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Top of the shops

Madi Hopper gives the ultimate guide to thrifting in Oxford.

So – you’ve arrived. Naturally, the first thing you’ll want to do (once the Freshers’ Week hangover has loosened its chokehold) is shop. Luckily, Oxford is not only home to the Westgate shopping centre (which you can explore for yourself – shopping centres being much of a muchness, you can probably take a reasonable guess at what you’ll find), but also bursting with more sustainable shopping options. Luckily for you, I have decided to share the wisdom I have amassed through far too much time spent trawling.

  As far as charity shops go, I’d say a basic rule of thumb is the further out, the better – the ones in central Oxford are basically extortionately priced carcasses at this point, stripped clean by the pressures of being located in a city heavily peopled with those who think £15 is a normal amount to spend on a single charity shop item. Jericho is somehow worse. But fear not! There’s a Oxfam megastore way out past Cowley which, whilst admittedly not great for clothes, also has a massive homeware section that’s good for picking up crockery as well as assorted home furnishings (notably lamps and speakers, though these can be a bit of a pain to get back on a bike, which is more or less the only way to get there). Central Cowley also has some good ones (shoutout to Barnardo’s), Summertown is also pretty decent but only really feasible if you fancy a fifteen-minute cycle (though it does also have a very nice pottery café if you fancy making a day of it) – and the Holy of Holies is but a short bus ride away. 

If I didn’t know how many people actually read this I’d maybe be tempted to gatekeep a little more, but as it is I’ll let all five of you in on the Holy Grail, A.K.A. Templar Square. It’s basically a shopping arcade stuffed with charity shops (and a Poundland, which the city centre sadly lacks) that are all reasonably priced (one does all clothes for two pounds) and stocked full of more unusual finds – we did a lot of the costume shopping for last term’s production of Persephone there. In terms of vintage shops, you’re spoilt for choice. Apart from the one down Cowley which is both so overpriced and so underwhelming I won’t bother to give you its name (seriously. It just isn’t worth the Google), Oxford is home to a nice selection to suit all budgets.


Unicorn  – located on Ship Street, by Big Pret – is closest to both my college and my heart. For one thing, it’s a unique shopping experience even if you don’t end up buying anything. Everything is hung, stacked, and piled up all over the place, so you have to dig around for what you want, often discovering bits & bobs you never would have known you needed – and nothing is priced. Notably stocked with vintage student production costumes and ballwear as well as more run-of-the-mill vintage, once you’ve found what you like you will have to ask the old lady who owns it for the price. There’s no way to confirm this, but by triangulating my experiences with those of my friends, I’m decently sure that she vibe checks you and names her price based on that (and if you really fail to measure up she’ll refuse to sell). A word to the wise – haggling is only worth it if you’re buying more than one thing. I personally think the unorthodox pricing only adds to the fun of the trip – which is an *experience* if nothing else. 

BEST BUY: A pirate shirt with 15” sleeves

GOOD FOR: Bop costumes and formalwear (all genders)

Again Garments

Every Thursday-Saturday the fruit and veg stall in Gloucester Green Market (by Odeon) is replaced by Again Garments, a vintage stall set-up with everything from fur coats to board shorts. The other stalls in the market do sometimes sell clothes, but Again Garments is leagues apart : I’d say the best value place for vintage in the whole of Oxford, and also the only one which has loyalty cards – and I guarantee it’s easier than you think to rank up the 10 stamps needed to secure your 11th freebie. As knowledge is power, I’ll also let you in on the fact they put their prices up on a Saturday – so go early !

BEST BUY: Handmade Liberty-print dress for a tenner

GOOD FOR: Interesting jumpers and shirts, classic Levis

Ballroom Emporium

Found just behind Magdalen roundabout, this pure vintage shop can be quite pricey, but has a magic bargain rail where you’ll find anything from dungarees to negligees to ski-suits – all for under £15. Inside they specialise in vintage dresses of all eras, and for all you humanities girlies a large selection of vintage Penguin paperbacks for about £2 a pop. As the name suggests, they also do ballgowns, which you can hire for the night or buy outright. Fittings are supposedly by appointment only, but I rocked up having had an online order catastrophe the day of my college ball & managed to walk out with a total bargain ; although most of their gown selection is over the £100 mark, they also have various samples at a beautiful discount. They also have by far the best accessory selection – fans, elbow gloves, and even suspiciously genuine looking coloniser hats (please don’t get any ideas). 

BEST BUY : Shot-silk ballgown, black suspender belt

GOOD FOR : Balls

Image credit: Basher Eye/CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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