Thrifting tips for the cash-strapped UEA student

When it comes to finding cheap, unique fits, this strictly second-hand crash course has got you covered

Lockdown is FINALLY over, Eat Out To Help Out is feeding students everywhere (three days a week, at least), the pubs are back (even if our part time jobs aren’t) and people are lining up for high-street fashion shops like it’s the Ark That Was Promised. It’s enough to get you jazzed about life again!

While the appeal of the queues may feel all-consuming right now, I urge you to pause for a second before diving headfirst back into consumer culture. Think about it: Fast Fashion has a larger carbon footprint than international flights and shipping combined, now the second most polluting industry globally, right behind oil extraction. If that hasn’t got you feeling a little queasy, consider that most cheap clothes are made from synthetic materials, like polyester: These are also derived directly from fossil fuels. Yep, you guessed it: Your £12 top is essentially another single-use plastic.

So, what can we do? There are obvious reasons why students flock to fast fashion stores and sites – they’re cheap, there’s lots of choice, and thrifting (a.k.a, buying clothes second hand) can be a confusing alternative for the tentative beginner. However, it’s easier than you think… you just need to know where to go. Not all thrift spots are created equal: Some shops will be ideal for picking up designer wear, some better suited to super cheap basics. If you want to streamline your thrifting mission or simply don’t know where to start, hopefully these insider tips will point you in the right direction. 

1. FOR SHIRTS, JUMPERS AND UNIQUE TEES: Check out charity shops. They’re normally the cheapest thrift spots by a long way, and have dependable stock. You also get the sweet sweet satisfaction of knowing that your favourite thrifts are supporting a good cause! There are three Oxfams in Norwich to browse, and the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK shops are both on London Street. 

2. FOR CROP TOPS: Check out the Kids’ section. Seriously: you’ll find some real gems. 

3. FOR TRENDIER ITEMS: Hit up thrift spots in trendier neighbourhoods. Similarly, if you’re looking for designer items, check out higher income neighbourhoods. My personal favourites are the Sue Ryder and Nansa Charity shops near the Greengrocer’s… they’re situated right in the middle of the Golden Triangle, and house some predictably unique fits.

4. FOR UNIQUE PIECES: Check out Depop, Etsy and ASOS Marketplace for reworked or handmade recycled pieces. These do tend to be a little pricier, but every purchase supports a small business and ensures you have a well made, unique piece. Alternatively, make your own pieces and alterations! Norwich is a great student spot, right by UEA and NUA, which makes it ideal for unusual pieces at lower prices. Check out St Gregory’s Church for some inspiration – it’s opposite Grosvenor Fish Bar. 

5. FOR DIFFERENT FITS: Try shopping outside of your size and gendered section. We already know thrifted sizes can be irregular, and fashion is intended to be an expressive and experimental zone; that’s why it’s worth trying anything that takes your fancy on, regardless of what it says on the label. Aladdin’s Cave on Magdalen Street has pieces from all eras that will help you explore your style without modern restrictions.

6. FOR CHEAPER ITEMS: Stick to charity shops and avoid buying from vintage stores (at full price, anyway). Vintage store stock will be beautiful, and much easier to dig through than other options, but it’s definitely sold at a premium. 

7. FOR QUALITY: Look for natural materials like cotton, linen, denim, canvas and leather. These will generally be much more hard-wearing than synthetic fabrics. 

8. FOR DISCOUNTS: Check seams and finishing on the garment for any flaws. You can repair most damage, and potentially nab a discount off the marked price. Some secondhand shops and online sellers will also be willing to haggle; it’s worth making sensible offers on pieces, particularly if you’re picking up a bundle from a Depop/Ebay seller. 

9. FOR QUALITY JEWELLERY: Check out antiques & secondhand markets or ethical jewellery makers online. Pieces will vary in price, but the offering tends to be far better than in charity shops. 

10. FOR SEWING EQUIPMENT & FABRIC: Head to your local fabric stores and haberdashers (sewing shop) for all the zips, buttons, tools and colours of thread you could need. Anglian Fashion Fabrics is a great spot on Magdalen Street, and if you’re looking for wool or interested in knitting, crocheting or felting, Norfolk Yarn in the Norwich Lanes is beautiful. There are a few haberdashers knocking about in Norwich Market (selling things like buttons, wools and ribbons at very low prices), whilst Jarrolds also has an awesome sewing supply store tucked away on the top floor. Buying online also works, but it’s harder to assess exact colours or quality. 

11. FOR DYES: Before jumping to the chemicals, consider dyeing your clothes naturally. You can use everything from garden flowers to spices to food waste (save up those avocado stones) – just check out Google (or the wonderful @hedgeknits)  for hundreds of guides. This age old practice creates unique pieces and is a god tier level of zero waste living. 

12. FOR IMPOSSIBLE REPAIR JOBS: If you’re struggling with a difficult fabric or precise fix, reach out to your local tailor for a quote – it may not be as pricey as you’d think. You can also check out your local area for Mending Cafes. These are normally community-run initiatives, where people can bring their broken garms for repair and sewing lessons from others in the community. The Norfolk Makers’ Festival that runs in The Forum does occasional repair cafes, as does the Oxfam on Magdalen Street. Gökotta Tailorshop on Bedford Street also does some banging repair jobs on worn-out denim using reclaimed materials – if it’s in your price range, they’re well worth a look.

So, there you have it! This rundown of the best spots for thrifting (and fixing) your fits is your fast track to second hand success. A word of caution, though; make sure you consider your actions in the charity shop. Avoiding gentrification is easier said than done, but in the context of thrifting, it basically looks like ensuring that the people who really need cheap clothes can still access them at affordable prices. That means acting mindfully; avoid sweeping the shelves for all the winter wear at once, and definitely don’t be that guy reselling on Depop at massively inflated prices. (Seriously. Nobody likes you.) 

With this caution in place, you’re ready to head out. If you’re interested in delving deeper into the world of Slow Fashion or thrifting, the internet has a wealth of resources; check out instagram accounts like @slowfashionseason and @ecob.tch. If you’re interested in checking out recommendations from yours truly,  you can also check out this map of international thrift spots I’m putting together. Happy Thrifting!