Style For Pennies

If any of you happen to follow me on Twitter, you would know that this year has been all about one artist for me – Macklemore. And I would be a naughty little liar if I didn’t start this piece by informing you that it is completely inspired by his song ‘Thrift Shop’.

Aside from it being an absolute tune, it really got me thinking about the whole nature and culture of thrift shopping that is alive and well in America. And the relative lack of presence it has within the men’s UK style community.

Because every site, including this one, is guilty of showcasing and recommending clothing, shoes and accessories that are realistically out of a lot of people’s price range. So we end up with a lot of readers who have great in-depth knowledge of men’s style but not the wardrobe to back it up. It’s hard as a writer, because what we want to recommend is the best in quality and construction so that the pieces you buy will wear well and last for years. Unfortunately, clothing of that nature happens to be expensive.

However, there is a small overlap in this style Venn diagram – thrifting. Or, to us UK natives, second-hand/vintage shopping. In the US people can go to places like Goodwill or small mom-and-pop shops and pick up high quality pieces that others no longer want, for spare change. And these shops are everywhere – just check out this map of places to shop in New York by A Continuous Lean:

I just don’t feel there is as much exposure in the UK to the potential that shopping second-hand holds. Either there aren’t enough shops, or these shops aren’t getting enough exposure. Since last winter I’ve been consciously making an effort to check out more second-hand and vintage shops to see if I can find things that I like. And I’ve learnt a lot of things along the way.

Vintage/Second-Hand Shopping Tips

Firstly, you’ve got to be patient. A lot of second-hand shops stock a huge amount of women’s stuff and very little men’s. This can be infuriating. Also, a lot of vintage shops seem to think they can still charge a lot for an item that came out in the 1970s, which sort of defeats the purpose. I’d say I find something I genuinely like once out of every sixty or so items I look at – like an awesome Levi’s trucker jacket from Edinburgh Vintage Shop that cost me a tenner.

Secondly, you must be good friends with a tailor and a dry cleaner. My previously mentioned trucker jacket was covered in mud, dirt and general crap. It took two cleanings to get rid of the smell but afterwards it was as good as new. I pretty much wore it every day last spring.

You aren’t going to find things in perfect condition; they will be dirty and they will be too big/long/wide. But with these two people on your side you can transform any piece.

For example, I picked up a great double-breasted grey Glen plaid blazer on my last visit to New York which fitted perfectly around the shoulders but nowhere else. I paid about £30 for it and the tailoring on top cost an extra £30. You’d be paying pretty much double that in most high street shops and it definitely wouldn’t be 100 percent flannel wool.

Quick Tips

Here are a few more quick tips I’ve picked up along the way:

  • When you find a few good places to shop in your area, visit them frequently. You may even get to know the people working there so they can give you a heads up when stuff you might like arrives.
  • Knowing the brand that made the item can help determine its quality and construction, along with checking the content label.
  • Always try it on. Make sure it doesn’t restrict your movements and is still slim fitting with clean lines.
  • Check it works – zips, buttons and things like that. Trust me, this one is key for second-hand stuff.
  • If you try it on and you love it, then buy it! They have such a high turn around it will definitely be gone the next time you check in.
  • On the opposite side of the spectrum, don’t settle. If you don’t truly love it, don’t buy it. Something else will come along.
  • It helps to be super obsessed with clothes. I have a constant list of items I want in my head so that when I do walk in and I find something on the list that fits, I’ll buy it right away. No questions asked.
Final Word

The main point I’m trying to get across today is that vintage shops, second-hand/charity shops and army surplus stores are great places to pick up essential pieces of menswear that are of great quality for a very low price. If you end up spending more than £30 in one trip you need to seriously think about your purchases.

So, for all you guys who look at the photos we put up and think you need loads of cash to dress that way, think again. You just need a different approach to shopping.

Charity Shop Guide

Here’s what I would like us all to do. As well as leaving your comments below, please provide the details of the places that you like to go shopping second-hand – name of the establishment, town it is in and, if possible, what they tend to stock.

We’ll then collect them all together and list them at the end of this article so that we all have a directory of places to check out if we are ever in the town in question. Should we get a good enough response, we will create our very own Google map for the UK.

Make sure you all get involved so we can help each other out when it comes to being stylish for pennies.

Matt Allinson