‘I picked up this dreamy designer dress for €4’

Is a luxury wardrobe on a shoestring possible? Dedicated bargain hunter Mary McCarthy trawled the rails of Dublin’s biggest charity shops to find out, and left with a Cacharel number among other gems

Mary McCarthy pictured in her €4 charity shop dress. Picture: Gerry Mooney

Another glamorous find in second-hand stores

Another glamorous find in second-hand stores

Charity shops are the biz for ethical shopping and value for money but can they deliver glamorous, wedding-worthy outfits?

I’m invited to a June nuptials and I’m on a mission to look super stylish and sophisticated though I really don’t want to blow my summer clothes budget on a designer frock.

I’m also not keen on showing up in the same outfit as someone else. Once bitten twice shy. I’ll never forget that wedding where it was me and two other ladies in the same yellow Reiss number.

I could rent a brand new designer dress that might cost €1,000 for €148 from BT but I’m thinking more affordable than that so instead I hit a few charity shops and hope to come up trumps with an incredible frock.

If I do I will have saved a bunch and I get to feel smug knowing my money has gone to a good cause and not a hedge fund.

Items sold through the nation’s 470 charity shops last year prevented the equivalent weight of the entire fleet of Dublin buses from going to landfill. So if you’re off to a wedding why not give the charity shops a whirl. Here’s where I went and how I got on.

Dublin Simon Community shop, Camden Street, Dublin 2

For a small shop there was a wide selection. I liked the look of a light blue Pied A Tierre dress for €12. It was too tight for me — even with the spanx underwear things might get too jiggy on the dancefloor, but a good option if you like bodycon.

The Pied A Terre brand no longer exists so you will be guaranteed that nobody else will be sporting the same at the wedding. A gold sleeveless dress with a pleated skirt also caught my eye but this turned out to be H&M (for €7) and for a wedding I wanted top quality.

Paul Keegan, who works in the shop as a volunteer, said dresses come in every day and if someone asked him to put aside a selection in a certain size they could do that for a couple of days — so it’s worth asking if you don’t have much time for hunting.

St Vincent de Paul, Ballinteer, Dublin 16

I always find suburban charity shops tend to have more finds as perhaps people can drop off more thanks to extra parking. And indeed there was a fabulous selection of reputable brands here all priced cheaply as well as numerous black tie affairs. A long, chiffon navy frock stood out — a Ci Ci one for €15.

The wedding I am off to though is more casual daytime so I was on the lookout for a dressy, floral print. I was tempted by a bright blue midi-dress from the Anna Field Collection but it was €50 and I felt I could get a better price elsewhere. Declan Dunphy, who works at the Ballinteer branch, told me that the manager, Fiona, has a great eye so recognises designer gear when it comes in and prices accordingly. All the same, there were lots of dresses from places like Hobbs for €15 — sure where would you be going?

There were many brand-new dresses and Declan said this is because shops closing down often donate stock and individuals also hand in stuff with tags still on as with occasion wear many people never get around to wearing it at all. He said the shop is very popular with young influencers who show off their upcycling on Insta.

Irish Cancer Society shop, Camden Street, Dublin 2

Instant success. Plenty of smart dresses — and some serious razzle dazzle — here but I only have eyes for one. I can scan a rail in seconds and pick out a print that appeals and I was thrilled to spot a cream-and- caramel Cacharel dress with a pretty V-neckline. The heavy fabric is obviously brilliant quality and while the dress is probably quite old it’s in terrific condition. And there’s even a cream jacket and gold strappy sandals at home that will go with it perfectly. With the hair done and fake tan applied I’ll be sorted. And the dress cost all of €4. What a complete bargain.

Charity shopping tips for wedding-worthy outfits

Don’t leave it to the last minute. There is not a range of sizes so it’s likely you will have to pop in a few times before you strike gold.

Be a regular visitor so you get a feel for what a shop is good for. For example the Oxfam in city centre George’s Street stocks brand new shoes and jewellery but is not great for second-hand dresses whereas the Oxfam in Rathmines has a good designer rail.

Bring along a couple of jackets and bags to try on with dresses you see because, as Declan warns, decent things tend not to hang around on the rails for long, though a shop will hold something for you if you ask nicely.

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