St Paul said that there abide faith, hope and charity – but I have more hope than faith in the charity shop as a source for transvestites’ clothing…
In Heaven, no doubt, charity shops are Aladdin’s caves for transvestites. This world, alas, is a more cruel place. Buyer beware: rather than Aladdin’s cave, here, charity shops are all too often little shops of horror.
I think that there are three main reasons for people giving clothes to charity shops – they’re worn out, they no longer fit or they were a mistake from the start. To take the last of those first – if it looked ghastly on the woman who originally owned it, it will probably look even worse on you. On the whole, transvestites need to take more care over what they wear than women do. I, for one, am not crossdressing to wear someone else’s discarded horrors.
A quick glance with a critical eye will be enough to assess the ghastliness of a lot of clothes. Sometimes, though it’s necessary to try the clothes on to see how awful they are. There are garments which seem fine in theory but in practice, just don’t work. There are clothes which could be splendid, but they’re cut so that they don’t hang right on a human body. If they hang badly on a woman, they’re likely to hang a whole lot worse on you. The cut of clothes can offend a lot more than the eye. I have a friend who picked up a teddy from a charity shop. Exceptionally, it was large enough for a transvestite’s body – and it was certainly very pretty. The snag appeared when putting it on for the first time. It was decorated with piping which cut into the flesh in some extremely sensitive places. The original owner had probably found it too painful to wear, but I think it must have been even worse for my friend!
Less painful, but still a pain, are problems around washing and ironing. There are clothes which are a lot of work to keep in half way acceptable shape. There’s no reason why transvestites shouldn’t iron their clothes – all the same, if someone took a garment to a charity shop because it was too much trouble to iron, it probably really is too much trouble to iron. I’ve given clothes to charity shops for this reason – I’m sure that a lot of women have done the same.
Other pains include hand-wash only – how good are you at hand washing? Worse are problems around garments not being colour fast. I once bought a red skirt with an elasticated waistband from a charity shop. Its original owner had removed the washing instructions, so I decided (as I thought) to play safe. I hand washed it, with a few other things, in tepid water. The skirt came out fine. Everything else emerged mottled with pink. It ruined some expensive undies.
More extreme than hand-wash only is dry clean only. Charity shop items in that category generally cost more to clean than to buy. Something which looked to be a real bargain turns out a bit expensive. Washing and ironing are compounded by the fact that a lot of charity shop clothes are without manufacturers’ labels. Some of these may be home made, but in others one came to see where the labels have been ripped off. Why anyone should do this I do not know, but it leaves care of the garment as a lottery in which there are only booby prizes.
Wrong guessing can ruin not only the clothes without labels, but other things in the same wash. Instructions for washing and ironing are not the only label to be snipped out. Size labelling can also be missing. That allows three possibilities – carry a tape measure, try the garments on, or guess. Someone did once advise me to carry a tape measure as a matter of course. I’ve never done so, and don’t know anyone who has. Even the friend who gave me the advice (a transvestite) doesn’t do it.
Trying clothes on would be the ideal – but it takes an unusually bold transvestite to do so except in such safe outlets as Transformation. Not having attempted it, my guess is that a trannie wishing to try on women’s clothing in a charity shop would meet with, at best, a frosty reception. It could well be worse than frosty. In fact, ‘frosty’ is an accurate word for the attitude of many assistants in charity shops towards men who bring women’s clothes to the counter, let alone towards any male who wished to try them on!
Size labelling brings us to the size of the original owner. An important point on this is that there’s an overlap between the issues of clothes being ghastly and their no longer fitting the original owner. I married a woman who wore size 10 clothes. I saw her through the traumas of going up to size 12, then size 14, and on to size 16. She was concerned not only at her increasing girth, as such, but also by the fact that, with each increase in size, it became harder to find nice clothes.
The problem for us, here, is that not only does the male body tend to be larger than the female one, but it is differently proportioned. Men generally have thick waists, which increases their skirt size several notches. Probably worse, they also tend to have broad shoulders, which can have a dramatic effect on blouse and dress sizes.
Towards the end of our marriage, my wife was finding it difficult (at size 16) to find clothes she liked in ordinary dress shops and department stores. The task would be much more difficult for a transvestite who is more likely to need sizes up in the 20s. Someone I know, who doesn’t seem an unusual size for a man – and certainly isn’t fat – says that he takes a size 22. If flattering garments in that size are difficult to find in shops selling new clothes, they will be very much more so in a charity shop.
This brings us to the reason why clothes no longer fit women – and are given to charity shops. Generally, it has to do with the process through which my wife went. Women tend to grow larger as they grow older – acquiring matronly figures. The result is that there are plenty of size 10 and size 12 clothes in charity shops. The proportion of transvestites who can squeeze into these must be as tiny as their waists are.
