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As a child and throughout my teenage years I was a member of the girl’s choir at my local parish church and also one of the bellringers.

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Ahhh, bless

Groups affiliated to the church would each hold an annual jumble sale to raise funds, and they were always very well supported by the people in the parish.  Leaflets would be put through doors during the preceding week and donations would be collected (quite often by a choirboy pushing a wheelbarrow) and stored in the vestry.  With a largely elderly population, collecting in this manner encouraged people to donate and in the days before bootfairs and “Cash in the Attic”, the quantity and quality of items was astounding: genuine antiques were common and there was always a large amount of vintage clothing (and by that I mean proper vintage dating back to the early 1900s, not just 10 or 20 years old, which is what the terms often refers to now).

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The bells on their way to Whitechapel Bell Foundry to be retuned

As helpers we would sort through all the donations and arrange them on the tables set around the walls of the church hall, and this was the part I liked best: what would be in the box……what treasures would I find?  However, whilst I enjoyed rummaging, it would always trigger a dust allergy and I would sneeze throughout the entire process!  Those helping had the opportunity of seeing anything interesting before anyone else arrived and as a result my sister and I began collecting: in my sister’s case dinner jackets and collarless shirts, and in mine vintage gloves and antique cameras and fountain pens.  At the age of 10 I clearly had a collector’s eye, but unfortunately lacked any entrepreneurial skill as my collections each found their way into another jumble sale after a year or two, when what I should have done was put them away in the attic and sold them for serious money a few years later.

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The only things that survived the cull and subsequent years of decluttering: two pairs of elbow length gloves that eventually found their way into my children’s dressing up box.

When the time arrived for the jumble sale to start the doors were opened and people would surge in, leaving etiquette and manners outside as they elbowed their way through the crowds in search of a bargain; some would make a bee-line for the bric-a-brac, others the clothing.  Prices charged were literally a few pence, with clothing selling for 2p or 5p an item, but even at those prices we would raise large sums of money, anything from £50 to £250, which was a huge amount 30-35 years ago (oh heavens, I feel old!).

Clearing up at the end was another opportunity to find something interesting or useful as we sorted through what hadn’t sold, boxing up items that were in good condition to be stored for next time, and bagging up the remainder for collection by the rag man.

Jumble sales are few and far between these days, but they are still well worth a visit, as long as you remember to sharpen your elbows before you go 🙂

I still remember some of the outfits I found at when I was a teenager: I was very proud of the cord jeans which I took in at the seams to make them skin tight, a gorgeous pair of cream fabric stilettos and an amazing 1950s cocktail dress that fitted like a glove.  Oh, and talking of gloves, my all time favourite was a pair of rabbit fur gloves which I adored (very non PC I know, but I was a mere 12 years old and hadn’t heard of animal rights).  Wearing secondhand clothes was perfectly normal for me and there was no stigma attached as far as I was concerned.  However, I recall overhearing someone at school saying how dirty and awful it was: that kind of opinion didn’t bother me then, and it doesn’t bother me now, clothes can be washed after all.

My love of thrift shopping, secondhand, pre-loved, whatever you wish to call it, has continued to grow and it’s something I’ve passed onto my children who love getting “new” clothes be they from a charity shop, bootfair or a bag of hand-me-downs from friends.  When my eldest son was 9 years old I was given a pair of trainers that one of his friends had grown out of and at badminton training that weekend his friend was showing off his new trainers, “I’ve got new trainers too” said my son, “look”…….little did he know that his “new” trainers were in fact his friend’s old pair.  Unlike adults who may have found themselves in that situation, there was no embarrassment on either side and even now, at almost 14 years old, my son isn’t at all bothered by wearing secondhand clothes and doesn’t care whether he has the latest label.  All 4 of my children have the same attitude and the only brand new items of clothing they receive are given by friends or relations at Christmas or for their birthday.

In 2008 I was involved in a television programme called Twiggy’s Frock Exchange in which a group of women handed in a number of outfits they no longer wore, and chose something else to take home in exchange.  It was shown on BBC2 and I still have the first dress I chose and it remains one of my favourites.  Gok Wan does something similar on his show, and there is a trend for holding clothes swap parties, also known as swishing: why not get together with a few friends and see whether any of you have unwanted clothes that you’d be happy to swap?

My “Twiggy’s Frock Exchange” dress

I was so in awe of being on TV that I even took a photo of the screen! This is me, post makeover.

Most of us buy far too many clothes, myself included, and as a result we throw too many clothes away, as reported by Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent in today’s Telegraph (31st May 2012).  My own motivation for wearing secondhand clothing embraces the need to keep things out of landfill whilst saving me money, and it also satisfies my desire to rummage.

I genuinely wouldn’t know how to go clothes shopping in a “real” shop any more.  For one thing, there’s far too much choice: I’m used to charity shops where there will be a handful of dresses in my size (although none of them may be to my taste) or a bootfair where there will usually only be one or two sellers with clothing in my size or style.  The other aspect of high street shopping is that you are more likely to bump into someone wearing the exact same outfit, whereas buying secondhand usually leads to a more individual style.  It’s literally been years since I bought anything brand new, and the dress is still in my wardrobe, the only new item surrounded by other people’s castoffs.

My one “new” dress

My approach to shopping hasn’t stopped me from being a label snob though.  I’m fussy about what I wear and whilst I’m know there’s nothing wrong with supermarket brand clothing and shops such as New Look, I’ve grown to prefer higher end labels, and shopping in the way I do means that I can afford them.  My wardrobe is full of items from Whistles, Monsoon, Jigsaw, Phase Eight, Great Plains…..and there’s a certain satisfaction to be gained from buying a pair of LK Bennett shoes for £1 as opposed to paying the retail price of £129.  No, they’re not this season, but that doesn’t bother me, yes someone else has worn them, but in a similar fashion countless women will have tried on one particular pair of new shoes before they have eventually been sold, and if it really bothers you then you can simply disinfect secondhand shoes before wearing them.

My much loved LK Bennett shoes, bought for the bargain price of £1

I’m often complimented on what I’m wearing and I’m always proud to explain my outfit’s heritage, and have converted several friends to secondhand shopping in the process.  My one piece of advice would be not to give up if you don’t find something at the first attempt: as I’ve mentioned before, turnover in charity shops is high and you may have to visit several bootfairs before you find someone selling clothes that fit both your body shape and your fashion sense.  Freegle is another occasional source of clothing for me and, along with charity shops and recycling banks, is one of the places I get rid of clothing I no longer wear.

I have no desire to teach anyone how to suck eggs but, as you know, this is a passion of mine so please, when you next sort through your wardrobe take a look at what you’re getting rid of:

1. Can it be upcycled into a new outfit, a bag, a patchwork?

2. Can you take it along to your local charity shop or clothing bank?  Even rags can be of use for textile recycling.

3. If transport is a problem then join your local branch of Freegle or Freecyle and someone wanting what you are offering will collect from you.

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