CSSB: Bodycare

Favourite Store: Bodycare

I love this shop. It’s possibly the one remaining chain store in the world which doesn’t have a website, but that’s part of the charm for me. I have to actually go into town, have a rummage, read the packaging and choose what I want there rather than slobbing in the comfort of my own armchair with a laptop.

Bodycare is a bit like the economy version of Superdrug, only without the pharmacy bit. I bet your town has one, they all look the same. Big black and white sign outside, huge clear glass windows and the walls are stacked up to the ceiling with all sorts of colourful bottles. Anything to do with haircare and hair styles, skin care and makeup, teeth hygeine, nail maintenance and varnish, deodorant, basic medicine, sanitary products or perfumes can be found in this shop for very, very cheap prices.

Things I regularly pick up from here include the Alberto Balsam shampoo and conditioner, Sure deodorants, Impulse body sprays, lynx shower gel and spray (for hubby), sponges, flannels, cotton wool, sanitary stuff and condoms (seriously – cheapest I have ever found Durex on sale!), but I do love to have a good search around and occasionally pick up other things. They’re my go-to place for tights, I sometimes get my hair dye there and they’re good for gift sets of what my teenage friends and I used to call ‘smellies’ in the run up to Christmas time.

The only thing I have found that Bodycare isn’t worth shopping at for is makeup. By and large I find it pretty cheap and nasty to be honest – the eye-shadow rubs off quickly, the face powder all looks orange, the mascara comes out clumpy and the lipsticks are guaranteed to smudge within a few nanoseconds of application. I guess it’s not bad for pre-teens with a bit of pocket money wanting to buy bits and pieces to experiment with at sleep overs, but this stuff shouldn’t be taken seriously by anyone who wants to actually look presentable rather than like a cheap clown.

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CSSB: Shabby vs Chic?

Not so much a rant as a wondering, but it’s time to blow the dust off the lid and get back down to business here.

For me, the way I look isn’t just about what clothes I wear or how I style my hair or use cosmetics. It’s not just about the size of my body, or it’s shape. It’s about an expression of who I am, and this does not stop at my own physical boundaries. So for today’s entry I’d like to talk about my home.

Second only to the fashion industry, the homewares industry places massive pressure upon women to ‘keep up’ with the latest styles and trends, in case they are ‘judged’ for being behind the times. I had the misfortune to be stuck in a traffic jam of epic proportions this week and I ended up listening to local radio to try and find out what was going on. I don’t always like listening to the radio, because of the adverts – they annoy me incessantly. The type that annoys me most after last week are the ‘fake conversation’ adverts. Where two women are discussing a new kitchen, which usually belongs to one of them, who is extolling the virtues of the supplier and encouraging her friend to get one too. Or where a woman is talking to a man, presumably her husband, and convincing him to go down to the DIY store and pick up new ‘everything’ for the bathroom.

It got me thinking about how I live, and I do find these adverts really annoying, but there’s a worse one that I identified flicking through a magazine in a waiting room recently – its the increasing vogue of the shabby chic. The look revolves around expensive items of furniture (some of which might be new but resemble a classic style) which have been deliberately ‘distressed’ and made to look old and then fitted with an exorbitant pricetag.

Much like I can’t understand people who will buy jeans that already have holes and rips strategically placed into them, or ‘cut off’ demin shorts that are already fuzzed at the edges, I can’t understand why people want to spend a fortune to achieve a look which is supposed to be about being ‘shabby’. Shabby is easy to do without spending money. It seems sometimes that these people are more keen to spend money than achieve any sort of look so that they can brag about how much they have spent.

I live in a rented house. I don’t have the money for a mortgage and even if I did I would not be buying a property, I would be buying a boat (no I am not joking, as anyone in my real life will tell you). We are lucky enough to live in a nice flat in terms of the actual building. It was recently done out just before we moved in and it is small, energy efficient and filled with light. The kitchen and bathroom were fitted out with an oven, hobs, shower, bath, sink and toilet. The bathroom floor is tiled and the living room/kitchen is wood floored, as is the bedroom – no carpets to worry about. It was unfurnished when we moved in though, which was a big thing for us, as suddenly we needed to acquire furniture.

