Stylish Academic Fashion Editor, Madeleine Seys, passionate ethical shopper and thoughtful dresser, provides her advice for thinking outside the box and finding unique pieces in charity shops.  

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Marie Kondo has people world-wide tidying up and reconsidering their relationships with their possessions.

Wardrobes have been a popular target of this tidying verve and, as a result, donations of clothes, shoes and fashion accessories to charity shops have increased significantly.

For those of us with an eye for the unique and the unusual, and a little imagination, this provides an unparalleled opportunity to find some new garments to suit your style. And you will not look like ANYBODY else!

When you don’t dress like everybody else, you don’t have to think like everybody else.

– Iris Apfel

Recently, Aaron Hanlon recommended shopping at charity stores as one of his Top 4 Fashion Tips You Should Know.

The secrets to successful thrift shopping are creativity and bravery.

Creativity is needed to see the potential in every piece, and bravery to break all the rules in doing so.

The fashion world is driven by styles that change with every season, and by the conspicuous, perpetual consumption of these styles. On the high street, clothes are categorised by price, by gender and by age.

Thrift shopping means openly flouting each of these conventions.

Since childhood, I have been inspired by the creative possibilities of second-hand clothing to make a unique sartorial statement – from my dress-up box to hand-me-downs. As an academic and thoughtful dresser, I am drawn to charity shops again as a source of ethical and environmental style that breaks the cycle of consumption and waste.

With a little careful consideration, you will find thrift shops to be a treasure trove of stylish, high-quality and vintage pieces that you can make your own. 

My tenets for successful thrift shopping are:

#1 Seek out high quality fabrics

Feel everything!

But make sure you always check woolen garment for holes.

Wool coats; silk shirts scarves and ties; cashmere jumpers and cardigans; cotton shirts; you will find high quality and long lasting wardrobe staples in the racks of your local thrift shops!

#2 Look for labels

With a little bit of luck, you will find designer or vintage pieces to add to your wardrobe.

#3 Shop outfit your size

Look for garments that can be worn oversized or cropped, or that you can add a belt to, in order to create a new silhouette.

Think about garments that can be taken in or re-tailored to fit.

Don’t be afraid to try anything on – you might mind a treasure in an unlikely place.

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#4 Don’t be constrained by categories

Discard the categories which dictate clothing marketing: womenswear, menswear, children’s wear, formal wear and dress ups.

All thrift shops use different categories, each of which of hold exciting possibilities for the creative and thoughtful dresser.

Fabulous vintage garments can often be found in the dress-up or formal wear sections. A men’s shirt can be an over shirt, or belted to create a fitted silhouette. A blazer can be an overcoat. High quality denim pieces are effortlessly glamourous and androgynous. The children’s section can provide exciting possibilities for garments to be re-purposed or worn cropped.

#5 Be creative!

The successful thrift shopper thinks creatively about how and when a garment can be worn.

Cardigans, jumpers and shirts can be worn backwards as unique tops. Garments can be layered in unexpected ways. Cardigans can also be worn upside down, creating a cropped shape with exaggerated collar.

Dresses can be worn with trousers, or over shirts as pinafores.

Vest or jackets can be worn open or closed.

An evening dress can be shortened for day wear.

Trousers can be cuffed for a more casual look. The possibilities are bound only be your creativity.

#6 Remember, wash and dry-clean

Washing or dry cleaning every piece you bring home is not only is this healthier for you, it guarantees that your wardrobe will remain safe from a moth infestation.

#7 And finally, pay it forward!

As you refresh your wardrobe, pass on those pieces that no longer bring you joy or suit your purposes.

As stylish academics, we have a responsibility to think about what we consume and what waste we produce. Thrift shopping is a great wat to do it; and to look fabulous at the same time!   

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Dr. Madeleine C. Seys is a lecturer in the Department of English and Creative Writing at The University of Adelaide where she teaches pre-twentieth-century literature, popular culture, and fashion. She has a reputation as a stylish and somewhat eccentric academic, with a collection of outrageous jackets, well-cut suits, and unusual jewelry. She is also the Fashion Editor at Stylish Academic.