Mithril: A Guide to Charity and Thrift Shops, how to find those hidden gems.

I’ve been volunteering in charity shops since I was 17 and they have been life savers to me in my cosplaying years. But to some people they have the reputation of being smelly and just full of stuff. This is a guide on what charity shops are really about and how to find what your looking for.

First of all I think I should explain the process of when a charity shop or thrift store gets it’s stock. First of all it goes through an inspection process where it’s checked for stains, holes and any smells which aren’t pleasant. If it has any of this it goes into a rag bag and a scrap clothing company pays per bag/kg and takes it away. Then it gets steamed, where a steamer steams out the wrinkles and freshens it up a little bit. Then it gets priced and put on sale.Shoes and handbags are checked for cleanliness and overall condition, no tears or worn down heals etc. Electrical items are pat tested to make sure they are fit for sale and bric a brac items are checked for cleanliness and any cracks. This process happens every day the shop is open, so there is no specific date things get put on the shop floor for general items. Some items like books or antiques can get put out on certain dates but it depends on who sorts out the items.

Charity shops don’t just sell the basics like tops and trousers, they can sell all sorts of things. I’ve bought and seen, a pair of getas, hoop skirts and fabric rolls. You never know what you’ll find in them, which makes it so much fun. Don’t just look for things for your cosplay project either you can find sewing books which are useful for learning techniques and patterns which are handy any time. Some charity shops also sell things like buttons, knitting needles and wool.

So now you’ve decided to go look in these shops for your next cosplay there’s a few pointers you should try and follow:

  • Give your self plenty of time to find the items, charity shops have stock giving to them at random, you may not find what you are looking for on your first trip.
  • Bring a reference picture, this will help you to pick the write shades and style of clothing. Nothing worse than thinking you found a bargain then discover the sleeves aren’t long enough.
  • You may have to alter the item of clothing, there are tutorials online that can help you or ask a relative or friend if they can help.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask the volunteers for help, most places have store rooms where they keep stock that’s not suitable for the weather or simply got no room for. You probably won’t be aloud to rummage for yourself but if you give your picture over they might be able to look for you and find what your looking for. We get people in asking for things for plays and stag do’s so don’t be afraid of asking.
  • Some charity shops will keep things by for you if you ask your looking for so and so. It’s normally things you’ll keep coming back for like particular books but if your doing a project that requires alot of a certain thing this can be handy.
  • Look at all the options, they might not have the top you’re looking for but a pair of curtains which is the right colour and material, can you make a t-shirt using this? Curtains in thrift and charity shops are about £3+ so much cheaper than meter of fabric.
  • Try and hit as many shops as possible in one go, prices vary between shops and have different stock.
  • Set yourself a price limit, some shops overcharge for their items so it’s important you take note of this. If you don’t have the cash on you at the time shops will hold items for you for a week or less. Be warned though if you don’t come back they will put the item back on sale.
  • Take note on the opening hours of a shop, some don’t open Mondays so it’s important to take note of this. Also some shops charge for carrier bags so bring your own.

They’re charity shops which just sell furniture and electrical, you can get desks, sewing machines, irons and much more. These won’t be the best quality but are perfect for light to medium usage, ideal if you’re just getting into the hobby and don’t want to spend £100+ on a sewing machine. These shops will also have a delivery van so for bulky items like a desk could be delivered, but there might be a small charge involved.

Hopefully these pointers will help you on your charity and thrift stores rummaging and don’t forget to have fun doing it.

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