Nifty Thrifty

Yesterday, as I interviewed the best dressed couple at the Spring Vintage Ireland Fashion & Decor Fair, the winning lady explained to me that she was a ‘second-hand Susie’ (or was it Sally?); her husband echoed her description referring to his own dress. Of course everyone in the running was a ‘second-hand someone’ – this was a Vintage event after all – but she was pointing out that her particular purchases were from charity stores rather than specifically Vintage ones. She had been ‘thrifting’ as her American cousin might say (I don’t know if she has an American cousin but I have one and they’d say it).

thrift-shop copy

During my time in New York last year, I witnessed many a Vintage store owner grimace when anyone referred to their highly curated store as ‘thrift’. I also observed many a Vintage aficionado gush about their love of ‘thrifiting’ by way of explanation of their Vintage habit. So whose lead to take on casual cross-referencing?

In Ireland we don’t really get into the notion of thrifting too much (unless it’s late on a hungover Sunday evening and we’re utterly engrossed in it vicariously via American cable). We have Vintage stores and we have charity finds and we generally distinguish the two quite naturally. Then we have markets and fleas which muddy the explanation waters slightly but generally we just call them by name too. ‘Shthraaait-forward-Susies’ we are ’round here.  Also, the lack of super-store zillion square foot thrift locations such as Salvation Army depots mean the undertaking isn’t quite the Olympic-like pursuit that it is over the waters.


Of course there are plenty of charity stores that refer to second-hand finds as Vintage and whilst the authenticity of both the items and description may be questionable, we are all pretty happy to decipher the distinction ourselves. ‘Vintage’ sells so I’m not going to get in too much of a flap if a charity shop takes liberties with the term in the name of marketing and fundraising. Are you? Well, maybe if you’re a Vintage store owner. Oh the politics!

Regardless of the categorisation, I do know that lots of Vintage lovers began their affair with ‘old’ by first discovering their local charity shops and engaging in some serious sartorial discovery. It gave us all an appreciation for reinvention, salvage, longevity, craftsmanship, sustainability and customisation. It also gave us an education in shite clothes, awful finishes and horrid fabrics so I guess charity stores are somewhat of an uncertified learning ground for all with even a passing interest in fashion or clothing.

Irene O'Brien Vintage

Recently a journalist interviewed me for an article on ‘thrifting’ in Ireland – this was off the back of the Beckham’s getting in on the charity store drop-off action. Alas the article was never printed (I can’t help feeling my photo-shoot didn’t go too well) but I thought I’d share my tips with you nonetheless. This thought did conveniently coincide with discovering my original email to said journalist whilst searching for something else terribly important. If only I could remember what that was now…

My pointers for successful charity shop/ thrifting action:

1) Check your levels. How excited are you about this piece *regardless* of price? Change from a tenner can make a pretty attractive offering but if you’re never going to use it, it’s just a case of less shekels and more hoarding.

2) Sniff your stains. Granted, not the most appealing prospect but the difference between paint splashes and toothpaste marks is the difference between completely non-salvageable and wet-wipe ready-to-wear. Some odours are just never leaving so best cut all ties early on.

3) Scratch your leather. Testing the garments with a little non-violent pressure can give you a good idea of the quality of the fabric and a realistic expectation of how it might wear. Gentle now.


4) Pick your pockets. There truly is little more regrettable than putting your hands into a pocket only to find someone else’s used tissues. Also to be discovered may be chewed gum, fluff-covered sweets and entirely torn seams.

5) Click your heels. If you are in the minority of people that are ok with wearing previously loved shoes then there are rather wonderful bargains to be had. However, do be sure to give your shoes a little cymbal-like clash to ensure the heels aren’t in fact held together with blue tack.

6) Get it on. No, there won’t be style advisors on hand, and floor to ceiling mirrors with flattering lighting are unlikely, but this does not mean the fitting room should be avoided. If it doesn’t fit and you have no intention of altering it, you won’t wear it so bite the bullet and try before you buy.

Dressing room

7) Google it. If you know you’ll never wear it but have a feeling it might make you millions when you resell on ebay, just take a minute to search the label on your smartphone for confirmation. Funny how Louis Vuitton commands so many more zeros than Louis Wuitton.

8) Cross dress. Whereas you’re unlikely to find a pink prom dress in the men’s section of BTs, charity shop merchandise manages to make its way to all manner of unintended locations. Be sure to always check the rails that you never would elsewhere.

9) Make friends. Most charity shop workers are masters of multitasking and will happily add your dream of an original Kylie & Jason sweater to their ‘look-out’ list if you ask them nicely. Just try not to be too forgettable.

Shopping counter 1940s

10) Buy it! Although it’s true that many (lots) of the previous tips may seem to contradict this statement, you should never, ever leave a charity shop or thrift store without an item you have just fallen a little in love with. You’ll come back, it’ll be gone, you’ll be sorry. Hey, I never claimed I was consistent.

Any tips to add to above? Or any charity stores I should be adding to my shopping route?

Irene xXx