How to sort the treasures from the trash when second-hand shopping

Be first in line for second-hand chic: With so many clearing their wardrobes post-lockdown, charity shops are brimming with goodies. Here’s how to sort the treasures from the trash

  • The UK’s savviest shoppers are trawling charity shops in search of bargains
  • Prue White shares her top tips for navigating the second-hand minefield
  • Recommends knowing your measurements and signatures of designer brands

As crowds descend on the nation’s High Streets this week, following the reopening of non-essential stores, the savviest shoppers are to be found trawling charity shops and vintage emporiums for deals.

Second-hand shops were braced for a flood of donations similar to the volume received following the end of the first lockdown, as millions of us have once again had plenty of time to clear out our wardrobes.

Last summer Cancer Research UK saw a 31 per cent increase in donations, while Oxfam’s online sales over Christmas were up 90 per cent compared with the same period the year before.

Prue White shared her top tips for navigating the second-hand minefield, as the UK’s savviest shoppers trawl charity shops in search of bargains (file image)

The time is ripe to get on the pre-loved bandwagon — it’s an ideal way to source sustainable pieces and move away from ‘fast’ fashion, which sees clothes mass-produced at low cost, worn a few times and then disposed of.

And with a surplus of stock in charity shops right now, there are bargains galore if you know what to look for.

But if you’re put off by thoughts of musty dresses and ill-fitting garments, follow PRUE WHITE’S top tips on how to navigate the second-hand minefield and bag yourself a stylish, one-of-a- kind look.

Go armed with a tape measure 

We all know modern sizing can vary from store to store, but when you’re shopping vintage, the nuances are even greater. You need to know your body well, because labels are sometimes missing and it’s not always possible to try pieces on. Be sure to have your waist, hip and bust measurements to hand and be prepared to alter items.

If you’re a dab hand with a needle and thread that’s perfect — but, if not, head to your local tailor. Most dry cleaners offer an alterations service, too. Try this out with an item you’re not too invested in before handing over your best-loved piece.

Prue said making friends with the volunteers in your local second-hand shop can help you with clearing clutter. Pictured: Armstrongs Vintage

Be strategic 

Make friends with the volunteers in your local second-hand shops by taking your own good-quality clothes in often. Not only will this help you clear your clutter, it also ensures you’ll check in regularly for fresh stock.

Consider your locale though — the people you see on the streets around you are likely to be the same people making the donations, so think about where you might discover the best loot. It may well be worth a trip to a posher postcode!

Two-tone: Chanel 2013 cardigan (size 16), £595, ukdesigner

Look for designer ‘tells’ 

If you’re shopping premium, knowing the signatures of specific brands is imperative to avoid buying fakes. To limit the counterfeit trade, some use hologram stickers, often sewn into seams (UGG boots have these), while bags by labels such as Gucci or Fendi will have serial numbers inside them. More premium retailers, such as Designer Exchange, will have already done this verification process, so you can be confident that you’re buying the real thing. But the price will reflect this, so you’re going to pay more here than you will for a gem uncovered in Oxfam. 

Focus on fabric

Prue recommends investing in items made from natural fabrics because they are hard-wearing. Pictured: £68,

Keep an eye out for natural fabrics such as cotton, wool and silk (like this pink Cacharel bib-front blouse from Wolf & Gypsy Vintage in Brighton) because they are all environmentally friendly and hard-wearing.

That said, some original 1970s polyester pieces will wear well without creasing — as well as being jolly with their disco vibes.

Inspiration: Chanel bag,

But don’t rush…

Remember, there’s no going back. Most sellers, including luxury pre-loved retailer Sellier Knightsbridge, don’t accept returns. Be sure you love the piece before you part with your cash, but don’t dismiss something just because it’s a bit bashed up. When it comes to designer handbags and shoes, it could be worth breathing new life back into them. The Restory (, which has branches in Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, will collect your item and painstakingly restore it.

Where to snap up the poshest pre-loved pieces 

Determined nothing but designer will do? Consignment stores that sell only high-end labels are becoming increasingly popular. If you’re lucky enough to already own some designer gear, you could sell your old pieces there, too. Here’s my pick of the best stores…

Sellier Knightsbridge

Prus said Sellier Knightsbridge (pictured) has had so many submissions of late that it’s only accepting items from very specific designer brands

The clue is in the title: Sellier Knightsbridge (, in London, specialises in luxury pieces, selling one of the best ranges of pre-loved Hermes and Chanel bags in the country. It works hard to authenticate pieces, so clients can be confident they’re getting the real deal.

The store has had so many submissions of late that it’s only accepting items from very specific designer brands, such as Saint Laurent and Balenciaga, which gives you an indication of its current stock levels.

A Dolce & Gabbana dress will set you back £360, and you can pick up Christian Louboutin platform heels for £170.

Designer Exchange

With stores in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and London, the Designer Exchange ( is a nationwide network buying and selling designer pre-loved goods. The website and Chelsea store sell clothes, and the others specialise in handbags and accessories only. Snap up a Jimmy Choo clutch for £175, or a Saint Laurent blazer for £220.


Located in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket, Armstrongs ( was founded in 1840 and is hailed as one of the best vintage stores in the UK. Levi’s and Wrangler rub up against Burberry and Aquascutum, as well as some no-name styles from the 1950s and 1960s. Prices vary accordingly, but expect to pay upwards of £60 for any branded piece.

Wolf & Gypsy

Nestled in The Lanes in Brighton, Wolf & Gypsy ( is an absolute treasure trove. A boldly striped 1980s Dior blazer (£220) sits alongside a MaxMara puffer skirt (£70) and an authentic 1960s Wrangler denim shirt (£85). Its website is also the most user-friendly, non-headache-inducing of all the vintage sites.

Retro Rehab

Sourcing pieces locally in the North West, Retro Rehab ( in Manchester sells vintage pieces at something akin to High Street prices. You’ll find gold sequinned Moschino Cheap And Chic cocktail frocks for £96, and classic velvet Laura Ashley dresses for around £80. Its aesthetic is distinctly feminine — perfect if the oversized, boxy silhouette that’s currently abundant on the High Street doesn’t suit you.

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