frugal fashion shopper

Is age just another number?

Never say never – I’ve bought a mid-length skirt for the cruise!

Some time ago I said I really hope mid-length skirts don’t come back into fashion as I see them as frumpy. And can I say to anyone who loves that type of skirt that I’m only applying that to myself. It’s me that feels a bit dowdy wearing a skirt that length.

black-skirtBut last week I bought a very plain mid-calf gauzy black skirt from Oxfam for all of £3.99.

There are so many of these skirts in charity shops, and I usually see them as a complete no-no. My eye is attuned, not to the frilly and frothy, but to the svelte pencil skirt just around the mid-knee length. That’s the Claire Underwood influence on my style. See my piece in StylishOleWoman on how, ever since I watched the two series of House of Cards (superior in my view to the 1990 British version) I’ve swooned over Underwood’s clothes.

But there is some truth in my immediate reaction to that length – that a longer skirt can look a bit old-fashioned, particularly with a nude or tan colour pair of tights and a high heel, pointed-toe type shoe. And on this subject I’m on the same page as Jess Cartner-Morley who this week also writes about how to dress up the mid-length skirt. The thing to do is make it edgy. So that’s what that I’ll be doing.

First of all, I’ll don my black chunky ankle boots (bought for £25 three years ago from Peacocks). And I wear these boots not just because I’m incapable of wearing any heel, no, it immediately changes the look of an outfit.

Black-jacket Alongside the boots I’ll team the skirt with a vest bought for 99p and then top this off with the pièce de résistance, a tux. This recent buy cost all of £20.00, which I consider expensive for a charity shop, but as it’s new and unworn (because it is a trade sample) and reduced from £129.00, I think instead, what a bargain!

And look at the detail on the cuffs.  Those sparkly buttons are made with Swarovski Elements – it says on the label – not sure what that means!black-jacket-detail

That’s an entire outfit (including the shoes) at just under £50.00. Kind of exactly what I can afford as a retired pensioner on a very small pension – way to go!! And what’s more it looks so snappy. And I promise that during my cruise I’ll get photos taken of me wearing this, and my other outfits, all bought from charity shops, so you can see what they look like on a woman having fun!

And, btw, the business of ‘never say never’.  By that I meant (and again I’m applying it to myself) always be open to change, to a new look, to a new way of wearing clothes.  It’s about not hanging on to how one always looked but embracing the new.  And, so OK, I acknowledge that I am ageing but hey, I sure mean to age with pizzaz, style and a bit of sparkle!

That’s all for now

With love, Penny

The Frugal Fashion Shopper


Fast and cheap fashion. Should we buy in to this… or be more ethical?

I do admit to the occasional foray into two High Street shops, both beginning with the capital P.   OK, let me be up-front about this, *deep breath*.  Yes, I do shop at Peacocks and Primark. And why is that? Because these shops are cheap. And also the only jeans I can find to fit my thin, long legs are from Primark. And I have looked everywhere else and no, I don’t like a capri or cropped jean, because being tall(ish) there is nothing worse than a pair of jeans that is pretending to be cropped, when in fact it is too short for my legs. As far as I am concerned, jeans have to fit tight to my legs and go right down to my ankles and wrinkle slightly from the excess length, and the Primark ones do exactly that and are just a perfect fit.

But when I look at the price, £11 for a black pair, and a recent buy, a bright pink pair at £8, I stop and think, should I?

It’s a year now since the collapse of the 8-storey Rana Plaza factory complex in Bangladesh where, the reporter Lucy Siegle (who has written several in-depth investigative pieces on this tragedy*) tells us more than a 1000 garment workers died and 800 children were orphaned. And Primark used that factory.

It’s beyond a disgrace that garment workers have to work in dreadful dangerous conditions for very little pay. But was there ever a golden age, when clothing was made ethically with the workers pay and rights’ totally protected? I can’t be sure about that. Several generations of my Scottish ancestors on my father’s side were cotton hand-loom weavers. And when the industry went into decline these weavers lived in abject poverty unable to pay the rent and buy the most basic food-stuff and goods**. My great-grandfather left the cotton weaving business, joined the army, moved to England and founded the middle-class family that we are now. His brother, meanwhile, remained in Scotland and died of TB in his early twenties working as a cotton fluffer in the mills that had taken over from the old cottage industry.

