A Humorous Guide to Charity Shops for Real Vintage Fans

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Are vintage shops pretentious? Undoubtedly. But that doesn’t mean you should completely give up on vintage clothing – after all, there’s always charity shops too. 

Vintage Clothing. I’ve made my living from it. From my initial years trawling cheap charity shops in towns full of the unemployed sons of unemployed coal miners to flogging the shirt (and jacket) off my back, it’s been an interesting decade trying to Midas old clothes into treasured finds. Not that it takes so much work really. Old clothing is exceptionally interesting, yet I doubt that the vast majority of the general public have been in a vintage shop or even considered wearing second-hand clothing.

I guess this comes from our despicable youths.  Growing up there was always an almost innate feeling that people who bought their clothes from Oxfam were ‘scunners’ even though you often found yourself (somewhat under duress) trying to locate a Thundercats VHS when you were sure no-one from school was around grass you in. Or at least I certainly was. Considering pocket money was around about 50p every Saturday I’m not 100% sure why I wasn’t hanging out there weekly to buy bargain accessory-less He-Men and dog-eared Point Horror books but you know what kids are like.


Anyway yes. With student life and debt extending my overdraft daily I took to the notion of picking out and selecting various gems to sell on. I believe my first swag was a load over oversized overcoats from The Cats Protection league but I might be wrong. I had discovered Buckfast at the time. Though my studies suffered somewhat in my monomaniacal determination never to temp in the funeral department of Norwich Union again, my eccentric hobby became my idiosyncratic job. Scurrying around the Northeast trying to find the best stock and the cheapest prices pushed the boundaries of what was deemed acceptable travel-miles on a Young Person’s Railcard. I had a network of £1 bins and reduced sale rails in these quasi-bohemian years and it was fun in my early 20′s surviving on the breadline as a thrift shop glamour model. In recent times, due to charity shops actually cottoning on to this vintage ‘trend’, and I’m not sure of the statistic here, there’s probably around a 5-1 ratio of vintage shops to pubs closing daily. The main cause of closing often tragically cited is pretentiousness trumping reality when it comes to overpricing ponchos, overly décor and actively indifferent staff…

Compare this to a charity shop on the other hand, the archetypal vintage shop. Yes OK the staff may not always be completely well rounded in the emotional department but at least they are friendly and helpful. Maybe David, the former Literature A-Level teacher from Darlington, is perhaps acting out years of repression by invading the space of the more attractive customers. Sure, Audrey lost her husband to a rare strain of spleen cholera and will never talk of anything but ‘Her, Stewart’ but at least they don’t contrive to make your visit as shabby chic as possible. Charity shops really make you dig deep for your find and you will come out a better more well rounded person after visiting their arbitrary stocking manner. After all, sizing items together on rails is so linear… man.

In a vintage shop, even when you try to stalemate a monotone warning shot of ‘Can I (intake of breath) help you?’ with a meek ‘Just browsing.’ you know you’re the subject of such in-palatable disdain that even buying their most overpriced pair of 70′s tan brogues won’t full consulate it. Regular visitors live in fear of a high street tag boldly poking out of their shirt and being taken out the back and boot polished until you concede that Kasabian are the best-dressed band in the history of panto.

You’d definitely never get that in a charity shop, if anything to due to their complete lag of social or trendy tags. Although, for the record for those that might need such monikers, in my book ‘Vintage’ means 20th Century original. ‘Retro‘ means anything after that AND high street reproductions. Vintage carries a weight of authenticity in it’s spoken sound, the appearance of the word itself lends it a tone of credibility that shouldn’t be bandied around lightly. Retro is the bluff-word of a marketeer, it’s the flimflam PR in my craw and the regurgitated campaign in your bile duct. Vintage shops that sell retro or new stock to me are as semi-colons were to Kurt Vonnegut; they are ‘transvestite hermaphrodites’. That recently screen-printed (Read bootlegged) Warhol-esque Debbie Harry T-shirt belongs in a high-street chain who, despite their occasional sins, will at least license the damn thing properly from the artist.

Charity shops really make you dig deep for your find and you will come out a better more well rounded person after visiting their arbitrary stocking manner. After all, sizing items together on rails is so linear… man.

So yes. Out with you vintage shops and in with your local charity shop. Actually if you live in a city forget that. Their prices will probably stop you from ever getting on the property market (Aside: you’re never getting on the property market) so why not head out to the forgotten bits of countryside you’ve never visited or the rougher more Neanderthal conurbations where you wouldn’t stray after twilight in fear of a head clubbing. As charity shops in these outer zones are much less pillaged by your vintage-seeking rivals so it truly is only here you will find that right blend of the cheap and the priceless. I rarely agree with anything Paul Weller says or does but there’s truth in a statement he said in his earlier, better-dressed years: “In the city there’s a thousand men in uniforms.”

Try not to be one yeah?

Lucian Tanner is the owner of  Thrifty Beatnik, eBay's largest vintage menswear shop

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