Snag a stylish steal at your charity shop with advice from Dolly Theis


For many of us, the journey to a charity shop is a one-way street. We visit our local shop to donate items, but do we actually take time to scour the rails for a bargain?

Dolly Theis, a fashionable individual working in London is a firm fan of charity shops. I know Dolly through my work in politics and digital comms, and her Instagram and Twitter feeds are two of my favourites! Dolly's charity shop advice is in high demand, and she has recently started to run charity shopping days, taking friends to some of her best haunts in London to scour out the best buys! For those of you who don't live in London, Dolly shares her advice and charity shop story below.

When did your interest in shopping at charity shops begin?

I used to go to charity shops as a child, but my interest really began when I started working for Baroness Anne Jenkin. I met her in 2010 at her Women2Win (an organisation supporting Conservative women to run for Parliament) event with the late Baroness Thatcher. Here was this inspiring woman dedicating her life to elevating other talented women in politics, who looked amazing in head to toe second hand clothes. She despises waste of any kind and when I worked for her in Parliament as her researcher people always commented on her brilliant outfits and to their surprise, she would say 'I found this in a charity shop in Essex,' or 'I got this for £2.99 on EBay!' So I started visiting my local charity shops and never looked back!

What difference has it made to your shopping habits, approach to fashion and outlook on social/ethical issues?

Shopping in charity shops is the best thing ever. You find top quality clothes (often with the labels still on) for under a tenner. You waste and spend much less. But best of all, there is a strong community element to charity shopping. Charity shops rely on dedicated volunteers and it means there is such a wonderful atmosphere. They are always so relaxed, full of laughter, with everyone chatting to each other. My favourite memory was when Yarna, who works in a British Red Cross, was blasting Earth, Wind and Fire as the Charity Shopping Club shopped. We were all dancing, singing and trying outfits on, it was brilliant!

What has been your best charity shop find?

I love the charity shop crawl in Victoria and Pimlico as British Red Cross, Fara, Oxfam, Sue Ryder, Royal Trinity Hospice and others are all within a couple of minutes of each other. In British Red Cross, I bought a suede black Bally dress for £35. I looked up the original price and it was a whopping £1800!! Now if that’s not a reason to go charity shopping, then I don't know what is?! One Christmas I also bought my father a Hermes tie from Fara on Warwick Way for just £15.

Where are the best areas of London/UK to shop at charity shops?

The Londonist published a great article about the best 6 best charity shopping places in London, but my personal favourites are Pimlico/Victoria, Kentish Town, Tunbridge Wells and even my local village charity shop in Sussex, the Celia Hammond Animal Trust in Wadhurst, is packed full of amazing things. However, I would also highly recommend Oxfam Online. It’s incredible and you can search for stuff in your size and by brand which makes things a lot easier.

What do your charity shop days involve and how can readers get involved?

The Charity Shopping Club sessions are arranged on an ad hoc basis. People can contact me to join on Twitter and Instagram. I send round a running order of the day before so people can join anytime and know where we'll be throughout the day. We usually start around 11am, go to a couple of shops, then stop for lunch before carrying on till everyone shopped-out. It’s very relaxed and fun, and everyone helps pick stuff out for each other.

What are your top tips for shopping successfully at charity shops?

I have found that so many times I have specific items in mind, and then go into a charity shop and find pretty much the exact thing I was looking for. In terms of top tips, my first is to be open to what you may find. Secondly, you can afford to be fussy. Thirdly, I would recommend looking through rails systematically. Often the real gems are hidden. And finally, try stuff on that you wouldn't normally choose. That’s the great thing about buying stuff so reasonably priced - you can afford to experiment with style. I get the girls to do that in the Charity Shopping Club and so many of them fall in love with and buy pieces they said they would never normally try, and they look absolutely stunning!

Who are your style icons?

My three major style icons are Grace Kelly, Moza bint Nasser and Ralph Lauren.

Dolly Theis
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