Yes, before we even get to those ghastly death-trap factories, we should ask the questions: where was the cotton cloth, used in that summer dress, grown; how was it treated; how was it picked? You hope not by child labour.   And then where and how was that cotton woven and made into cloth?

But there is some hope.  Since the tragedy three separate schemes have been set up; the Accord (between European brands); the Alliance (US brands) and an agreement between the UN and Bangladesh. All are designed to bring Bangladeshi factories under regulation and inspection to agreed standards

Even so, should one boycott Primark? Actually, no. Easy to say this from my comfortable desk here in the south of England, but the work, done mainly by women, is needed. And Primark has paid out the most compensation – £8 million so far, way above any other High Street retailer. Indeed Lucy Siegle has set out in detail how ethical our High Street stores are, and Primark is not one of the bad guys. It got a team out to Dhaka immediately after the collapse and works with unions and agencies to provide compensation and aid.

In fact, sometimes I think there’s an element of snobbery around the idea of shopping at Primark.

There have been discussions in the media, particularly in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza tragedy, on how we really shouldn’t shop for cheap fashion. That, somehow, we’re at fault for falling into the trap of wanting too much. And I just feel there is a faint whiff of condescension in those discussions towards the people who shop in shops like Primark. And that we are to blame for driving the fashion industry to these lengths of getting clothes made in flimsy factories. Err, no, the fashion industry could continue to make clothes in the UK, and in some instances still does. The Grey Fox blog, for instance, has a list of British suppliers of menswear made in Britain, although I wonder what the prices are like, probably not in my price range!

I’d also say (to journalists & commenters) just pause and check your privilege, because the next time you go to the cheaper end of the High Street, if you look at the customers, we aren’t wealthy people, we shoppers in those stores. We go there for a reason – it’s cheap. I feel very strongly that the customer should not be vilified for the vagaries and whims of an industry that chases profit and the fast buck. Because, that is capitalism, that is the way of the world. At least we can say that the Rana Plaza tragedy brought controls and some hope that structural surveys will be carried out on garment factories. We must support such initiatives.   And, indeed, others like Fashion Revolution Day this Thursday (April 24th) where some providers of fashion and Fair Trade groups are holding events and asking key questions about how fashion can become fair rather than fast. Perhaps, we too could ask questions about the source and provenance of our clothes.

But, in the meantime, shopping in charity shops is definitely an ethical choice. Yes, the clothes have been worn before, but we are rescuing, reclaiming and recycling clothes that would probably go to landfill or worse, the incinerator. So, in the UK, shopping in these charity shops is not only a pleasure it is also a principled way to buy clothes.   But I’ll still be getting my jeans from Primark!

That’s all for now

With love, Penny
The Frugal Fashion Shopper

*We Are What We Wear: Unraveling fast fashion and the collapse of Rana Plaza by Lucy Siegle & Jason Burke is published by Guardian Shorts (ebook, £1.99/$2.99)

**Murray, N. (1978) The Scottish Hand Loom Weavers 1790-1850: A Social History. Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers Ltd


Jackets – I love them

I do like a tailored jacket and by that I mean a buttoned-up, nipped-in-the-waist kind of jacket. And before you say, I can’t wear something like that because of my size, there’s a friend of mine who wouldn’t mind me saying (because I checked) that although she is a plus size she found a charity shop jacket in a stunning red and looks wonderful in it because it’s tailored – excess, flowing material does not hide a fuller figure, less is more, in my opinion.

I wore this type of jacket a lot when working; it was my uniform and, it kind of defined who I was. And I still look for them when I’m in a charity shop, can’t resist it! In fact, I have a whole rack in my wardrobe dedicated to my chazza shop jackets. It must sound a tad excessive, but I have outdoor jackets and indoor jackets; summer jackets, including the ubiquitous denim kind; a couple of vintage jackets; and my favourite, which are tweedy, woolly, wintery jackets. It must be my Scottish heritage, because I adore tweed. Brown-check-jacket-web

Here’s a tweedy jacket I bought with Lorna when she was making that YouTube film.  You can read all about this wonderful material in Grey Fox’s blog.

