The Doodlebags’blog is now CLOSED on this site.
Please redirect to: http://www.doodlebags.net
The Doodlebags’blog is now CLOSED on this site.
Please redirect to: http://www.doodlebags.net
I have moved my blog to WordPress.org and it has a new address. This blog will no longer have any new content and will eventually be closed down. If you currently subscribe to my blog you will need to resubscribe to the new address ……at least I assume you do: if someone knows otherwise do please share with the group 🙂
Do please come over to my new site at http://www.doodlebags.net and say hello.
The new blog has been styled to operate in a similar way to a website and I would love to know what you think of it.
Yesterday I went to collect the second batch of fabric samples that I’m saving from landfill and, once again, I felt like a small child on Christmas Day: faced with sacks and boxes of beautiful fabric I didn’t know where to begin.
I started by exploring the easiest box, one that contained large oblong pieces of fabric not attached to cardboard hangers.
Inside I found an assortment of amazing textiles ranging from natural silks, woollens, cottons and linens, to some interesting and exotic synthetic concoctions. Many of the larger samples had smaller pieces in other colour-ways pinned to them and so, as well as saving the fabrics from the tip, I have also salvaged a huge number of safety pins.
Having reached the bottom of the first box and bagged up the majority of the contents to pass on elsewhere, I moved on to a box containing cardboard folders; it was gone midnight by this time and I should have been asleep, but sleep is of secondary concern when there’s fabric around.
It was assumed that I wouldn’t want the folders as they only contained very small swatches of material glued onto cardboard; that I would leave them behind to be thrown away. Instead I explained that I would recycle the cardboard, and loaded them into the car.
The swatches are samples of suiting originally destined for places such as Saville Row and Jermyn Street in London and made from the most luxurious lightweight wool, many of them blended with silk by the feel of them.
The fabric came away effortlessly from the cardboard without leaving any trace of glue behind, and as I continued to remove them, I realised they would make the most amazing patchwork quilt: they are pre-cut, all of a uniform size, and the muted greys, browns and blues would be perfect for my teenage son’s new room.
I still have a mountain of fabric to sort through, but I am pleased with what I have achieved so far; instead of being thrown away, the folders have been broken down into their constituent parts and I am left with:
I’ll let you know what else I discover as I explore the rest of my haul…..
I have a passion for fabric, but I didn’t realise how deep it ran until I began sorting through the contents of these bags.
As you know, I rescue fabrics from landfill. I loathe the thought of something being thrown away if there is a use for it elsewhere, so when I hear of fabrics that are on their way to the tip I feel compelled to step in and find someone who wants them.
The benefits of my rescue missions are many:
Usually I deal with sample books which I spend hours disassembling before redistributing the fabric swatches, or remnants of material that were originally destined for a long-abandoned sewing project by their owner. However, Friday’s haul was a completely different kettle of fish, and altogether more exciting.
The bags I collected were from a fabric merchant who supplies the top designers and London stores and the quality and variety of the contents was breathtaking. The pieces of material measure approximately 50cm x 30cm (and sometime much larger), and include jersey, cotton and silk, along with a variety of synthetics.
I couldn’t wait to sort through the bags and with every new piece of material I uncovered, came another exclamation of joy and wonder at its beauty. A bit OTT? Perhaps, but you should have seen it, felt it. The colours were stunning; the texture and feel of the silks, pure luxury.
As I mentioned, I usually keep a very small amount of the fabrics that I rescue to use in my work and pass the rest on to good homes; however, I didn’t want to let any of this go. Not one piece! Even if I couldn’t think of a use, I found myself justifying keeping it purely because of its quality and beauty.
If you have seen the inside of our house then you will know that it simply isn’t possible to fit any more material in and so, reluctantly, I am passing the bulk of the fabric on as usual.
Two sacks have already left the house and others are on their way to a number of schools, a youth art project, and a few local crafts people (including one lovely not-so-local lady who will be receiving a large bag full the next time we go to Wales). In addition, my daughters have syphoned off a carrier bag full for use at their dad’s house (they would have taken a bin bag had I let them…….where did they get their passion for fabric from I wonder?) and there is a bag of jersey and woollen samples for Richard’s mum to use in her rag rug projects at Rosemary’s Rag Rugs.
I am due to collect more samples next week and am looking forward to the delight of opening the bags: it’s almost as much fun as working with the fabrics themselves, which I will start to do……….when I have finished sorting……
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!)
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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……
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.
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…….
