickings.

Kira Joliffe, the editor of Cheap Date, is the ultimate thrifter. "I think it's the paradox of being really into fashion, but not wanting to be a slave to it," she says of her obsession. "Ultimately it's about individuality, and with Cheap Date I hope to give people the confidence to try out clothes they wouldn't normally buy."

Thrifting is also an excellent way to keep up to date with fashion trends. All the clothes featured here are relevant to recent catwalk offerings, and were sourced during one week of looking the length and breadth of London. Outside London the pickings are even better.

A bright, Pucci-inspired print scarf becomes a top, and when worn with a Native-Indian-inspired belt, dark jeans and lime-green sandals it owes more than a nod to Tom Ford's homage to a late-Seventies Cher, as do the blanket-stitched suede top and shell handbag. The black Hungarian embroidered shirt fits perfectly with the peasant/Gypsy trend.

Which leaves the last, and most expensive find, the Twenties tea dress. At pounds 550 it is not cheap - but today's hand-sewn, bias-cut equivalent by, say, John Galliano would cost thousands. We found it in Virginia's, in Portland Place, which many of the world's top fashion designers visit twice yearly for inspiration.

Here's a fashion thrifter's joke. Woman goes to a party in a fabulous dress. Someone asks where it's from. She replies: "From a fabulous store called Sue Ryder." [To be pronounced Ridier.] To which the inquirer remarks "Oh Sue Ridier, is she new?"

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk