Where my clothes come from – No. 10

Gill Phillips

“Often when I walk past a charity shop it beckons me in and I usually find something I like. I’d guess that a good three-quarters of my wardrobe is from charity shops. Though I have difficulties finding shoes as I’m a size 9. But I have found the occasional pair.”

Gill Phillips by the Granary
Photographer: Sue Phillips

“Charity shops used to be a bit tatty when I first started shopping in them, but these days you can often get clothes with good labels which I couldn’t afford otherwise.

I can’t actually remember where this skirt came from. I get so many of my clothes from charity shops, and there are a lot of different charity shops in Sudbury. Often the shops cut the labels out so I also don’t know what make the skirt is. But I like the turn of the century look of the fabric; it’s got a 1920s art nouveau feel to it.”

Gill Phillips earring
Photographer: Sue Phillips

“The earrings and my ring were also secondhand. I got the earrings from a charity shop, and the ring cost me 50p from a table-top market.

I’ve bought second-hand clothes for most of my married life, around fifty years now. I started buying clothes from charity shops not long after they were first established. I wish they’d been around when I was a student, so that I didn’t have to bother making my own clothes then.”

In fact, according to the Charity Retail Association, charity shops were around as early as the nineteenth century when the Salvation Army used them to supply cheap clothes to the poor. Their salvage stores also provided much needed opportunities for employment, collecting unwanted clothes from affluent households. And during World War Two other charities also opened shops to raise money for the war effort and relieve hardship.

But modern charity shops as we know them weren’t launched until the mid-twentieth century, and are a particularly British institution. Oxfam opened its first shop in 1948, partly to sell an excess of blankets and clothing donated to alleviate the dire post-war situation in Greece. There are now over 10,000 charity shops in the UK, raising around £300 million for a variety of different causes.

As historian George Campbell Gosling suggests, it’s interesting to explore the ways in which the changing role of such shops is ‘fundamentally entwined with the wider story of Britain’s changing society and culture over the decades’. For example, he makes an intriguing connection between charity shops and ‘throwaway’ culture: ‘After Sue Ryder opened stores in the 1950s, charity shops could first be seen in significant numbers in the 1960s, fuelled by the emergence of a ‘throwaway’ disposable consumer culture’.

More recently, secondhand has been rebranded as ‘retro’. ‘Vintage’ items have become increasingly desirable, making charity shops more attractive to a wider audience.

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