With the 2013 boot fair season under way, I thought it would be the perfect time to reawaken my blog and pose the question:

What is it that drives me to get out of bed at 6.30am on a Sunday morning during the summer months?

The prospect of finding a bargain at my local boot fair, that’s what.


I don’t venture into “real shops”, haven’t done so for many years, always preferring second hand sources, and I still only have one brand new item of clothing in my wardrobe.  My approach is partly influenced by money: the less I spend, the more spare cash there is to pay for days out and treats for the family.  My main motivation however, is that I was brought up going to jumble sales and wearing second hand clothes, and the concept of reusing what someone else no longer wants and thereby preventing it from being thrown away, is fundamental to who I am and central to my approach to life in general.

Jumbles sales, whilst a frequent event when I was a child, are rare these days and boot fairs have replaced them as a way of getting rid of your old clothes, toys, books and household items.  We are fortunate in Tunbridge Wells to have a number of local boot fairs which are well run and well attended by sellers.  Stall numbers vary according to the weather and on a sunny day the field will be full of stalls, providing plenty of choice for the buyer.


I try to go to the boot fair every week.  My children have inherited my enthusiasm for second hand shopping and are eager to come with me to spend a portion of their pocket money: last Sunday the three youngest each spent less than £1 and came away clutching a number of soft toys to add to their growing collections.

It’s very rare for me to come away from a boot fair empty handed and I will usually leave with a grin on my face having found at least one thing on my list.  This is what’s currently on there:

*  books in the Skulduggery Pleasant series for my teenage son
*  various titles in the Ladybird fairytales series for my girls
*  a bikini or swimsuit for my 12 year old daughter
*  a pretty jug to stand my collection of knitting needles in
*  sandals for my youngest son
*  buttons, zips and interesting fabrics (obviously!)


I love finds like this

If I’m patient then I know I will find what I’m looking for, and I think that’s the key: eventually everything on my list will appear on someone’s stall, provided I keep looking.  A case in point: I recently flouted my own rule and went online to buy a fold-up table for use at craft fairs; low and behold, what did I see  a week later at the boot fair?  Exactly!  A similar table, in very good condition, for a mere £3.

Take a look at the wealth of goodies that I picked up last year: pretty much everything you see in the following photographs was bought at boot fairs held between May and August 2012, with the occasional Freegle find thrown in for good measure.


3 wetsuits (£1 – £2 each); 4 boogie boards (2 @ £2 each, 2 @ 20 pence each!); swimming costumes and trunks for all 4 children (£1 each); sunhats and sunglasses (50 pence each); 6 beach towels (50 pence each); various buckets and spades (20 pence each); 5 pairs of beach shoes (£1 each); windbreak (free, via Freegle)

We play a lot of sport in our family and, with equipment being so costly, it’s always useful to find it second hand, such as this racquet bag for £1 and a brand new Carlton badminton racquet for £2.  A lot of our sports clothing also comes from boot fairs, which is a particularly economical way of buying it bearing in mind the children can grow out of it in a matter of weeks.  My favourite sporting find however, is the rounders bat which we bought for 50 pence; I’m still on the hunt for a stoolball bat though…….


The secret of successful boot fair shopping, in my opinion, is to have a really good rummage; quite often you will find a gem hidden at the bottom of the pile or in a box which no one else has bothered to look through.  It can be tiring, and disheartening sometimes if you fail to unearth a treasure, but perseverance pays off in the long run.

I rarely go to the boot fair looking for clothes for myself but, somehow, I always manage to come away having bought something.  The problem is, with prices as low as £1 or even 50 pence, I find it virtually impossible to resist.  There’s never a guarantee I’ll find something, but if I see a stallholder of similar size to me then I automatically stop to look through the clothes, just in case they are selling something I can’t live without………looking through my wardrobe, there seems to have been an awful lot I couldn’t live without!


Who could resist a pair of Tinkerbell fairy wings?

The dreadful thing is, even though the clothes are second hand, I have become a label snob: I will forgo the dress from New Look in favour of one from Hobbs and I will shun the trousers by George at Asda for a pair by Joseph.


The Hobbs t-shirt still had the price label on, for £35; I bought it for £1

Some people don’t like the idea of wearing second hand clothes, but everything can be washed; personally, I tend to avoid stalls if the seller smokes: as a non-smoker I simply don’t like the smell and find it hard to remove.

For me, the economics of buying second hand speaks for itself.  Take a look at the quality of the clothes I have bought from boot fairs over the last few years: there is no way I could wear brands like this if I had to buy them new.

My wardrobe consists of items from Hobbs, Coast, Great Plains, Phase Eight, Joseph, Monsoon, Jigsaw, Kew, Laura Ashley, Zara, Fat Face, O’Neill, Boden………

My wardrobe consists of items from Hobbs, Coast, Great Plains, Phase Eight, Joseph, Monsoon, Jigsaw, Kew, Laura Ashley, Zara, Fat Face, O’Neill, White Stuff, Boden………

Shoes and boots are usually plentiful and I have amassed a handsome collection over the years.  Once again they are all quality brands from makers such as Russell & Bromley or Clarks, and the ridiculous thing is that, when the heels wear down, it would be significantly cheaper to buy another pair from the next boot fair rather than have them re-heeled.

I have lost count of the number of compliments I have received for my shoes: my who collection cost less than one brand new pair

I have lost count of the number of compliments I have received for my shoes: my whole collection cost less than one brand new pair

My most extravagant boot fair purchase was the lace-up black boots: they were a hefty £10, but £10 is nothing for a quality pair of leather boots, is it?!

My most extravagant boot fair purchase was the lace-up black boots at a hefty £10, but £10 is nothing for a quality pair of leather boots, is it?!

People unfamiliar to boot fairs are often aghast when I tell them that something I am wearing cost £1, that a total outfit including the shoes was less than £5.  I have bought everything from summer to winter clothing, coats to swimwear.  Through trial and error I have developed an eye for what fits and what suits me, but I still make the occasional mistake in which case I give it to a charity shop or offer it on Freegle.


Buying coats on a sunny day seems an odd thing to do, but you’ll be glad you did when the winter arrives

Boot fair shopping is an inexpensive way of trying a new style: experiment a little and buy something you’d never normally wear. You might hate it but will have only wasted a few pounds; however you might love it and have discovered the new you in the process.  It’s also a very economical way of buying something for a one-off occasion, such as this outfit for a vintage fair.  Then again, I’m sorely tempted to wear this one again……


The skirt was a size 20 when I bought it; a few alterations and I had a bargain priced 1960s mini

Another altered item was this skirt, originally a dress: by simply removing the camisole section and using it to make a couple of pockets, someone’s cast-off has become one of the favourite pieces in my wardrobe.


Teamed with other boot fair finds: a Zara vest, Fat Face cardigan, H&M jacket and leather boots

Second hand doesn’t have to mean sub standard and it’s a great way to expand your wardrobe for very little cost but without looking as if you’re on a budget.  Sometimes you can even make money: I once found a £5 note in the pocket of a pair of jeans when I was trying them on at home.  They had only cost me £1.50.

Take a look in your local paper (or online) to find the date and venue for your local boot fair, set your alarm (if you’re lucky it will be an afternoon event) and start rummaging for bargains.  Let me know what you find…….