For those of you who have read the original “Are We There Yet?” post, you will know all about the travel bags I hand out to my children on lengthy car journeys. Well, for our recent trip to Wales I made the children a new bag each:
Elizabeth had been coveting a particular bag on my stall for some time so I thought I would make her something similar; then I had a light bulb moment and decided to give her the actual bag she liked, thus saving myself some work. Rebecca is a delight to make for and I knew would appreciate anything in her favourite colour of red; fast approaching 12 years old I made her an adult style messenger bag. Matthew was much harder as teenage boys don’t tend to have the same passion for bags as us girls, plus I had left his bag to the very last minute and so I needed something that would take minimal time to make; I settled on a simple drawstring rucksack which I knew would be useful in the long term. As for Andrew…..his bags was by far my favourite one to make and features an animal with which he has a long standing obsession: the dalmation.
As with all my Doodlebags work, each bag was made using upcycled textiles and trimmings: curtains, sample remnants, bed linen, a batik wall hanging and a fleece dressing gown.
For the trip to Wales I filled the bags with an assortment of goodies designed to keep the children entertained during the 4½ hour journey, including Doodlebags’ pencil cases, and notebooks which I made using recycled paper and materials from wallpaper sample books:
I distributed the bags in the car at the start of the journey and it was a delight to listen to the happy squeals as they discovered what was inside:
However, this time there was a twist: Richard had prepared a travel bag for me. Granted, it was presented in a Sainsbury’s carrier bag, but the contents were expertly chosen:
We have another trip scheduled for this month, this time to the Netherlands, so the bags have been restocked and will be re-presented to the children as we start our journey…….and this time I have prepared one for Richard:
Just like the one Richard prepared for me, I didn’t make the bag, and I will be wrestling this one from him for my own use 😀
So, what is Freegle and why do I go on and on about it?
Freegle is an online forum for giving and receiving unwanted items that might otherwise find their way into landfill. I’ve lifted the following explanation directly from their website:
Don’t throw it away – give it away!
You might not need your old sofa or wheelbarrow any more – but there might be someone just round the corner who does. Or if there’s something you’d like, someone nearby might have one that they might just throw away if they don’t know what else to do with it.
Freegle groups make this happen online. Sign up, post an OFFER of something you want to get rid of, or a WANTED for something you need.
We are a national grassroots organisation of people throughout the United Kingdom who are giving and receiving free unwanted items in their immediate communities. Local charities, non-profit groups and communities are encouraged to join.
All groups within this organisation operate with a basic principle – all offers and requests must be freegle (free and legal). Some groups may have additional guidelines such as no offers or requests for animals, or that items must be suitable for all ages.
Our aim is to keep anything reusable out of our landfill sites. Meeting new people helps to develop local community networks and friendships in the process.
Freegle is a collection of local groups that allow you to give stuff away when you need to get rid of it but don’t want to throw it in the bin. Or save something from landfill by asking for it; perhaps someone has just what you need that they were about to throw away.
Likewise, if you need an item you can request one on the list in the same way and if someone has what you’d like they will contact you off-list to offer it.
Just find your local group and get freegling! The group moderators will be happy to help you if you need any advice about any part of the above process.
We, as a family, have been using Freegle for many years and have been the lucky recipients of numerous pieces of furniture, household items, toys and clothing over the years. Our acquisitions include:
bookcases and a sideboard; 2 single mattresses; children’s bikes and toys; duvets and blankets; bedding and pillows; microwave; PC and printer; school uniform; chess set; two portable televisions; mobile ‘phone; bubblewrap and padded envelopes; two greenhouses; curtains; clothing and footwear; lavender; netballs; garden furniture……..
It’s amazing what people get rid of: I once saw a car being offered, albeit an old banger, but it was still a roadworthy car that the owner simply wanted to give away to a good home. Bear in mind though that you won’t normally see items of such significance being advertised, though it doesn’t stop people from occasionally requesting them. Who know’s, they might just get lucky.
Generally speaking, the quality of the items we’ve received has been excellent and we realise we’re extremely lucky to have benefited from other people’s generosity. On a handful of occasions an item that seemed ideal from the description proved to be unsuitable but we simply re-advertised it and gave it to another “Freegler”. We’ve also been known to use Freegle to upgrade: for example we needed a larger microwave so we posted a wanted message and on receipt of the one we currently have, offered our previous model which was simply too small for a family of six but perfect for its new owner.