There is absolutely no doubt that everything I own could be described as shabby and whether or not is chic is highly debatable. From the chair bed with rips in the seat fabric, to the sagging sofa-bed which likes to eat people who sit on it. My bookshelves are made of precarious and drooping MDF which threatens to dump everything on the floor at any moment. The wobblesome table was a gift from a friend. The TV stand was an Ebay bargain. The electronics were purchased from Ebay, claimed from freecycle or – in the case of the washing machine, bought second hand from a charity store.

But I love my house. I am proud of my house. I’ve added bits and pieces to it over the years. Like the two sets of plastic drawers for my stationary/useful bits and my makeup. Like the small second hand book shelves which serve as bedside tables for me and my husband. Or the faux fur blankets to throw over the sofa, which make it look neater and hide the sheer number of pillows that are required to make it so. I am incapable of going into B&M without looking for a little storage bargain to make the place neater – I’m one of those people who also hordes the plastic boxes that pre-packed veg and butter substitutes come in. They may come in handy for something. They frequently do. All of my doors have got those ‘over hanging’ peg fittings so that I can hang up as much stuff as possible to save floor space. This means that my doors get a bit crowded and heavy sometimes.

Everything I have is mismatched, half broken, second hand and shabby beyond belief. I barely have a set of crockery that matches – it’s mostly bits and pieces of economy white stuff with no pattern. My pots and pans are falling apart, as is some of my cutlery. My bedsheets are ten years old or more, much laundered and loved.

But I love my home and on a budget of stray pounds and sheer imagination I’ve managed to make our flat into a place that I am proud to welcome my friends and family into. I work hard to keep it clean and tidy, which much help and encouragement and suggestion from Unfuck Your Habitat. I am not precious about any of my furniture. The cats walk all over it, various corners are scratched to bits and coasters are an unknown thing here – mugs and glasses get rested on any free surface available. And I absolutely know that there is no way that anything of mine could be considered ‘fashionable’ or ‘desirable’ by the homewares industry. Even the shabby chic aspects of the industry.

So it absolutely baffles me that the current ‘shabby chic’ trend costs so much money. And even compared to my stuff, it looks so uncomfortable!

I mean… nearly £400 for a wooden chair? Seriously? The prices that people are willing to spend on Shabby Chic furniture astounds me. I furnished almost all of my flat the the cost of half a wooden chair!

When it comes to being stylish at home, or even just developing your own style (which I heartily recommend over chasing fashion ANY day), it is possible to do an awful lot without a massive budget. Half of what any magazine or catalogue is selling you is purely aspirational – the intangible idea that you should have a life where you can spend that much money and achieve that sort of look. They’re trying to make you feel like you should be a bigger success or that you should PRETEND to be a bigger success – both of which amount to the same thing. What’s that you say? Spending more money, really.

So how can we do it on less money? Let’s have a look at some top tips, shall we?

1) Join Freecycle and/or Freegle

See what you can get in your local area for free when it comes to furniture. I have had some great finds on these networks and have rescued bits of furniture and furnishings that would otherwise have gone to the skip.  It’s also great for getting rid of furniture when you are moving into a new place and need to downsize.

2) Make friends with Ebay

Our freezer was £15 on Ebay. The television stand was £5. The foldup bookshelf was £10. All of these things would have cost a fortune in department stores. You can restrict your Ebay searches to a local distance and reduced budget to save yourself long journeys and expensive delivery charges. It’s also worth looking at some of the other classified advert sites like Gumtree and Preloved for good bargains.

3) Go Charity Shopping

For bedding, kitchen wear, crockery and furnishing accessories, go have a look around the thrift and charity shops. All those people who fall prey to the ‘Must Keep Up With Fashion’ idea need somewhere to send their old stuff, even though it might be barely used, and a lot of it will end up here. Some charities even have stores which exist explicitly for furniture, so have a look at their websites and see what you can find in the local area. If you’re one of my local readers, Furniture Matters, in the Lancaster area, recycles old household furniture and electrical goods and sells them secondhand, putting the proceeds back into their operation which provides training and volunteer opportunities for those looking to return to work.

4) Check out the cheaper department stores

BHS, Marks and Spencers and Debenhams are all very well and yes they are good quality suppliers, but on my redecoration budget I could possibly afford to buy two small pillows in the sale at any of of those places. When I say cheap I mean CHEAP – Go check out Wilkinsons, B&M, Home Bargains and the Poundland and Poundworld stores. I bought a significant amount of my homewares here, including the crockery, cutlery, storage boxes, faux fur throws, fleece blankets and sets of plastic drawers. They’re also good for paints, wallpaper, DIY supplies and gardening accessories if you’re into the more proactive approach toward styling your own home.

