I’m sure you all know by now how much I love searching for fashion bargains. I think most of the outfits I feature here on the blog have at least one piece from eBay or a charity shop. In fact I rarely pay full price for anything. That might make me sound stingy, but I prefer to think of it as being savvy. After all, there’s no point paying top dollar for something when you don’t have to is there?
I know a lot of people baulk at the idea of buying second hand clothes, but you can dress stylishly on a shoestring without stepping foot in a charity shop if that’s not your thing. Even when I buy new I try to make sure I get the best price. For someone who loves clothes, shoes, handbags and jewellery as much as I do it makes sense. I don’t have a massive budget but I do shop smart, and by that I don’t mean poor quality. Fast, cheap fashion isn’t really my thing. I very rarely purge my wardrobe, so I have to justify everything that comes in. Well, that’s the theory, occassionally I get carried away and buy something wildly impractical 😉
I always try to keep an open mind when shopping for clothes, which is why I’ve got such a diverse range in my wardrobe. My choice of outfit is influenced mainly by three factors: occasion, mood and weather. I don’t have a set style because that would be self-limiting. I have a lot of clothes is because I shop wisely, so today I’m sharing my tips for bagging fashion bargains.
I’ve scored some fantastic bargains on eBay, on all manner of things – coats, bags and footwear being my top items to look for. I’d say around 90 per cent of my purchases have been good ones, and the few that have been disappointing have been resolved/refunded quickly. The most important thing is to read the description and know your size because as we all know, it can vary across brands. If in doubt check on the label’s own website.
Sometimes the photos are poor quality or the description doesn’t tell you much. If you have enough time before the auction ends it’s worth sending the seller a question. Most times they will be happy to answer your queries. If they don’t it’s probably best to leave it because a lot of sellers don’t offer returns unless you can prove the item is not as described or damaged. And of course you should always check the sellers feedback.
If I’m looking for something that’s fairly common I’ll add a few to my watch list and see how much they sell for before bidding on anything. You can also search for completed auctions which will show if an item sold, and if so, for how much. You can only be sure you’re getting a bargain if you know what the going price is. Once you know what you’re happy to pay (after factoring in postage costs) have a limit and stick to it.
I never bid with more than 45 seconds left. Usually I put my first bid in at 30 seconds and if there have been other bids before I immediately raise my limit. This can block a counter bid in the dying seconds. It’s a bit like a game of cards because it’s best not to show your hand too soon. If I’m outbid I keep upping it until I reach my limit, but I keep watching to see the final price.
If there’s a “buy it now or best offer” option don’t be afraid to make an offer lower than the buy it now price. I’ve done this several times and have never been knocked back (which proably means I could have gone in lower). Don’t make an insultingly low offer, but if you’ve been watching similar items (as the seller probably has) you’ll both have an idea of what’s a reasonable price. The worst that can happen is they’ll say no and then you can decide if you want to make a higher offer or leave it.
Apparently Sunday evenings are the best time to sell, so it makes sense that it’s probably not the best time to buy. I’ve had to miss out on quite a few auctions lately simply because they have ended during my drive home from work. In most cases these items have either sold for the starting price or not at all. Timing is everything with eBay.
One other trick I’ve used occassionally is to search for misspelt items. For example, if you’re searching for Roberto Cavalli, also search for “Roberto Cavali”. You might just find something with not many watchers. This tip comes with a word of caution though; there are a lot of fakes on eBay, which is the main reason I don’t buy designer brands. If you buy a “Channel” bag thinking it’s a genuine Chanel, you’ll most likely be very disappointed. If you are planning on buying a preloved designer bag it’s better to play it safe with a site such as Vestiaire.
It seems that charity shops are like Marmite: you either love or hate them. Personally I love them and have found some incredible bargains in them. Not all are used either – some have still had the original price tags on, like the pleated skirt above that I feature in my last post. My best bargains have been with jackets and coats. The two jackets in the photos above are among my favourites. I can’t wait for warmer weather so I can wear jackets and lighter coats again.
