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 remember occasionally popping into charity shops as a child, but my interest really began when I started working for one of the most incredible women I know - Baroness Anne Jenkin. It was back in October 2010 when I had the immense privilege of meeting the late Baroness Thatcher at an event run by Anne who founded Women2Win, an organisation supporting Conservative women to run for Parliament. I knew instantly that I wanted to work for her. Here was this incredible woman dedicating her life to elevating other phenomenal women in politics, running this major political event, looking absolutely fabulous in second hand clothes! Shortly after the event I started working in Parliament as her researcher and every day I would see Anne rocking the most amazing outfits. People always commented on how great she looked 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 poking around 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 has absolutely transformed my approach to shopping in so many ways! For starters, where else does one go and find designer clothes after designer clothes for 20 quid?! I remember the first time I found a designer item - it was a Burberry Prorsum paisley cotton top in the Age UK on Kentish Town Road for £6.99. I could not believe my luck! I remember looking around to check no one else had seen it, then I dashed to the till to pay and make sure it was mine! When I first started charity shopping, I did go quite mad, buying almost everything in sight! Then when I started to find lots and lots of amazing, top quality items in my size, I realised I could actually be fussy about what I bought. If it was too big, not quite my style or made from cheap material, I wouldn't buy it. I then started taking old clothes and things I hadn't bought in a charity shop to the charity shops, and replenished my wardrobe with incredibly beautiful, mostly designer items. No more buying cheap and poor quality stuff from Primark or H&M, I could buy designer items for often less money! I could afford to dress like a princess everyday! But the thing I enjoy more than finding amazing stuff, is chatting with the volunteers and knowing my money is going to a good cause. Charity shops rely on incredible, dedicated volunteers, many of whom have the most inspiring personal stories. The atmosphere in charity shops are always so relaxed, full of laughter, with people constantly chatting to each other. Its the best community ever! Yarna, this super cool lady who works in British Red Cross, was blasting Earth, Wind and Fire as we shopped yesterday. We were all dancing, singing and trying outfits on, it was so fun! Charity shopping represents everything I feel passionate about: recycling, reducing waste, fashion, community, volunteering and supporting those in need.

What has been your best charity shop find?

Last weekend I hosted my first ever Charity Shopping Club trip, which came about after so many friends in politics couldn't believe I was finding all these designer goodies in charity shops, so they asked me to take them. So I took them on a charity shopping crawl in Victoria and Pimlico which has some of my favourite charity shops like British Red Cross, Fara, Oxfam, Sue Ryder and Royal Trinity Hospice. In British Red Cross I bought a suede tight black Bally dress for £35. I looked up the original price and it was a whopping £1800!! Now if thats not a reason to go charity shopping, then I don't know what is?! I never regret not purchasing something because you always know there is a constant abundance of amazing things. Plus I spend an absolute fortune buying everything I fall in love with haha. The fun thing also is finding great stuff for other people. I love getting my sisters items and picking out things for friends. One Christmas I got 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 of course my local village charity shop when I am in Sussex - the Celia Hammond Animal Trust in Wadhurst!

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

The Charity Shopping Club sessions are once every two months on a Saturday (giving people enough time to put aside some money!). 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 has shopped till they drop! Its so relaxed and fun, with a real sense of camaraderie as people pick stuff out for each other and engage in great conversation. Most of the ladies who came yesterday are my female friends who work in politics, many of whom are standing for Parliament in 2020, so we transform the charity shops into these political/feminist/fashion powerhouses! People don't know what's hit them! However, I would recommend guys join too because I often find the most incredible stuff in the mens section. It really is open to anyone who wants to make shopping way more fun by filling their wardrobe with top quality stuff and helping support charities and the community too!

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

I can honestly guarantee anyone success when charity shopping. For example, one Christmas my mother said she would love a new candelabra for our dining table. My parents are architects and have a very distinct modern style. They adore Aalto and Arne Jacobsen, so not the most common style for candelabras, let alone finding one in a charity shop! However, about three weeks before Christmas I walked into Fara on Warwick Way during my lunch break and I am not joking, there was this silver, modern, super cool candelabra that looked as if it was made for my parents! AND it was just £18! I have found this many times that even when I have specific items in mind, I find them very soon after in a charity shop! So my first tip would be, be open to what you may find and you can afford to be fussy! Secondly, I would recommend you look through rails systematically. Often the real gems are hidden. And thirdly, try stuff on that you wouldn't normally choose! Thats the great thing about buying stuff so reasonably priced - you can afford to experiment with your style. I got the girls to do that yesterday and so many of them fell in love with and bought pieces they said they would never normally try, and they looked absolutely stunning!!

Who are your style icons?

My three major style icons are Grace Kelly, Moza bint Nasser and all the models in Ralph Lauren campaigns! I also adore following Barbie Style on Instagram - sometimes in charity shops I feel I haven't changed since I was a 7 year old playing dress up with Barbie, the only difference now is I dress myself up rather than Barbie!

Dolly Theis
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