We have quite variable weather in the UK, and in the Spring, one moment there’s a chilly wind blowing in from the north, the next it’s warm with not a cloud in the sky, like yesterday. And, I thought, I’ve done it again. I’ve missed that slot where it’s just the right temperature for wearing those thicker jackets. Because, while you’d think they would be just right for winter, the tweedy jacket was obviously designed for the non-centrally heated (maybe stately) home and office. So you can’t wear tweed at a committee meeting, no way, too, too hot! But neither can you wear them on their own outside – too freezing cold on the lower half of one’s body! Brrrr! And then because they’re thick they’re hard to fit under a winter coat, so they sit in my wardrobe waiting for the right opportunity to be worn – which is not all that often!

red top & dress reducedHere you can see one of my best-ever Vintage buys; a cerise coloured Horrockses jacket, that would have been very on-trend in the 50s. As you know, I find Vintage a bit tricky, mainly because the clothes are way too expensive, for me. But it’s also because, as far as I’m concerned, Vintage items can sometimes look as though they been in the back of my wardrobe for decades, and I’m just being plain unfashionable in my choice of clothes. I’ve just got rid of a Vintage cardi that was such a bad look when I got it home from my favourite shop, Urban Outfitters Europe. I regretted the buy instantly, but it’s taken me a year to discard it – so I’m not that ruthless in getting rid of clothes!

Another bad look was last week’s advice from Jess Cartner-Morley – socks with sandals, what was she thinking! OK, this is fashion for the younger woman, but even so, you’d have to have a lot of confidence to pull off that look. The previous week was all about how to wear dungarees – hmm.

Meanwhile, Vogue, in the May issue, tells us that the Autumn trend for jackets is a smart cropped look – good, I like that style. And bomber jackets seem to be in the media somewhat as the jacket to wear this Spring. I can just about get away with that zipped-up look so I’ll be searching for one of those. But, if you think, sorry, all I want is an anorak for Spring, take a look at this gallery of anoraks. Out of the 5 models 3 are older women – one is Jean Woods, one of the Fabulous Fashionistas, and looking great in an anorak at 76!

green-jacket-webFor a blast of colour, here is another charity shop find – I wear it with my black skinny jeans as a contrast to that searing in-your-face green! It cost all of £5.00.

But tell me, do you have a favourite jacket?  And do you wear tweed?

That’s all for now


With love, Penny

The Frugal Fashion Shopper

P.S. Hi there & welcome to new followers, it’s great to meet you!  And if you’re new to the blog, do consider hitting that Follow button, I’d love to have you on board 🙂


My response to Lynette’s post. The joys of charity shop shopping in the UK!

I thought I’d comment on Lynette’s post but have so much to say it’s turned into a post all of it’s own!

You can see from Lynette’s piece (published 7th April) that there’s quite a difference between shopping in a thrift store in the States and shopping in a charity shop in the UK. Gosh, I’m so grateful to her for drawing attention to these differences as now I realise that when I write about my charity shop finds a reader in America will have quite a different image in their head to how that went.

Lynette, you say you prefer shopping in small boutiques where the assistants hand you articles of clothing that suit you. OK, that intimate, attentive service doesn’t happen in a charity shop in the UK, yet. And I say yet, because UK charity shops have changed considerably over the years – some of the change has been good and some not so, and I’ll go into that in moment.

But I think the key to the difference between the two countries is that nearly all UK charity shops are really small, and easily accessed on our local High Streets. I don’t know of any big charity stores in the UK like your Goodwill stores (but do let me know, UK readers, if I’m wrong about that).  Your Goodwill stores sound, from your description, to be a little like our TKMaxx which I actually don’t like, because of the way the shop has racks upon racks of clothes that you have to rummage through in an effort to try and find your size and a style that suits you.

So for me, in comparison to the experience of shopping in TKMaxx, shopping in a charity shop is a delight!

Ah yes, the rummage sale, or jumble sale as we call it. My love of a good pre-loved piece of clothing is firmly based on the premise that I can’t spend as I used to when I was working. But unlike today’s women I had a long period not working when I had my kids – that’s over 30 years ago now! Then, charity shops were few and far between, but there was always a church or charity jumble sale at least every other week to go to. And I clothed not only myself, but my children as well, for years, from these jumble sales. Mind you, I look at some of the photos of us in the 80s and think, ye gods, the clothes, not a good look! Was it the 80s or was it our jumble sale outfits?!

