Some time last year, I had an idea. The kind of idle thought that flutters into your head and stays there long enough to be scribbled down, forgotten about, and unearthed again several weeks later. "Why not do a whole shoot with charity shop clothing?" Even though that's the basic remit of this blog, I wondered what it would be like to do similar in a professional context - working alongside an expert team, and a rail heaving with second-hand wares. I mentioned it in passing to my then-agent Josy Spooner at Models 1 (she's now busy taking time to travel around the world, making me envious with her photos). She said it was a great idea, and suggested she did the styling. Together we cooked up further plans, scheming and assembling and gathering until, finally, one day, we drove down to the photographer Saskia Lawson's studio in a car stuffed full of the most delectable garments you ever did see. Plenty of them ended up on camera, with a whole host of charities lending us the most brilliant clothes. Lauren Alice did wonderful seventies-inspired hair and make-up, and I gallivanted around in coats, beads, layers and ruffles to my heart's content.
It was an incredibly special project to collaborate on - leaving me thrilled all over again with the creative possibilities to be found in modelling, celebrating beautiful clothes, and participating in the kind of project where you leave utterly exhausted, utterly satisfied, and utterly eager to see the images. On top of all that, there was the privilege of seeing a fledgling idea through to the finish. The final destination for the shoot was Tirade magazine. You can see the full feature here. I also wrote them a little piece in praise of all things second hand. For long-term readers it does tread more-than-familiar ground, but I thought I'd post it here too - mainly because it was very fun ground to re-visit and to think about again.
Big thanks to the EXCELLENT team of women I worked with on this, and to all the charities who gave us the chance to play around with their clothes - you'll see that they're credited in the images.
(Something of a) Love Letter to Charity Shops
I fell in love with all things second hand when I began raiding my mum's clothes aged thirteen - stealing away her careful collection of fifties tea-dresses and sixties coats. They were stored right at the back of the wardrobe, and I can still recall the complete excitement of unearthing several plastic boxes filled with satin and lace and wool. Unlike the other stuff I owned, mostly bought on the high street, these garments were imbued with magic: they’d had previous lives, previous stories, previous ways of being worn. Putting them on was transformative. A long, black translucent dress with a nipped in waist and a full skirt made me feel like a witchy ballerina, while skeleton print Jean-Paul Gaultier jeans (found in the local charity shop for mere pennies) were so bold, I wondered if I would ever muster the bravery to wear them outside…
It wasn’t just about the wares I could plunder though. Alongside the rather exciting assembly of items already owned, my mum also introduced me to the art of sifting through charity shops, flea markets and vintage stalls in search of new (or rather, old) prized possessions. I was hooked. I still am. Very little thrills more than finding an original 70s suede coat for 50p at a jumble sale, or unearthing a beautiful cocktail gown in a branch of Mind or the Red Cross that simply must come home. To me, it’s all about the hunt – and the unexpected possibilities. You can go second hand shopping with an agenda, with something specific to seek out, but often the best purchases are the ones you couldn’t have foreseen.
That’s one of the qualities I love best: the chance for stumbling across, well, anything. The most beautiful coat ever – the kind to wear day in and day out all winter. A gorgeous, fitted shirt. Some kind of long, swishy skirt that will provide endless opportunity for dressing up. Maybe just the perfect polo-neck. Who knows? Beyond that though, there are the other advantages: the bargain prices, the sustainability points, the chance to speculate on who owned that item previously (where did it go? What events did it see?), the chance to consume in a different way. It’s a way that requires time and patience, but offers up plenty of reward in return.
I must admit it’s hard to write about charity shops without resorting to metaphors about magpies, or treasure hunting. They’re the perfect analogies for the processes involved: searching, sifting, rummaging, gathering, collecting, accumulating. And, just a like a treasure hunt, sometimes you’ll unearth a massive gem, and sometimes there’ll be nothing at all. Part of the process of shopping second hand is knowing that you may return empty-handed too. Always worth the search though.
Perhaps I’m giving too much credit here, elevating second hand purchases to some kind of lofty level. But they yield an awful lot of pleasure. Why not celebrate that? For this shoot, there was so much joy to be found in sifting through the rails, gasping at the gorgeous wares on offer – all those decades and designs nestling side by side. All of them offered up a character to play at. I switched from sexy to languid to outrageously fabulous, each garment dictating the mood. When modeling, I’m used to being dressed in whatever is deemed ‘on trend’ or ‘next season’. As fun as that is, here I got to enjoy something much closer to the way I actually shop and enjoy getting dressed.
I gain a huge amount of my confidence from what I wear, and some of that confidence is certainly derived from always being open (at least sartorially) to the unusual and the exciting. Much as I appreciate and adore the other types of delights to be found in buying shiny, new, bang-up-to-date things, I think that charity shops will always have my heart.