 

 

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CSSB: A Guide To Shopping in Charity Shops

Say the words ‘charity shop’ to people who have never shopped in one and they will shudder. I know what they’re thinking. They’re thinking about poky little shops on run down streets, with old ladies sat knitting behind counters scrutinising your every move. Framed pictures of dead pets, odd bits of glasses, faded corduroy trousers, t-shirts with 1980s pop-star pictures on the front and old scraps of curtains falling from the hooks on the wall, with that deathly stick of lavender pot pourri clinging to everything.

Rubbish.

No, no, not the stock – just that image. Things have come a long way in charity shop land.

A well organised charity shop in the hands of a savvy manager and dedicated volunteers can be like a little boutique and can hide just as many wonderful treasures which are affordable rather than scandalously priced.

From the age of 14 until 17 I had several stints working in a Cancer Research Campaign shop on Saturday mornings and I learned a lot about how these shops are run. I valued my time there, not just because it was excellent work experience, but because some of those old ladies who worked there were invaluable friends and allies during those years.  A fluent French speaker and a fluent German speaker helped me pass my language courses, and one of the ladies had been the wife of a University Inspector, who was wonderful in advising me where I should apply to (I still live in my University town 14 years after I arrived her as a student).

The manager was awesome – she had worked for a big department store until she got sick with cancer herself. She beat it and came to work for the charity whose research had saved her life. She taught me everything I could wish to know about running a small shop.

Let’s bust a few myths and preconceptions shall we?

First off: the stock is rotated on a regular basis. That hideous brown cordoroy coat might be replaced tomorrow by a cream suede bargain. Don’t assuming that one wasted visit is the be all and end all, and don’t think that these stores have the same old stuff on their shelves for all of time. They have new stock and seasons of change too.

Secondly: broken donations are not automatically sold. If they can be sent for repairs, they will be. But poor quality stock is not automatically crammed into the window. That space is saved for the best things.

Thirdly: some of the things that come into charity shops have literally never been worn. Maybe they were too small, or too big, for the person who bought them. Maybe they were presents. Maybe they were just the wrong shape, or colour. While a great many donations have certainly been preloved almost to the point of disintegration, some of them are just as fresh as the day they were picked from their original shelves.

Fourthly: not everyone who donates to charity is poor or old. Some of the donors are relatively wealthy. And the quality of the goods that they bring in reflects the size of their expenditure as well as the size of their hearts. Some of the women who donated on a regular basis to our shop were on permanent yo-yo diets, meaning that the clothes they bought may only have been worn once or twice before they didn’t fit any more, in either direction.

A well maintained and well supported charity shop can be an absolute goldmine for a thrifty shopper. The point is to make a consistent steady stream of money, not to sell things for their original price. A scarf that sells for £20 in Accessorize might only sell for £1.50 in a charity shop, but that £1.50 will be far better appreciated and often put to better use. So by shopping in these places, you can sooth your conscience as well as your wallet and sense of style.

You might not find the designers from Paris and Milan in these days of Ebay where savvy sellers are selling them for higher amounts rather than donating them to unwitting old ladies who think they’re worth about 50p. But the good quality high street stores will certainly be represented: Marks and Spencers, BHS, the various designers at Debenhams and John Lewis, all of which pride themselves in quality and now made even more affordable. Now that Gok Wan has a regular collection at Sainsburys, you’re likely to see some of his stuff around too.

A few top tips for your charity shopping experience that I’ve gained over the last 17 years:

1) Charity shops do not follow a set stock pattern. In department stores it’s easy to find where the shoes are and where the handbags are, but in a charity shop there may be two or three areas were bags, shoes and accessories are displayed around the shop. Be thorough and give yourself time to look everywhere or you will miss some lovely things.

2) Shop by size. Find the things that fit you and start from there with your decision making. A size 12 only looks lovely on a size 12 lady, and will make even the most glamorous of size 14 ladies look uncomfortable and squeezed out of shape. Don’t fall in love with things that don’t fit, charity shops only have one of everything, you can’t go to the counter and ask for the next size up.

3) You don’t have to decide what sort of thing you want before you go in. Scout around first and have a good rummage before making decisions.

