Tassel loafers, Harrington jackets and seventies-era shirts with point collars, are just a few items of clothing spotted on our streets today that for those old enough, will evoke a strong sense of Déjà vu. In amongst the misery of mass retail closure during the credit crunch, something remarkable actually happened in the shopping realm. Rising from the ashes of the corporate bonfire, charity shops expanded during the recession and reached record figures of £1 billion back in 2012.
Although there are countless benefits to visiting charity shops, throughout their life span, visitors have approached these stores with the same trepidation one would usually reserve for adult video shops. Sneaking in, hopefully unnoticed, and searching for a bargain amongst the bric-a-brac on offer and occasionally finding a gem – the ideal scenario in a charity shop being that the delightful elderly woman who accepted the donations was unaware of the value of the classic Ben Sherman shirt that she put on the rack for £3.
If you walk into an Oxfam store nowadays however, you won’t be hit by that stuffy smell that used to await you at charity shop entrances; instead you’ll be greeted by a similar sense of commerce you would expect from any high street shop. The clothes are organised into easy to find sections and visiting the changing rooms is no longer a terrifying experience. It seems charity shops are officially cool.
Why the Sudden Interest in Charity Shops?
An obvious answer to this question is one of timing, as the rise of the charity shop revolution coincided with people’s disposable incomes being slashed. So it makes logical sense that people were looking to make savings in their shopping budget. But the answer could be somewhat more convoluted than that, with many possible theories circulating as to what the charity shops are doing right.
There is an argument that fashion trends have independently changed with no correlation to the financial downturn and charity shops have gotten lucky. This current fashion trend has seen things like gold watches making a comeback, mod attire being seen more and more, and bright, flashy summer shorts coming back into style – so the recession may have little to do with it after all.
Then there’s another idea that over the past ten years, charities like Oxfam have seen a shift in the demographic of people who volunteer on their tills. Traditionally, the image of charity shops is one of an army of benevolent elderly ladies serving as foot soldiers in the stores up and down the country. However, while the elderly haven’t exactly been replaced, young people have joined the ranks to bolster their CV and give back to the community at the same time. This shift of staff demographic has arguably aided the new clientele.
In any case, it’s clear that shoppers need no longer worry about concealing their identity, as they can happily visit charity shops these days without embarrassment.