Freegle is very much a two-way street and it would be unacceptable simply to take, take, take. By a rough calculation I judge that we have probably given away equal to what we have received, if not in value then in the sheer number of items. We could have sold things on ebay or taken them to a bootfair, but that takes time and effort, and the beauty of Freegle is that the person wanting the item will collect it from you.
The things we have managed to re-home include: plants; huge amounts of fabric and craft items; chest freezer; glassware and crockery; video and DVD players; various prams and pushchairs; duvets and bedding; microwave; PC and keyboard; slow cooker and pressure cooker; bathroom sink; DVDs and videos, toys and books, children’s bikes and garden toys; maternity wear; printer/scanner; school uniform; children’s clothing and footwear; adult’s clothing; sofa bed; ice skates; futon; garden chairs; two double beds and two single mattresses; bric-a-brac; cot bed; garden and allotment produce; two armchairs; wardrobes; storage boxes; reams of paper….. I’ve lost track of it all over the years.
A more important reason than simply saving ourselves the hassle of trying to sell the above items, was the desire to give something back in the way of a thank you for everything we have received, not necessarily directly to the people who gave us items in the past, but to the Freegle community in general.
The idea of community is central and I’m really pleased to have made some good friends through my local groups in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells. To help preserve the polite and helpful atmosphere that exists, there is an etiquette to be observed when using Freegle: polite requests and replies are a must. Unfortunately examples of bad manners can still be found which will prompt the moderator of the group to send out a gentle reminder to all members.
Most local Freegle groups have a Facebook page and Twitter account and are constantly developing ways of posting offers and requests in an effort to reach as wide an audience as possible and encourage more people to join, thus keeping as many items as possible out of landfill.
We have to move away from being a throw away society, or we will turn this planet into a giant rubbish tip. Take a look at the items you no longer want: if you can’t face the hassle of selling them or the effort of taking them to a charity shop or jumble sale, then give them away via Freegle or Freecycle. Even if something is out of date, broken or downright hideous, someone somewhere will probably have a use for it.
I never used to class myself as a lover of shoes, they were simply something I wore to protect my feet. In fact, I used to enjoy walking barefoot when I was growing up and still like going without shoes during the summer months; I’d like to start barefoot running as it’s meant to reduce the number of injuries but, ironically, injury is what’s preventing me from running at the moment.
On leaving work to have children, I no longer had a reason to wear high heels and so swapped them for flatties. Somewhere along the line however, I decided that I wanted to inject some glamour back into my life and I looked to stilettos once more. The only problem was, my feet had grown a full size thanks to childbirth, taking me from a UK size 4 to a 5. This was hugely inconvenient as all my old work shoes were too small, so it meant I had to go shopping; secondhand shopping obviously. For anyone who is now cringing at the thought of wearing someone else’s shoes, it’s easy enough to disinfect or sanatise the shoes if you feel it’s necessary.
I bought my first pair from Cancer Research UK in Tunbridge Wells. They couldn’t exactly be described as practical every day shoes but I fell in love with them and put them in my wardrobe for the rare occasion when we went out somewhere grand…….the fact that they remain in such good condition 12 years later will tell you that such occasions were very rare indeed.
The other, possibly more important issue was that I’d forgotten how to walk in heels!
My solution was to wear high heeled shoes whilst doing the school run: I used to walk three quarters of a mile each way to my children’s school, and I would use the buggy to lean on…….it was like having something between a baby walker and a zimmer frame. I never once fell off my heels or twisted my ankle, and even learnt to run in them (not just fast walking, but proper running at speed), both with and without the buggy! In fact, the only occasions on which I have twisted my ankle as an adult have been whilst running in dedicated running shoes or playing badminton, both supposedly healthy pursuits for which I now wear an ankle support in order to prevent further injury.
I bought a stunning pair of 4″ heels on Sunday at the bootfair and it’s been hilarious watching my children try them on and attempt to walk in them (all except my 13 year old son who outgrew me a year or so ago and is now a size 8!). Both daughters looked as ungainly and unsteady as Bambi learning to walk, but by far the funniest was my 7 year old son who shuffled round in them whilst dressed in his pyjamas. I foolishly forgot to take a photograph!
I have amassed a respectable collection of shoes over the last few years, not to mention a larger number of pairs of boots. As you’d expect all were bought at charity shops and bootfairs and are reasonable makes such as LK Bennett, Nine West, Next, Solo….. All were in excellent condition when I bought them, though some now need re-healing, which incidentally will cost considerably more than the shoes did. No single pair cost more than £5, which were the most recent sky scrapers from Nine West, having only been worn once (too high apparently!); most pairs cost an average of £1.