4) Go in on a regular basis. Even if it is just to look rather than to buy. Get known by the volunteers and make friends with them. Donate your own things. Chat to them. Tell them what you’re looking for if you have something in mind. If you make friends with them, they might even pop and check their stock upstairs for that particular length black skirt, or may even pop that cream fur scarf on one side for when you come in next Saturday. These people are great, they are there by choice and they want to sell as much as possible, so if they know that you will be willing to part with your money for a certain style and you will reliably be in to see them, they will go out of their way to help you find what you want.

5) Find out which shops are patronised by people that dress like you. There are fashions amongst charity shops, just as anywhere else. Some will be popular with mums with young children, and so will be filled with baby equipment and toys and books. Some will be popular with students, and therefore great for study texts, fancy dress and household equipment. What you want if you’re style conscious are the shops favoured by compulsive shoppers and dieters – these yield the multiple sizes of good quality, little used clothing in a wide variety of styles. I have had the most success clothing wise in Cancer Research Campaign shops, Oxfam shops, British Heart Foundation shops and local cancer hospice shops. These are the places which put bags through the doors of bored housewives and reap the donations in plenty. And it shows.

Every charity is worth supporting. However, there is no denying that by dint of location, advertising, volunteer demographic or campaign style they all attract different sorts of people and donations. Find out which ones are more likely to stock what you want.

And the only way to do that is to go and see them all.

You’d spend a day in the Trafford Centre. Wouldn’t you…? So take one day out and go shopping around the charity stores. You will spend less, probably buy more and see a much wider variety of stuff than you had ever dreamed  of.

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CSSB: It’s OK To Buy New Things When You Need Them

Dear Self

This is not an acceptable state for your socks to be in:

Sacred socks! (geddit?)

Sacred socks! (geddit?)

Even though we’re all on the kick to save money, make do and make things last, I know that I need reminders somethings that it IS OK to spend money on new things when they stuff you have is broken past use.

 

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CSSB: Guide To The New Year Sales

Oh my. It’s new year. Again.

And suddenly every shop is decked with great big colourful signs declaring that they are practically giving their stock away and you must hurry and buy now-now-now or you will miss out on fabulousness forever.

Even before we get into a shop, we’re besieged by emails these days. These were just a selection that were waiting for me in my inbox in the early hours of 2014:

Littlewoods: Sale just got BIGGER with Further Reductions…
Matalan: Happy New Year + Sale continues…‏

Sainsburys: SAVE up to 50% on furniture, home and electricals

Do. Not. Be. Fooled.

These shops and emails, like the fashion industry magazines, are trying to do one thing – part you from your money and convince you that you need things that you don’t.

A bargain is only a bargain if it is something that you wanted in the first place. Not because it has been reduced in price.

So let’s look at how to survive sales shopping with your temper, humour and credit rating intact.

1) Inventory your wardrobe. It’s time to figure out what you DO need, if you need anything at all. It’s the start of a whole new year and as good a time as any for a clean out. Go through all your clothing. Yes all of them. And set aside the following:

  • Anything that doesn’t fit any more
  • Anything which you have not worn in more than one year
  • Anything which makes you exclaim ‘Oh I didn’t even know I had that’ with a shudder of horror
  • Anything which is more than 10 years old, unless it is leather, silk or suede. Those things were meant to last years. Cotton and Rayon are not.

It’s hard parting with clothes, but wardrobes are not tardis-like, however much we may wish they were.

Now move onto the shoes. Clear out any of the following:

  • Shoes with broken straps
  • Shoes with broken soles
  • Shoes with cracked insides
  • Shoes which do not fit
  • Shoes which make your toes feel sore within 2 minutes
  • Shoes which you cannot stand up in

Out they go. Right now. All of them. Find a charity bag which was stuffed through the door, or sling them all in a bin bag. Put them out of sight.

Now survey what’s left and find the gaps.

Did you think you had an extra pair of black trousers? What happened to that cream shirt you were going to wear for the party next week? You could really do with a pair of boots to replace those ones that broke through excess wear. Write them all down. This is your sales list.

2) Now it’s time for some homework. If you’re reading this I am going to make the assumption that you have access to a computer and the internet, and your homework starts right here.

Make a list of the brands that you most reliably wear and start looking through their websites. Have they got the items in stock that you need to plug those gaps in your wardrobe? How much cheaper are they?