But to get back to charity shops – they have a long history here in the UK. Although the Red Cross raised money through having a bazaar in Shepherd Market in London during World War I, the Wolverhampton Society for the Blind began raising money this way in 1899.

It was from the Second World War that charity shops became an almost ubiquitous and every-day presence in our High Streets. Oxfam opened its first shop in Oxford in 1947 and now has over 700 stores, and many other charities, too long to list, have charity shops selling not only clothes but also books, music, china, bric-a-brac and even bridal wear.

UK readers, do you remember how charity shops used to be? They were scruffy, a bit untidy, with clothes hanging on old metal hangers, and you had to hunt through the clothes to find anything. But, my word, the goods were cheap. Now prices are either up, going up or, sometimes, even on a par with the prices at the cheaper end of the High Street like Primark.

And why is that? Because, pretty nearly all UK charity shops are now like little trendy clothes shops where everything is beautifully set out and arranged, usually, in their correct sizes. Although, yes, there are one or two charity shops that have the clothes in shades and colours rather than your size, which is annoying – why do they do it? So, charity shops in the UK are now almost upmarket, but, literally, at a cost, as we, the customers, have to pay much more than in the past!

Do have a look at that great little film made by my friend Lorna, where you can see how small the charity shop is.   And how, yes, there are lots of different colourful clothes to rummage through, but, with an eye for the style and colour that suits you – you can find that bargain – and you can also enjoy the experience of shopping in a charity shop, at the same time!

That’s all for now, next post, next week, is on jackets!

With love, Penny

The Frugal Fashion Shopper


Shopping in charity shops – in the States! Guest blog by Lynette Benton

I’m delighted to introduce my first guest blog, on the challenges of charity shop shopping in the States, written by my friend, Lynette, who is the successful writer of not one but two blogs!  Read all about her and get to her blogs in her bio below.  We met on Twitter, btw!  Enjoy the post and do comment – I know I will!

Why I Seldom Shop for Clothes in Thrift Stores

Though I love fashion, I confess that I dislike shopping. That might explain why I’m not a very good thrift store shopper when it comes to buying clothes. I like to get into and out of stores pretty quickly, which I can do very nicely at nationwide discount chains such as TJMaxx, and outlet versions of upscale stores like Talbots.

Lynette TWIN SET copyMy real preference is buying my clothes on sale at lovely little boutiques, where the knowledgeable women who work there hand you the colors you want and the sizes you need, as well as show you items and accessories to compliment whatever it is you’re trying on, like this coral top and decorative cardigan. They’re not really a twin set, but they’re close enough pass for one.

Still, I know I’m not saving as much money at these places as I would at a thrift shop. Until she died in 2012, every spring and fall I used to drive my mother-in-law (queen of frugal shopping), to yard, garage, and estate sales. We loved large rummage events hosted by local churches, especially those in affluent towns nears ours. I might have to search through a ton of preppy styles (pink and light green masculine-looking shirts), but how could I lose when every bag I filled with clothes came to only $5.00?

At that price, I didn’t mind if only one of all the items in my bag turned out to be something I wanted to keep after I got it home. Take a look at this soft wool Ann Freedberg jacket below that I scrunched into one of those shopping bags.

Lynette PEACH JACKET copy

On my own in a thrift shop, I might find 4 or 5 items to try on. If none seems quite right, I have to don my own clothes again, replace the rejects on a rack that seems — and, in giant shops, sometimes is — the equivalent of a city block away, then make some other choices to schlep back to the dressing room. When that second round of goods doesn’t fit, I’m outta there.

Recently my husband and I went to very large Goodwill store. I had high hopes because a well-dressed friend of mine said she shops there. Actually, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find some of my own cast-offs there, since I send Goodwill my excess items.

Masses of clothes were on display: coats, jackets, suits, dresses, shoes. Tops and bottoms. Since I can never have enough sleeveless tops to accommodate my hot flashes, I began my search there, among the hundreds of tops, all neatly lined up on hangers. They were organized by color. Any time I selected a nice yellow or turquoise or pale pink one, it was the wrong size. This happened over and over, but I managed to find enough to put in my cart.

I went on to slacks. Grey, black, brown, tan, russet, white. Since they, too, were organized by color, rather than size, each time I saw a pair I liked, I had to wrestle it off its hanger to find the size. In these stores, there is only one of an item, so if the size 8 slacks my heart desires don’t fit, I’m unlikely to find a 6 or a 10 to try. At Goodwill, nothing I liked fitted me properly. I found the whole effort discouraging and exhausting.

