If only thrifting/charity/op-shopping was always that joyful and successful! No doubt like many of y'all in the sewing/vintage/retro game, I've got a long-term relationship going with charity shops/thrift stores/op shops. But like many long-term relationships, after the first couple of years of passion, things have mellowed as we've both changed and got new things going on.
I'm sure like many of you, when I was in my teens my lack of funds and desire to wear something more interesting than the offerings in local shops drove me to jumble sales and charity shops where I would get a hunter-gatherer style high from bizarre finds from previous decades that often needed a bit of tweaking. But about ten or fifteen years ago many charity shops (in the South East UK at least, I can't speak for elsewhere) started to 'clean up their act'.
Possibly in reaction to rises in retail space rent, or possibly in accordance to a wider social trend, lots of charity shops got re-fits, chucked out anything older than 10 years and cranked up their prices. In many ways, most charity shops started and continue to look like slightly rubbish versions of normal clothing shops. Rather than being treasure troves of wonders, oddball donations and smelliness (which as everyone knows, is the sign of true emporium of hidden gems!), they now appeal almost exclusively to the late-middle aged women who 'curate' them. Plus, as my Dad regularly laments, in many the men's departments have shrunk or even vanished entirely.
I suspect this is is due to pressure to 'compete' with the high street, which is pumping out ever cheaper pieces of what many sadly view to be disposable clothing. But bizarrely enough, as most charity shops now only stock newer items and their prices are quite high, you can often find donations from the cheaper shops on the high street like Primark and Peacocks at about the same price, or perversely for even more, than they originally sold for new!
Obviously I understand that I cannot expect their rails and shelves to contain the boxy 60's jackets , 70's maxi dresses or 50's ceramics that I remember being available in the 90's. But having worked until very recently for a textile and clothing recycling charity, I know A LOT of pre-80's vintage is still out there and being donated. If the 'good shit' gets diverted by retro-savvy sorters and dealers before the rest of us get a chance to snaffle any of it, that's one thing, and I can probably stomach it. But my fear, my true honest-to-goodness-wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-sweaty-and-crying fear, is that LOTS of it is just getting binned.
Some years ago, a friend of my mum's was (maybe still is) the manger of one of these gentrified-but-blandly-style less charity shops. Having heard that I was a big charity shop fan, she invited us to come by and said she'd give me a discount on anything I liked. There was not one thing I wanted in that whole damn shop. And believe me I looked hard. She was clearly so proud at how 'modern' her shop was, entirely misunderstanding the route of my fascination with them. I wasn't just looking for high street items with perhaps a couple of quid knocked off the original high street ticket price. I was out to go hunting through the belongings of previous generations and make potential-filled, amusing and, yes, maybe even smelly discoveries!
But, if I have to really boil down why I dislike gentrified charity shops, with their cheap laminate flooring and Radio 2's Stevie Wright in the afternoon blaring, into one single reason, it's this; I am convinced that all those lovely volunteer late-middle-aged women have collectively received thousands of donated vintage sewing patterns, maybe had a laugh with their colleagues about how their old mum used to sew all her clothes, and then systematically binned them all like some horrendous vintage sewing pattern holocaust.
Ok. So to be fair to charity shops, as I said earlier, I have also changed and become distanced. For one thing, I got into sewing my own clothes from scratch. The challenge of learning to make all the things I normally would have bought from a shops was/is so exciting. Starting a new sewing project from scratch is so full of promise, possibilities and offers complete control, that wandering around trying to find a gem in a charity shops when in your head you have a vision of exactly what you are damn well after can just be too bloody frustrating. And when you start to furnish yourself with the skills to make that vision a reality, it can be hard to go back to relying on the offerings that the charity shop gods choose to bestow on you during any given month.
Also, I physically moved away from charity shops, driving a further wedge between us. Correct me if I'm wrong, but from my experience of living in Barcelona, there seem to be no charity shops in Spain aside from a crazily expensive chain called Humana. I used to get my fixes when possible during visited back to the UK, but I guess I just got used to not having them as an option in my everyday life.
Then when I moved back to UK, as formerly mentioned, I ended up working for a textile recycling charity. When you receive bags and bags and bags of unwanted textiles every fortnight, a few pieces of which you are allowed for personal use for a small donation, the paltry stock of most local charity shops does not look inviting or inspiring. Ok, I got spoilt. I admit it, I am spoilt.
So where do things stand now with me and charity shops? You know what? Our relationship has entered a pretty stable phase. I'm still going to sew my own clothes, but the things I can't produce myself that I can get second hand, I'll keep hunting for in charity shops. So now, when I go in them I usually look for the following things: curtains and fabric if they have it (a guilt-free stash addition!), knitwear (especially fine-knit cardigans because I'll never be able to create those myself even when I learn to knit), shoes and boots (yeah some people think that's grim, but if they are fairly new then I'm fine with it), kitchen equipment (within reason, I wouldn't buy second hand pots and pans) and belts.
What about you? Have you noticed a change in your relationship to charity shops/thrift store/op-shops? Have they 'smartened up' and become boring round where you live? Do you prefer this cleaner thrifting experience? Do you have set things you always look for when you visit them?