Would you have paid that price as a FULL price last week? Are you only interested because it’s got money off?

Do not get sucked in. These places, both the websites and the shops, are designed to make you feel inadequate, like you’re left out and lacking something and that you’re about to miss out on something that would fill that hole in you – you know, the hole that doesn’t exist because the fashion industry made it up.

Stick to your list and treat sale prices as real prices. Are you actually willing to part with the money for this item?

3) Make a list of potentials. And then either order them online (if the shop is happy to deliver for free and accept returns for no other reason than ‘I didn’t like it’ without a charge) or – make up your shopping list, find your trainers and a secure handbag and head for the high street.

I love online shopping. It has been the saviour of both my self esteem and my marriage. No more trailing hubby around the shops when he actually wants to go look at the X-Box 360 gaming deals while I hold up jumper after jumper and say ‘Would you wear this?’. No more time spent in a grump as he asks how MANY pairs of black trousers I want to try on before I pick one.

Now I just click the buttons and it all arrives in the post, and he goes through his selection in ‘yes, yes, no, no, no, yes’ fashion, forming two piles – one for the wardrobe, one for the returns bag.

It’s better for me too. I can try things on in the safety and privacy of my own room with the full length mirror, my entire accessories collection and a cup of tea to hand. Much more pleasant than braving those communal changing rooms, or the ones where the cubicles are so small that you end up with bruises all over your elbows as you fight your way in and out of clothing.

It’s a horrible part of shopping, but I do honestly believe that you should not buy any item of clothing unless you are certain that it fits. My clothing ranges from size 12 to size 18 depending on the cut, the style, the brand and whether or not it has been worn before. You cannot take the labels for granted.

Yes, you can make returns but you won’t, more than half the time. Things take root in carrier bags, languish in wardrobes, sit in their boxes waiting for ‘the next time you pop to the post office’ and all that money you spent filters down the drain without having achieved any of its purpose. So sometimes, it is just better to go and brave the fitting room and try things on.

Pack a small body spray roll on deodorant in your bag. Being surrounded by sweaty people who are stressed will make you feel grubby and grimy and this can help you freshen up. Ditto a hairbrush and a lipstick. A quick freshen up can make all the difference in those horrible changing room over-lit mirrors.

Take a spare bra. If you’re wearing a white one, that black top is going to look awful, so have a spare handy so you can see what it really looks like.

Take a pair of pop socks. No pair of high heels ever looked good with socked feed squeezed into them.

Wear comfortable clothing that’s easy to remove and put back on without getting your elbows and bra straps in a tangle. And bear in mind that you will be sick of the sight of the item by the end of the day. I have now taken to wearing something from the ‘throw out’ pile to go clothes shopping in, because then when I get home I can sling it straight in the donation bag and never see it again.

Remember – the mirrors will be tweaked to make you look fatter, drabber, more tired and more washed out than ever. These changing rooms are part of the fashion industry. They are not meant to make you feel good, they are meant to make you spend more money on trying to look better. Treat them with disdain and distrust. Get a general idea, but don’t expect a Gok Wan makeover when you turn around to face yourself.

4) Stick to your list and your budget. Do not be tempted to spend more than you can afford. I cannot emphasise this enough.

5) When you get home, try everything on again, and if you were planning to pair things up with items in your wardrobe make sure that they match before you remove the labels and lose the receipts.

Be firm with yourself.

If it’s the business, off with the tag and onto the hanger it goes immediately. And wear it within the next week if at all possible.

If it’s just not the thing, back in the bag and back to the shop the very next day. Or you won’t get around to it until the exchange policy has lapsed.

6) Bathe. Or shower. By whatever method, wash thoroughly. By the time you get home you will be frazzled, tired, aching, worn out and probably sick of the sight and smell of other people. Clean up and find some of your good humour in the bubbles and put the sales shopping experience behind you.

7) Be positive when people ask you how you got on.

Describe the clothes you loved and bought, not the price you paid or saved.

In face, in general, talking about the cost of your clothes is not a good idea, it makes you sound like you’re bragging, a cheap skate or have more money than sense, and there is no way to control which of those assumptions people will make about you.

Talk about the successes, not the failures.

Show off the things that fit, don’t talk about the things that were too small or big.

The fashion industry does enough to make us feel bad about ourselves, even when we have all the new stuff that we wanted or needed. Fight back and be positive. And enjoy all the new things you just bought 🙂

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