I need Penny’s Frugal Fashion blog to provide a tutorial on thrift shop shopping! In the meantime, if there’s any guidance her readers can offer me I hope they’ll make it available in a comment.

All the same, thrift stores or discounts and sales at regular stores — does it really matter? Since I enjoy being stylishly dressed, I’m usually just hoping to get what I want at the best prices available that day.


Lynette HEADSHOT copyLynette Benton, a published writer and writing instructor, hopes you’ll visit and chime in at her blog, Stylish Ole Woman.

Her other blog, Tools and Tactics for Writers, was named one of the Best 100 Blogs for Writers—2014.





A tribute to my mother – a wearer of Crimplene and Helena Rubenstein lipstick

I was going to write about jackets.   Another possibility was makeup for older women. But instead I’m going to write about my mother.

We’ve just had Mothering Sunday – what a humungeous commercial enterprise it is with supermarkets stuffed with chocolates and bucket loads of flowers and numerous, fairly useless, pink and tastefully grey trinkets. Glad to say I didn’t get any of that – not keen that Mr Walmart &/or Sainsbury’s should have any of my kids’ hard earned cash. Instead I got cards from my two with, inside, some beautiful meaningful words written by them – lovely.

But the day got me thinking about my mother who died nearly twenty years ago.

My earliest memories of my family are of my parents, sister and myself, living in the suburbs of London, in the 50s, in a three-bed semi filled with utility furniture supplemented with Indian rugs, throws and side tables; a legacy of my father’s India days. My younger sister and me were typical 50s children, we played in the street, wore Clarks shoes with the cut out diamonds in the leather and walked two miles to school.  My father travelled to the City by tube, and my mother was an archetypal 50s housewife, always at home, always cooking; a good plain cook of stews, roasts and chops.

But all was not well. My mother had depression, which was severe at times. There wasn’t much in the way of treatment in those days, but she finally found some outpatient care and it came under control, of sorts. I took up psychiatric nursing after my general nurse training, in order to come to terms with my mother’s illness, which I saw mainly as a result of being intrinsic to her personality and being a housewife trapped at home. My whole quest in life was, therefore, to never be a housewife and never, ever, be like my mother.

Mother aged 20Yet, I am my mother’s daughter, and now, from a distance, I acknowledge how much I am like her, and, how much I owe her. What’s more through doing some family history and looking at old photographs I can see how very beautiful she was. Here is one photo of her taken in 1935.  There are also, I now realise, reasons for her depression.

So where did my love of makeup and clothes come from – my mother, of course!

If I close my eyes and imagine her bending down to kiss my younger self, I can feel her skin touch mine, her breath is sweet and her mouth coloured a rich red from an ever-present Helena Rubenstein lipstick. Every morning when we are not rushing off to school she sits in front of the mirrored utility dressing table and puts on her ‘face’ and as I sit near her on the bed I watch its careful application.

Over the years the ‘face’ didn’t change and she never became familiar with techniques such as eye makeup, instead, well into her old age she retained that evocative 1930s Bette Davis look; plucked eyebrows, white face powder, red lipstick and beautiful heavy lidded poached-egg eyes hidden behind dark horn-rimmed glasses.

So, it’s imprinted in my DNA to put on makeup. But as for fashion, in her latter years, my mother loved clothes only of the Crimplene kind, that rather harsh, garish material that was so popular in the 50s and 60s. In fact, that is all my children have ever seen her in. A Crimplene dress?   That is granny.

But, I can see from photographs that, before she married, my mother wore the most beautiful stylish clothes. So I am assembling an illustrated book, with photographs of my mother (and my grandmother and great grandmother), along with some family history and a few throwaway remarks on the history of photography and fashion. I’ll let you know when I complete it!

These buried memories that surface from time to time will be familiar to those of you who have lost their parents. It is a pleasure now to remember my mother, although the feeling is often tinged with a touch of sadness and regret. Inevitable, I guess, but even so, I thank her for the life she gave me and accept that my love for her has grown rather than lessened with the years.   Our mothers stay with us, no matter what.

But tell me, did your mother wear Crimplene?

That’s all for now, back to clothes next post!

With love, Penny

The frugal fashion shopper



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