A Love Letter to Charity Shops

There’s nothing quite like wandering into a hushed, cosy charity shop on a rainy afternoon, finding some respite from the east coast’s showery spells and being immersed in an eclectic mix of second-hand items. The dog- eared copies of Infinite Jest left behind by some recent bookworm grad, three DVDs of Adam Sandler’s magnum opus Pixels, and the most stunning burgundy Patagonia jumper you’ve ever laid eyes on. Charity shops are a bona fide treasure trove. St Andrews’ hidden secret, I’ve come to find.

Much like gap-yah students and Oxbridge rejects, charity shops are not exclusive to St Andrews, but, by God, do you find a stellar collection of them in town. My personal be- lief is that it’s the wonderful blend of St Andrews residents—mainly older, long-time Fife locals and the younger international student body—that makes the selection of items in our town’s charity shops some of the best I’ve encountered.

I’m a long-time charity shop aficionado. Aged ten, I bought my copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for £1.99 from a British Red Cross in Largs, rather than forking out £11.99 to the Waterstones empire. And while being skint as a child may have been the reason for my initial introduction to the whimsical world of browsing charity shops, I’ve remained a loyal customer largely thanks to the incredible pieces of clothing I’ve found over the years. Levi jeans in my size for a fiver at Ardgowan Hospice? Say less. A cream knit sweater to rival Chris Evans in Knives Out for a pound in Oxfam? Sold. Every single shirt I’ve worn to a shit shirt night since the age of 17 has come from the loving rails of a charity shop. And for that I have to be eternally grateful.

One of the most appealing factors of charity shops is that you know you’re getting clothes that are being sold at a solid price that reflects the fact the items are second-hand. In many bigger towns and cities, such as Glasgow and Edinburgh, many charity shops are being phased out by novel vintage shops. These vintage shops, which are increasingly found throughout the gentrified parts of cities, can sell items second-hand for extortionate prices—oftentimes, for far more expensive than what the item would have sold for brand new. Obviously, the recent trends of ‘vintage’ and ‘retro’ clothing styles (particularly driven by TikTok and Instagram influencers) have hiked up prices as demand for distressed Nike jumpers and Dickies trousers has skyrocketed. However, gentrifying second-hand clothes for aesthetic purposes prices out the people who rely on second-hand methods of purchase to clothe themselves. It is my hope, then, that the longstanding charity shops, such as British Red Cross, Save The Children, and Oxfam, don’t disappear as a result of hipster, over-priced vintage shops popping up all over the high street.

If you haven’t yet ventured into town to have an amble around the plethora of authentic charity shops St Andrews has to offer, it’s something I would highly recommend. When a friend from home came up to visit a few weekends ago, I suggested browsing the charity shops largely as a means to keep us sheltered from the rain and pass the time before our lunch reservations. However, before we knew it, we’d ventured down Greyfriars Garden, Bell Street, and South Street into Sense Scotland, the British Heart Foundation, and Cancer Research, each of us now with a sizable, sustainable, and budget-friendly haul of second-hand clothes to get us through the coming months.

And that’s the thing: with so many charity shops in St Andrews, it’s a wonderful excuse to spice up your winter wardrobe while curbing your fast fashion consumption and giving your spending a rest. The inexpensive gems you can find throughout the town’s charity shops certainly beat out that tenth H&M visit of the semester.

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