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Reading last week’s Observer Magazine, a climate change-themed issue edited by Thom Yorke, I was finally convinced to make a commitment that I’ve been pondering for a while: for the rest of 2008, I’m only going to buy a brand new item if a) I can’t get it used or b) I am buying it directly from the person who made it. That includes clothes, shoes, furniture, kitchen stuff, etc. Given that we’re planning to move house in 2008, that could end up being quite a challenge, but I’m going to do my best.

I didn’t have to work last Friday so I decided to use the day to explore some London charity shops and vintage clothing stores. Helpfully, the issue of Time Out that had arrived on our doorstop three days previous had a feature on where to shopping for used clothing bargains in London. I picked out six of them, plotted my route, grabbed my A to Z, and headed out on my thrift shop adventure.

I started at the Salvation Army store in Princes Street just behind Oxford Street. They pack a lot of clothes into a smallish space! The selection was decent and prices were dirt cheap. Most items I looked at fell in the £3-7 range. I had the delight of overhearing an older gentleman ask the clerk why a particular men’s suit was priced quite a bit higher than the others on the rack. She pointed out that it was Christian Dior. That didn’t seem to mean much to him! I didn’t buy anything at the Salvation Army this trip, but it’s definitely one that I will be returning to.

From there, I walked up to Marylebone where I stopped at Barnardo’s in George Street and Cancer Research UK in Marylebone High Street. Both of them were — as you would expect in Marylebone — quite posh and a good bit higher priced than the Salvation Army. Cancer Research UK in particular seemed to mostly be stocked with designer duds. I wasn’t really looking to spend more than £10 on any single item, but if I had wanted to get a pair of Carolina Herrera pumps for £30, that would have been the place to go! Most of the clothes were small and medium sizes, so not that much there for me anyway. It was fun to explore, but unless I’m specifically looking for designer frocks on the cheap, I’m unlikely to go back.

I walked up to Baker Street and jumped on the tube, exiting at Bayswater from which I walked up Queensway to Westbourne Grove, my destination being the Westbourne Grove branch of Traid (an acronym for Textile Recycling for Aid and International Development). Here, I hit the jackpot! They had a sale on: every item in the store was £2, the exception being coats and jackets which were all £6. This was another store that was absolutely packed with clothes and shoes — high street fashions, designer wear, and a good selection of vintage. I had a great time sifting through the racks and ended up taking quite a stack into the fitting room. I left the store with a couple of bags of clothes including: a short-sleeved heather grey cable knit jumper, a black cowl neck sleeveless jumper, chocolate brown corduroy jeans (Miss Selfridges label), a blue striped v-neck empire waist long t-shirt (also Miss Selfridges), a wooly rust-coloured scarf, navy blue yoga trousers, a bright pink knee-length lightweight coat with gorgeous floral lining, and a vintage sleeveless dress with a pleated skirt in a coral and white floral pattern. (I’m hoping to add to the dress a short-sleeved lightweight black cardigan, a wide black patent leather belt, black patent leather flats, and a black bead necklace — all second-hand of course — and wear it at my brother’s wedding in August.) The total bill at Traid? £20. Rock.

After a brief stop for lunch at a little Italian cafe, I walked down Pembridge Road to Retro Woman, part of a cluster of renowned Notting Hill second-hand stores. This is another store packed to the gills. I enjoyed perusing the masses of designer label shoes and accessories in locked cabinets, mostly priced around £20-£50. Tucked between Retro Woman and Retro Man is a store where everything is £2. If I wasn’t carrying two bags of clothes, I might have spent a little longer digging through the racks and would surely have been rewarded with some great finds. I will definitely be going back to those stores as well as Retro Home.

By the time I left the Retro group of stores, it was late afternoon. I took a quick look around Dolly Diamond vintage shop in Pembridge Road and Trinity Hospice in Notting Hill Gate before heading home, very satisfied with my day of shopping. I had been planning to stop at Marie Curie in Highbury but that will have to wait for another day.

A couple of weeks earlier, I had spent an afternoon sniffing around some great East End vintage shops including Absolutely Vintage, Beyond Retro, and Rokit Vintage. Absolutely Vintage is a treasure trove of vintage shoes and bags. And Beyond Retro is just enormous. Rokit Vintage has shelves and shelves of cowboy boots, and lots of seventies fashions. All of them are definitely worth future return visits. I’m also looking forward to checking out the East End Thrift Store.

Shopping for vintage and second-hand goods requires a lot more patience and persistence than shopping at high street and big box stores. But the thrill of landing a great bargain makes it worthwhile. And while only buying used goods isn’t going to save the planet, it’s a step in the right direction.