Looking for bargains in charity shops requires time and patience. Some days I don’t find anything and on others I strike lucky several times over. Due to the randomness of charity shop shopping you have to keep an open mind (it’s pointless looking for something too specific) but on the other hand there’s no point buying something for the sake of it. Before buying I check for flaws and stains, then ask myself if it fits well, is good quality and will work with my existing wardrobe. Many times I’ve been tempted to buy another jacket or coat because it’s a bargain but then I remember I have one similar and stop myself.
Most charity shops set their clothes out in groups of trousers, skirts, tops etc, in order of size so it’s easy to see what’s relevant to you. It’s worth looking at the size below and above what you’d usually wear because sizing isn’t consistent. The check jacket above is a size 14, but I usually wear a 12. I almost didn’t bother trying it on, but I’m very glad I did! I don’t like using the changing rooms but I’m happy to throw off my coat in the shop to try a jacket on. Some shops do have a returns policy, but to be honest I’d rather re-donate if it doesn’t fit, or give it to a friend.
If that certain fusty smell puts you off charity shops remember that you can easily wash most items. Check the washing instructions on the label if in doubt. When I bought the green Laura Ashley coat above, I took it straight to the dry cleaner’s next door. Ok, it cost as much to have it cleaned as it did to buy, but £20 for a nice clean, good quality coat is still a bargain!
One item I have never bought in a charity shop is a handbag. I’ve found members-only shopping sites to be the best place to bag a bargain (pardon the pun!). Private shopping clubs such as Cocosa, Secret Sales, Brand Alley and Vente Privee have amazing discounts on both designer and high street brands. The sales are time-limited, usually only lasting a few days, and when it’s gone it’s gone.
Although they are Members-only, anyone can sign up. You get regular emails with current and upcoming sales so you don’t miss out. A word of warning though: these sites are seriously addictive. I’ve bought lots of handbags from these sites, but when you can get up to 80 per cent discount it’s very hard to resist! That said, I use the two bags on the left so much for work, and at around £50 each they have proved to be savvy purchases.
One of my best buys from one of these sites (I think it was Brand Alley but can’t be sure) was my camel coat (pictured below). I’d been wanting one for ages and when I saw this one discounted to around £30 I snapped it up…even though it was the middle of Summer! I’ve always bought out of season because that’s how you snag the best bargains. I can honestly say it was one of the wisest purchases I’ve ever made because I’ve worn it almost every day over winter. If you find a classic item from a well-known brand at a knock down price it’s a safe bet.
Because these flash sales only last a few days you can’t hang around. Often the available sizes are limited (especially with shoes) so use the filter to avoid wasting time. These sites sell a lot of labels that I’m not familiar with so checking the size chart is essential. The delivery costs tend to be higher than ordering from a high street retailer, which cancels out any savings on single, cheaper items. You often have to pay for returns too.
Cocosa have a 12-month delivery subscription combining buy now pay later and free delivery. The cost of your order is split into four interest-free payments, along with a fixed number of deliveries (within a 12 month period) for a set fee. You can choose four deliveries for £10, eight for £18 and 12 for £24. I paid for four just before Christmas and have used them up already…whoops!
If you’d like to try Brand Alley, when you sign up using this link we both get £20 credit when you make your first purchase. Secret Sales isn’t quite so generous, offering £10 for both parties, but still worth having!
…is to shop online via a cashback site such as TopCashback. I do this wherever possible. Not all retailers are listed, but many big names are (Brand Alley is too). There’s a higher rate of cashback for new customers, but even the lower rate for existing customers adds up over time.
Basically you sign up for an account, and every time you shop online, go to TopCashback first and type in the name of where you want to shop. Topcashback will give you a link to click on and that tracks your purchases. Cashback can take a while to clear in your account, but if you can leave it to accumulate it can be a nice bonus for Christmas shopping. They offer a referral code for introducing friends so if you fancy signing up and go via this link I get a little bonus 🙂