With sustainable fashion becoming increasingly popular, there’s been a huge increase in people buying second-hand clothes. The United Kingdom has championed buying pre-loved items since the 19th century when The Salvation Army opened the first charity shop to help people in need. During WWII, more charities followed suit, due to the desperate need to raise money for the war and help those struggling with its effects.
The popularity of thrift stores has grown and there are roughly 11,000 charity shops in the U.K. today, so you’ll find a vast selection of used treasures in towns, cities and villages across the country.
However, it doesn’t stop there. Each city in the U.K. has its own unique style: Liverpool has its five-inch heels and mini dresses while London adopts a more fashion-forward, punk aesthetic. Depending on where you visit, you’ll be able to find vintage shops and boutiques that match the area’s style. Follow our guide to discover some of the U.K.’s best spots for a bit of (guilt-free) retail therapy.
Northern Ireland’s capital is often overlooked for more popular destinations in the British Isles. The city was once gritty but now has a fun-loving and inviting atmosphere. Belfast is brimming with charity shops—the U.K.’s equivalent to thrift stores—that are full of unique clothes just waiting to be worn again.
War on Want Northern Ireland raises money for Uganda and Malawi. The charity has 13 stores around the country, with most in Belfast—we recommend the one on Cregagh Road for the best experience. The stock is donation-based, so you’ll need some time to rummage through bins, but with some determination you’ll find a gem or two.
If you’re looking for something a little more refined, there are plenty of vintage stores that have a more curated collection. Young Savage, on Church Street, has a vast assortment of clothes, books and vinyl. Although you can buy clothes from most eras, the shop has a heavy slant towards the 1960s and ’70s. If you’re after some patterned bell bottoms and a Beatles album, this is the shop for you.
Bristol is often considered the U.K.’s most laid back city. Surrounded by the rolling hills of Somerset, the city has always had an affinity for sustainability and the environment. It’s not a surprise that you’ll find plenty of pre-loved clothing shops, encouraging you to buy better.
Head to the buzzy area of Clifton Village for a trip to Mary’s Living and Giving. Started by Mary Portas, the fashion mogul who put luxury department store Harvey Nichols on the map, this beautifully laid out shop has plenty of designer clothes for under $50.
For an edgier take on thrift shopping, head to Loot Vintage. Open since 2013, it’s one of the most popular places for Bristolians to shop. This vast store has it all, from bags and hats to shoes and clothes. Search and ye shall find clothes that suit your style, as items range from the ’60s right through to Y2K.
The store doesn’t just sell pre-worn items, it also has its own range of clothing. The Loot Label design team lovingly takes dated vintage clothes and reworks them to create on-trend pieces.
Scotland’s second city prides itself on being the fashion capital of the country. Full of stylish Glaswegians in the latest athleisure wear straight from the pages of Highsnobiety, it’s no wonder their secondhand shops are brimming with finds.
One of the city’s most charming thrift stores is The Magpie’s Nest. The store raises money for a local charity project called Starter Packs, which provides essentials to homeless people moving into permanent homes. The shop, and its sister The Magpie’s Eye, run off donations made by locals, so you’re sure to find a range of treats, from hip designer items to chintzy crockery and kitchenware.
Mr. Ben Retro Clothing is the place for designer duds. Situated in a railway archway in Glasgow’s city center, the shop has a large range of clothes from Britain’s biggest brands, including Barbour and Burberry.
We can’t talk about thrift shopping and not mention the English capital. If you’re into vintage glamour and boho chic, then West London is for you. For unique jewelry or clothes, the infamous Portobello market is the place to go. If you’re looking to splurge, then head around the corner to celeb favorite Rellik on Golborne Road, where you’ll find structured leather belts from Alexander McQueen and tailored jackets from Yves Saint Laurent. Alternatively, try your luck at Oxfam on Kensington High Street—thanks to the wealthy residents, this charity shop often has rails of gently used designer clothes.
For those who have a grungier style, head to Camden in the north or Brick lane in the east. You’ll find outlets of London’s most iconic thrift store, Rokit, in both locations. These bottomless treasure troves are a hit with locals and tourists alike, and you’re sure to find the perfect pair of Levi 501s or a ’90s sports jacket.
Once the hub for the U.K.’s steel production, this northern city is now reinventing itself as one of the country’s coolest.
Sheffield is home to some of the country’s best thrift stores, too. Preloved Kilo, a recent addition to Sheffield’s second-hand shopping scene, is the U.K.’s biggest pay-by-the-kilo thrift shop. The shop’s director (and local legend), Wayne, picks the stock for the store, making sure it’s ready-to-wear and to a high standard. With friendly staff and masses of stock, including faux fur coats, wax jackets and Converse shoes, the store is a thrift shopper’s heaven.
The city is also home to some great vintage fairs such as Lou Lou’s Vintage Fair, which has won the prestigious title of best U.K. vintage fair three times. The fair, which started in Sheffield and now moves around the country, offers racks of clothes from the ’20s to ’80s as well as a “vintage hair salon” for pin-up style updos or intricately braided victory rolls.