I have changed from someone who didn’t understand why women would swoon over a pair of Jimmy Choos to someone who has a Pinterest board dedicated to shoes and boots.
Talking of boots….no, I daren’t start…….that would be a whole other blog. Not to mention flatties, flip flops, sports footwear……….
Over the years I had unknowingly perfected the art of felting jumpers in the wash, thereby making my daughters happy by accidentally shrinking a wonderful selection of my cardigans to the perfect size for small people. When I started Doodlebags I thought I’d use this enviable skill (!) to upcycle some cream woollen blankets I got from Freegle (seriously, you have got to check out Freegle). I felted them by hot washing them in the machine and dyed them a variety of colours using machine dyes and then used them to make one of the first Doodlebags products: lavender hearts.
Looking to expand my product range to include my trademark Doodlebag as well as other bags and accessories, and wanting to continue with the theme of upcycling, I turned to charity shops, bootfairs and jumble sales for fabrics as well as clothing castoffs from family and friends. My favourite finds are curtains, sheets (particularly vintage ones in garish floral designs), duvet covers (children’s characters such as Rupert and Winnie the Pooh are perfect), shower curtains and of course the infamous tent from Freegle!
My favourite source of fabric however, is sample books. Fabric houses charge for their books and as the cost of each one can be quite high, it’s perfectly understandable that many want to recoup a percentage of their investment by selling them: prices seem to range from 50p to £10, which is still excellent value considering the quality.
I have been very lucky though to find a few interior designers who give me their sample books once the fabrics have been discontinued. I am usually able to collect immediately and so the advantage to them is that the books are not cluttering up valuable space in their workshop, nor do they need to arrange and pay for disposal. It’s dreadful to think that many sample books are still simply thrown away; I’ve contacted several shops in the past only to be told that they had taken a large number of books to the tip a few days previously……..nooooo!
Once I have the books they are stripped down entirely and virtually nothing is wasted. First all the fabric pieces are removed and sorted into a pile of those I can use and, sadly, a much larger pile of those I can’t. This is always the hard part as I’m reluctant to consign anything to the “no” pile and I have regular clear outs to weed out all the pieces that I kept because I liked them rather than because I could use them.
I disassemble each and every book, whether I will be using the fabrics or not, as I know someone else is more likely to use the swatches if they have been removed, rather than handing them a complete sample book. Though I’m tempted to keep everything, the majority of fabric pieces unfortunately aren’t suitable for my work and so I pass these on to places where they will be used rather than being thrown away. So far I’ve been able to redistribute the fabrics to various groups including: senior schools (Hillview and Skinners Academy), junior schools (Leigh, Stocks Green and Hildenborough), Home Educators (SEHE), playgroups (Silverdale Nursery), charities (YMCA and Alzheimers Society) and other crafters via Freegle.
Whilst I recognise the cost in obtaining the books is minimal, the manpower and time involved in dismantling them is considerable. I should perhaps take this opportunity to clarify something: when I say “I” disassemble the books, I really should change that to “Richard”. I do a few, but he is the king of deconstruction and has it down to a fine art….all he needs is a screwdriver and a pair of pliers plus a certain amount of brute force, and no fabric sample book is safe!
Once the fabrics have been dealt with the next stage is the books themselves, which is where I reclaim the screwdriver and pliers (plus a claw hammer to make up for the shortfall in brute force) and I give in to my basic urge to destroy!
Then the boards. Some have a complicated construction involving blocks of wood which are prised off (hence the claw hammer) and put into the designated skip at our local tip. Any nails, screws, and staples are removed and put into a jar because I’m absolutely convinced that (say it with me…) “they will come in handy one day”.
The boards themselves have a fabric covering which I strip off; as much of it has been treated with some form of plastic coating, I’ve yet to find use for this and so regrettably it currently goes into the bin.
All I’m left with then is a pile of thick boards, a few of which are used here at home, but the majority of which go to schools and playgroups for art projects.
STOP PRESS: Having been at an outdoor event in a field earlier this week, I can report that standing on boards that still have their fabric covers on is a great way to keep your feet warm(ish) from the damp ground……yet another unexpected use!
So, if you have the patience to attack a pile of out of date fabric sample books with a few basic DIY tools, you end up with: several bags of craft fabric and piles of art supplies destined for schools and charities, a pot of “useful” bits and bobs destined for my shed, plus some delightful fabrics for me to use.
Best of all, there’s only a small bag of rubbish destined for the bin.
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.
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).
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.
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?
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 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.
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.