Clothes as currency

Now let’s get something straight here, I haven’t completely lost my marbles yet (well not all of them anyway), but has anyone else noticed how your unloved clothes are now a valuable commodity? I’m not suggesting that your bank manager would be too impressed if you dumped a black sack of your cast-offs on the counter as a down payment on the mortgage but do think twice before you dump them for real.

Now let’s get something straight here, I haven’t completely lost my marbles yet (well not all of them anyway), but has anyone else noticed how your unloved clothes are now a valuable commodity? I’m not suggesting that your bank manager would be too impressed if you dumped a black sack of your cast-offs on the counter as a down payment on the mortgage but do think twice before you dump them for real.

Charity shops are doing big business. A definite sign of the times as everyone looks for bargain buys. I’ve never been precious where I source my style from and have rooted through many stuffy charity stores over the years in search of the strange and unusual and have some gems for my efforts. Bags are a favourite find as someone else has done all the hard work breaking in the leather for me, and after a gentle clean they are infinitely better than handing over dosh for a throwaway bag that everyone else will have too.

The only problem is…. years ago (while the Celtic Tiger was still roarin’) the quality and quantity of donations to charity shops was excellent…these days, nobody wants to give anything away as they may never get another chance to own a designer garment. So even if it is hideous and two sizes too small it will be kept as a relic to show the grandchildren that nanny was actually quite cool and had impeccable taste…

The other problem is that with everyone dipping into cheap fashion there are a lot of thrashy bits comings in that are hardly worth charging for as they are falling apart and almost as cheap in the original store! But even these kind of clothes can earn much needed funds as they can be sold off by the bag for recycling.

You may remember Mary Portas (Queen of Shops) sprinkling some of her retail magic over some charity shops in the UK. She taught them how to display and merchandise like a proper store. The effect was dramatic. She also sourced designer cast offs for her now charity boutique.

A lot of the charity shops have taken this attitude on board. I still like walking into a shop that’s a bit of an Aladdin’s cave with the kitchen utensils tucked in with the frocks, videos, books and bric a brac. But, lots of the shops are ship shape now with stock grouped in sizes, colour and styles. Also, stock is season appropriate with summer stuff being sold off at the moment.

Last week I was given the task of helping some of the lovely transition year girls in the Presentation (hi girls!) with a fashion article for their school mag. You should have seen their little faces drop when I suggested we trawl the charity shops for bargain outfits! None of them had even walked into a charity store before – I could see the panic in their eyes as they dreaded the mortification of even been seen standing outside one of these type of stores! “They’re only for poor people aren’t they?” Oh my God – where do you think stylists get their unusual gear. “But someone else has worn them!” Yikes – a quick lesson in vintage clothing – you didn’t seriously think you were the first person to wear a 60 year old designer vintage dress did you??

I’m only a little bit evil so I brought them to a quiet spot first to Mrs. Quinn’s. The lovely Matt told us to work away and so we assigned some roles. One girl was voted to model, one the photographer, one journalist and of course, a stylist. The challenge was to pull together a daytime and an evening look from each store we visited. After the initial shock we found River Island Jeans (3 euro!), tops with tags still on and a dress (4 euro) that fitted like a glove. The little shop was buzzing, with donations being dropped in and every browser buying at least one item. A booming trade by all accounts. A lovely little kitsch lamp was handed in and sold again within minutes. Now that’s what you call a fast turnover of stock…

With a definite change in the girls’ mood, and some Werthers to give us a sugar boost, we headed of to the next shop with a more positive attitude. Vita is a small shop opposite the Court House and the girls loved it. They were delighted to find a whole rail of pretty dresses that were perfect on them with all the tags still attached. A boutique regularly donates to them and today was the girls’ lucky day. We were totally getting into the swing of it now and a few dresses were left aside and a cute brand new leather clutch bag found it’s way home with me (another one..). Well, it was only a fiver!

We headed up for a quick look in Oxfam and Enable Ireland as my little fashion crew were now genuinely looking for bargains for themselves at this stage. When I heard them discussing the high price of ten euro for a nearly new jacket they were considering I knew I had converted them. After all, nothing we fancied had been more than seven euro so far!!

I am looking forward to seeing the fruits of all their hard work when the magazine comes out. Future Vogue employees maybe?

I love the atmosphere in these little shops, as the customers are quite competitive. Who can find the best deal or the quirkiest item. There are not many stores that you can leave with a crime novel, an electric carving knife and a brand new guna and with change from a twenty note. Also, there’s the added glee of knowing your new wardrobe trophy was probably the only one in the store.

You will also have the benefit of a clear conscience too as you are effectively donating to charity. The next time you are having a cleanout make the effort to bring them to your favourite local charity shop. Your neglected castoffs will be someone else’s proud bargain.

So, if your pocket has been pinched by the recession you can still get a fashion fix buzz if you open your mind just a little bit. A fiver should do the trick. Being thrifty is all the rage you know….

P.S. join me this Saturday in Paul’s for another great Style Session from 2pm.

P.S.S. The KO Spa in the Ormonde Hotel are launching their new recession busting beauty packages this Thursday evening. If you’d like to attend just phone the Kilkenny Ormonde Hotel to register.