When charity shopping I go into stealth mode; I go in steely-eyed with elbows sharpened, or better yet, equipped with a large Margaret Thatcher-style handbag with which to knock opponents out of my way. I prefer charity shopping alone. Most of my friends are the same size as me, and I can’t risk them taking the grand prize. Shopping as a solitary pursuit. Shopping as a death sport. The other advantage of charity shopping alone is that you can eavesdrop. Every shop has a personality, corresponding to area and history and donations and customers. I could map Dublin by charity shops, build a wardrobe made of other people’s memories. Then I would dry clean them and patch them and add to them with my own. These are just a few from the rails.
‘Is that Chanel?’ Mrs Greens for Cheeverstown, Ranelagh Everyone has one. The first, the greatest ever. The old and moldy contents of my local charity shop now grow older and moldier in memory, but back when I was too old to want the Mary-Kate and Ashley dolls, but young enough to want to dress like them, this place was my absolute favorite. Back when Ranelagh had charity shops and not just coffee shops along the main street. It was Mrs Greens which made me view charity shops as something more than dens full of framed Sacred Hearts and crispy old unwanted paperbacks. I read about Chloe Sevigny and her chic cropped hair and her 80s pirate boots, and realized that ‘vintage’ was something to aspire to. That was just as Mrs Green’s shop peaked. I would drop by after school, wearing my uniform, to rifle through the rails. And then it closed, hosting a week-long closing sale to end all others. I remember I emerged with a four euro flapper dress which I later wore to my debs. And in a basket stashed under the rails I found a square of silk with double Cs woven into a floral border. Two euro. Chanel. I think I peaked early, as I’ve never matched that since. The next day Mrs Green’s was gone, replaced by a launderette internet cafe.
‘You’re a divil for punishment, Irene…’ Enable Ireland, George’s Street I curse the day that charity shops discovered window sales. Irene is dragging a half-clad female mannequin from the window display, walled off by blinds and a scribbled ‘Do not touch sign’. Bags, of dubious ‘designer’ origins, are laid out on the counter. A week earlier they were in the window. I went up to inquire about the LV bucket tote (gloriously Eurotrashy and little too shiny to be real) and the reply was a boast. ‘Oh they’re not on sale for another week, we have the window sale and people turn up at seven in the morning and queue down the street.’ I didn’t ask about that. She continues, ‘and you’re not allowed to buy it until then. First come first serve.’ She folds her arms, proprietorial though I have no intention of queuing for a bag with peeling PVC handles. What is it with central charity shops? Camden Street and and Aungier St still turn up the odd bargain, but move further North and the prices will skyrocket. Somebody told Oxfam and Enable about ‘vintage’, and ruined it for the rest of us. This particular lady is enjoying it. I wonder if she’s the one who does the pricing, who labels year-old Topshop with €10 tags, and demands up to €50 for ratty old satchels from the 70s. The window sale is the culmination of their pomp. Does anybody actually queue for this? I imagine her opening the doors to a frostbitten line of vintage-crazed art students. It’s depressing to think about. I feel guilty just saying it, but Oxfam, what happened to you? You used to be cool. And yet we keep coming back and paying the prices. Like Irene, we are devils for the punishment.
‘Yer wan Carol.. she’s never feeling well. I haven’t seen her around here since the Christmas.’ Gorta, Capel Street ‘Me head is bursting…’ It’s a lady, the kind of standard secondhand shop lady who likes to voice her health complaints and ends sentences compulsively with the phrase ‘Do ye know what I mean?’. I wonder where she went last night, or whether she’s just fed up with the tinny sound of the Joe Duffy Show. She’s accompanied by a gawky boy in his teens who is probably on work experience. I do Capel Street on a weekday, and the charity shops are unusually empty. Though they’re by no means a well-kept secret, these shops are that little bit more out-of-the-way than Camden St. Here the clothes hang undisturbed, the odd silk shirt among the month-old Penney’s dresses, already outdated, body con tubes which have lost their cling. Wristbands for abandoned causes sit in a basket by the door, next to rolled-up posters of Jedward which will one day (I hope) be Ebay gold. It’s these unassuming places which turn up the most unlikely finds. A black DKNY handbag I use every second day, nestled among the chainstore pleather totes. The label reads €2. A silk Cos dress for €4. Vintage Levis just ill-fitting enough to be 90s enough to be sold in Urban Outfitters. I pray to secondhand karma that Carol never comes back and ups the prices.
