The Usual Shop Explained

The Usual Shop (as in ‘where did you get that? Oh, the Usual Shop’) is my family’s term for secondhand, vintage, pre-loved, used, scavenged, gifted, swapped, bartered or otherwise obtained outside conventional retail channels. It encompasses flea markets, charity shops, car boot sales, jumble sales, the area at the local tip where items too good for landfill are fished out and sold in aid of the YMCA, and even – without shame – skips and things left by the side of the road.

I was inducted into the delights of the Usual Shop at an early age, working out quickly that I could get a lot more pony books for my pocket money if I bought them for 20p each from the book exchange, and as a teenager realizing that I could get the clothes my mother wouldn’t buy me – ripped jeans, army jackets, anything in black – myself very cheaply secondhand.

This has never been a fashion (or anti-fashion) statement so much as plain common sense, and a thriftiness inherited from both mother and grandmother: we have always been people who save the postman’s discarded elastic bands, cut up old T-shirts for dishcloths, make and mend, rework and recondition, since way before the so-called credit crunch and slew of magazine articles suggesting the very same ideas. It’s not so much a lifestyle as a way of life.

The Usual Shop is not a shop, and I do not sell my finds as a commercial enterprise; in the real world, I make my living as a writer and journalist in an unrelated genre. Leave me a comment here in the first instance (it won’t appear live to the world unless/until I approve it) if you wish to get in touch.

The Usual Shop: charting secondhand purchases and alternative consumer behaviour since January, 2009…


18 thoughts on “The Usual Shop Explained

  1. Recycle and Ho,

    Love the blog!


  2. What a great site. I love it. I love charity shopping for records and tapes. You can unearth some wonderfully odd and beautiful music when you dig through those crates.

  3. Jeaniebean on said:

    I love your site – I stumbled across it when I was trying to find what to wear with my winklepickers! I had a very similar upbringing and almost everything I own is second-hand…like you say, it just makes sense. You also go to all the same car boot sales as I do – Poynings/Henfield are great and I have only just discovered them. Have you ever been to Ferring or Fontwell? I’m really into any vintage bargains and they always have some good ones..

    You have inspired me to begin documenting my treasured finds! Thank you!

    • usualshop on said:

      Fight you for the vintage dresses, Jeaniebean – hope we’re not the same size. I rarely go westwards beyond Worthing, a long journey for me, but I hear that the markets at Ford Airfield are getting better again, especially the mid-week one where all the house-clearance traders go. Send your URL when you get your blog up and running and we can compare finds… Happy hunting.

  4. good site. interesting stuff obtained the ‘usual’ way. A woman after my own heart! (im assuming you are a lady).

    Im hunting for a 70’s suit for Tony from Abigail’s Party. Let me know if this is something you might be able to help me with. cheers, and love your work!

  5. You’re right, that is common sense. I don’t spend nearly enough time at my local thrift stores, but maybe I should.

  6. Karen on said:

    I’ve just come across your blog whilst googling for land girls overalls, I work at a museum in East sussex and I’m attempting to put together some outfits for a WW2 weekend in June. Noticing that not only are local but that you live your life in a similar way to myself thought I’d contact you! Would love to chat further.

    • The Driver on said:

      Which museum? Chances are I know one of your colleagues; a number of my finds end up in the dressing-up boxes at various museums and historic buildings in the county. I’m not relinquishing those breeches, though…

      • Karen on said:

        So sorry, completely forgot I’d left a comment on your page….. the event was last weekend! Ended up finding trousers in a charity shop and adding a bib to make them into dungarees, leather belt, a blouse, land girl badge and a head scarf, worked really well. I set up a rationing shop, make do and mend workshops and an air raid shelter experience with warden at the Redoubt Fortress for Armed Forces Weekend.

  7. tambamalam on said:

    Loving the geeky vintage list action and am sorely jealous of your car boot sale access. I knew there was a reason why I need to learn to drive…

  8. This website has gone to the top of my favourites list! I second Ian’s comment above; a woman after my own heart, a kindred spirit indeed. I’ve also been really into recycling, second-hand etc for decades, long before this latest recession made it chic! Keep up the good work…

  9. Christina Lai on said:

    I’m a freelance writer researching for an article on the best charity shops for fashion and accessories all over the UK. It would be really helpful if you could give me a few suggestions (within and outside of London) to get in touch with.

    The concept of the feature encouraging the idea being fashionable for less (it’s the recession) in one of a kind finds. Of course there’s the feel good factor of supporting a good cause. I’m looking for not only quality vintage and designer labels, but also quirky, unique pieces that you won’t find from a run-of-the-mill charity shop.

    Perhaps you know any specific shops endorsed by the press or supported by celebrities, models, designers, stylists and bloggers?

    I’m also interested in putting together a key A/W 11 outfit consisting of pieces sourced entirely from different charity shops. The feature could also suggest unconventional, special gift ideas for Christmas, challenging the snobbery of buying used items, despite it being much better for the environment.
    I think your blog is fantastic- keep it up! I

    Many thanks, hope to hear from you soon (if you could reply in the next few days that’d be great). If you fancy taking a look at my blog it’s .

    Christina Lai

    • The Driver on said:

      Christina, I think that for your feature to have a ring of authenticity, you need to get out there and find your own favourite sources: the joy in this is the surprise find in an unexpected place and the way that you can go out looking for one thing and come back with something else entirely. We’ve all got different tastes and are looking for different things to make up an outfit, too, so my recommendations may be of no use to you whatsover. However, there’s a few clues in my blog posts, and my general tip would be to avoid the obvious chains and well-known names – the best bargains usually come from the tattiest, untidiest and most unlikely-looking shops where the stock is not ‘curated’ or the best stuff siphoned off by the staff. Think local animal charities, hospice fund-raisers and other such causes. See where you end up, and just see what you find… that’s the way it works.

  10. I am excited to find this blog,
    I look forward to all the future reading!

  11. valerie on said:

    u’r doing what i am doing :)
    really like secondhand shopping, and enjoy to find some good secondhand with cheap price, i always go carboot sale at racecourse and marina as well, but never meet u.
    if can, hope shopping with you

  12. Fantabulous!
    I ran into the site when looking for an old gabardine raincoat like the one I wore at school. ( don’t ask how long ago!)
    I love the site & it’s ethos.
    Too much stuff gets to landfill far too early.
    Freegle & Freecycle will be your bag too, I am sure.
    NEVER bin anything someone else may be able to get a bit more use out of.
    That’s my motto.
    More power to your elbow, may you prosper.

  13. Hi there! I manage PR & Marketing for Sew In Brighton, and we offer sewing classes here in Brighton. I LOVE your blog, and was wondering if you would be interested in coming in to blog about us? We would give you a free sewing class, which you would then take pictures of and blog about the experience! Does this sound like something you would be interested in? if so, email us at Feel free to visit our website :)

    • The Driver on said:

      Hello, Sew In Brighton. Thanks for your kind comments. I don’t do the freebies-for-blogging thing but cheers for asking. All the best, Usual Shop.

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