Charity shop chic

Helen wearing a Coast dress she picked up for just �12
Helen wearing a Coast dress she picked up for just �12

Charity shops can be a treasure trove of fashion finds, as well as an alternative to rampant consumerism. Helen McClements shares her good buys.

As inevitable as the wasps around the barbecue, come July and August, I seem to haemorrhage money. No matter that I book my flights early; rarely pay for hold luggage and scrabble about for deals on travel insurance, by the time my feet hit Spanish soil I’m usually skint.

Another great find

Another great find

One reason I’m often broke is that I get carried away with myself in the shops. I do love to replenish my wardrobe. And as the sun peeks tentatively through the clouds, it casts my existing ensembles in a negative light. How dull and tired they seem, and how the introduction of a few key pieces would transform it.

Often I shop when abroad, which is a lethal affair altogether because Euros still, to me, feel like fake Monopoly notes which I can spend willy-nilly in a Catalonian boutique. And spend I do. But a career break and subsequent career change have necessitated a curbing of expenditure.

Another pressing concern is the environmental impact of fast-fashion. The mass production of materials, (in particular polyester) releases toxins and CO2 gases into the atmosphere. Harmful waste is generated before the clothes even hit the shops, when dyes and micro-particles leech into our water systems. It’s a common statistic that we wear 20 per cent of our clothes 80 per cent of the time, so eventually many of our garments end up in landfill.

Other implications of rock-bottom prices of clothes are the working conditions in the countries where they are produced. In 2013 our attention was shockingly drawn to this fact when 1,135 workers, most of whom were women, were crushed to death when the five story Rana Plaza building collapsed in Bangladesh. This forced clothing companies to review safety policies, but consumers also need to look beyond the label and consider the realities behind low-cost clothing. Sadly, it’s only when manufacturers begin to feel a dent in their profits that they are motivated to create better workplaces for their employees. So what’s to do? Well aren’t we in luck that Ulster’s streets are lined with charity shops, which the good people of the local area keep stocked with fabulous pieces.

An outfit perfect for a sunny day

An outfit perfect for a sunny day

Over the years, I’ve picked up shoes from Dune and LK Bennett, dresses from Karen Millen and found pieces from Irish designers such as Helen McAlinden. I’ve yet to find anything from Orla Kiely in a charity shop, but I did get a tunic-dress once from a vintage sale in town. Ten years on and it’s still one of my favourites. It’s particularly satisfying when I say I picked it up for £30.

Both close to my heart and close to home is the Hospice Shop on Belfast’s Ormeau Road. Here, I’ve shown some of my favourite thrift shop purchases and accessorised them with shoes and sunglasses that they have in stock.

Last year, 3,500 families availed of the NI Hospice’s services. There are 26 stores across the Province, so start your guilt-free holiday shopping in earnest.

Here are my top three outfits that cover work, rest and play.

Before you fork out a hundred pounds plus for a wedding outfit, rifle through the rails of a charity shop near you. I picked this Coast wrap-dress (main image) for £12 pounds last year and here I’ve paired it with a pair of Florence and Fred heels. If we’re talking pay-per-wear, I’m now well in credit.

One of the benefits of charity shop plundering is that you come across labels of which you may never have heard. This dress (pictured top right) which I wear for work and bling up with accessories for heading out, is Vila. Never heard of it? No, me neither, but I’ve since found it on the ASOS site. I wear this more than any other dress in my wardrobe; in winter, with shiny boots and opaque tights, or as shown here in spring time with bare legs and court shoes from M&S.

And finally, is it time for the beach yet? This full-length turquoise maxi-dress from Wallis (pictured right, middle) will take you from the seaside to beach front bar, and team it with the kimono style top so you don’t roast the shoulders off yourself while you sip a sangria at lunch.

This summer, save yourself from debt and minimise your carbon footprint. You don’t need Whistles for your wedding outfit, Next for your new job or Hobbs for your holiday. Grab your bags for life, bring a friend along for the craic and see what bargains you can bag in your local charity shops.