‘Lookit, come here till I tell you’, The Goodwill Thrift Shop This is the strangest of Dublin charity shops. Sitting between the sex shops and Creatine vendors on Capel St (I’m back again, this time on a Sunday), it’s a narrow little shop which becomes progressively messier as you reach the back wall. The interior is akin to that of another charity shop where I once lived in England, a place called ‘Save the Cats’. The clothes are creased and bundled into trenches or thrown over rails. Beat up shoes are tossed into boxes, daring you to sort them. There is always someone complaining about something behind the counter. Come here, till she tells you (about her hernia). What makes it even stranger is the mix of new items near the front. A ‘designer rail’ with Zara and Mango workwear at €15 a pop -this is another charity shop with no concept of pricing- and a wall of paste ‘Dior’ and ‘Gucci’ jewelry, silver and chains and cubic zirconia, displayed on the wall beside the counter. I suspect one of the Moore Street Mall counterfeit boutiques has shut and bequeathed them its blinged-out contents. There are lighters and belt buckles with ‘D&G’ and weed leaves embossed on them, and thin pleather wallets stamped with double-G insignia. An aspiring rapper would do well here. Less Macklemore, more bargain basement Gucci Mane.
‘Women’s jumpers, men’s jumpers, all two euro.’ National Council for the Blind, Dun Laoghaire We are the only ones in the shop, myself and my mother. We do this a lot, go out to Dun Laoghaire and get coffee and visit charity shops. There’s a man at the counter saying it over and over in a singsong voice. ‘Men’s jumpers, women’s jumpers, all two euro today.’ A sign would have sufficed, or he could have told us once and left it. Instead, over Roy Orbison’s Greatest Hits which murmur from the stereo in the corner, he is chanting to the ether. ‘Two euro, two euro, two euro’. He’s got that creepy look in his eye that comes from folding clothes all day and listening to Roy Orbison. There is a certain seaside gothic air to Dun Laoghaire on winter days like this. And the charity shops there, forming a strip along George’s Street Lower up to the main part of the town, reflect this. They are full of old and static things, stiff matronly jackets, shoulder pads and blouses without irony. They are the clothes of women who wore a blue rinse. They are the clothes of the dead. Sometimes you find whole book collections that belonged to someone. Comic books, political texts, or binders full of course notes on Buddhism and macrobiotic cooking. I’ve found moth eaten cashmere and old leather bags with the smell of history in their lining. On sunny days Dun Laoghaire is quaint and full of seagulls. But in winter it feels like a ghost town.
‘Shine bright like a diamond. Shine bright like a diamond.’ Cancer Research, Rathmines In Rathmines a lady sits behind a glass counter. Under the glass are vintage watches, Claddagh rings and Communion bangles. Behind the counter is a cornucopia of broken boardgames and plastic bags. She is singing along to Rihanna. This is by far my favorite charity shop in Dublin. Maybe in Ireland. Or the world. Ever. Much of this is because of the singing lady behind the counter, who warbles, undaunted, through country classics and Bad Romance and power ballads from an era when she was much younger. She doesn’t balk at Mariah’s high notes, or Rihanna’s lyrics about S&M. Nor does she ever notice the odd looks from people who pass through the shop. ‘You and I, you and I, we’re like diamonds in the sky…’ I have found some treasures here. This shop is the most consistently well-stocked; old stock from Urban Outfitters surfaces regularly, alongside teenybopper branded cast-offs and a steady supply of M&S cashmere sweaters. I found a wonderful old wool and velvet coat in bottle green here. It had a school child’s name scrawled in biro on the inside label, but the shoulders were just wide enough. The lady at the counter sang Springsteen as I handed her the five euro note.
Words: Roisin Kiberd