In fact, probably the most frustrating thing about charity shops is that there are some lovely clothes going very cheaply in size 8 or 10. I’ve seen some really beautiful leather skirts available for a couple of pounds. Alas, all of them have been designed for anorexic teenage girls.
The most beautiful leather skirt I ever saw anywhere was in this category. It combined black and wine coloured leather sewn to form an applique pattern. It was in a Leyton charity shop. I don’t know why I tortured myself by giving it a second glance, but I went so far as to gauge the size. It was hard to believe an adult human being could have a waist as small as that.
Much the same applied to a skirt of electric blue satin with a tulip hem. This wonderful creation was sighted in a Southend- on-Sea charity shop. I still think about that skirt. Even if I could have returned to my early teenage dimensions, I doubt if it would have been possible to squeeze into the tiny waistband. It would have been better if I’d never seen it. The likes of that skirt can offer me nothing but heartache.
It comes as a relief to leave the subject of beautiful clothes much too small to wear, and consider the third reason people give things to charity shops. This is because they’re worn out. Clothes of this kind can be found on the bargain rails – cheap even by charity shop standards. Alas, unless you’re good with a needle and thread, you are unlikely to rescue anything useful in this category.
Indeed, even if you can sew, it isn’t worth trying to fix anything worse than unstitched seams. When the fabric of the garment starts to give out, there’s not much to be done apart from ripping it up to use as dusters. That said, perhaps the most intriguing thing I’ve ever seen in a charity shop came into the worn out category. I didn’t buy it – the item wasn’t worth having – but it did set me wondering.
It was a red suspender belt which had been repaired repeatedly with large and clumsy stitches. A woman who sewed that badly would surely not bother to sew at all. Women don’t usually repair their lingerie, in any case. Suspender belts continue to be worn in this age of tights because they are sexy – the much repaired one had long since lost its last trace of sexiness. The original owner was almost certainly a transvestite – but why had the worn out suspender belt gone to a charity shop instead of in the bin (where it belonged)? I sensed that there was a story behind it – and I still wonder about it.
Perhaps the best treasures to be found in charity shops are such intriguing little hints of other people’s lives. I’ve donated several items to charity shops which, I’d like to think, may have set someone wondering about the original owner. These have included garments carrying Transformation labels – at the end of their useful lives.
I have found one (and only one) useful garment – repaired by its original owner after much wear – on the bargain rail of a charity shop. It was a little pink blouse with re-sewn seams under the armpits. I bought it for 50p, expecting the seams to go again very shortly. Many wearings later, the seams are still holding – and the blouse has proved itself a genuine bargain.
I’ve wondered about that original owner. She may have been an exceptionally tubby woman – overly fleshy arms, perhaps.
Alternatively, the blouse may have formerly belonged to an other transvestite. The strain on the armpits could be the result of broad shoulders (a major problem in clothes made for women placed on a male body). The restitching of the seams, while not as clumsy as that of the red suspender belt, does not exhibit much delicacy. That may be another sign of a tranny former owner.
To be fair to charity shops, I ought to mention another excellent buy – albeit one that few trannies could have worn – a genuine girl’s blazer. Can a schoolgirl be properly outfitted without a blazer? This was – and is – a treasure, not least because the blazer is an item of school uniform not available from such outlets as Transformation.
Buying a blazer from a school outfitter is not a transaction I would care to make. They would surely wonder why my ‘daughter’ hadn’t come with me to try on her new blazer. And then, perhaps…
“What size is she, sir?”
“Oh, about my size…”
Really, I’d rather not even think about that. But here was a blazer that would be easy to buy. It seemed natural enough that I would snap up a charity shop bargain while it was available, rather than risk losing it by waiting to return with my ‘daughter’ at some future time. The only question was whether it would fit me…
As school blazers go, it was a fairly large size. The previous owner had probaby finished with it on leaving school, rather than growing out of it and being bought a larger one. I looked for a size label. There wasn’t one, although all of the other labelling was intact. I felt doubtful – could I squeeze into even a large school blazer? As a teenager I’d worn an elder sister’s blazer sometimes – but that was a long time before. The blazer was cheap for what it was, but it wasn’t free.
Trying on the blazer in the shop was out of the question. I am generally fairly open about my transvestism, but there are limits. A trannie going for schoolgirl items is sure to raise issues around paedophilia in the minds of a lot of people. It may be nonsense – there is no link that I can see between wishing to dress as a schoolgirl and wishing to abuse children – but that would probably not reduce the trouble which would ensue.
After dithering for a little while, I bought the blazer, took it home and tried it on. To my great pleasure, it fitted. It was a very snug fit when buttoned, but I was able to wear it. Few transvestites, however, would have been so lucky. I am small by male standards, and – most important – have very narrow shoulders. My last girlfriend, in fact, had wider shoulders than me.
Turning from the best to the most surprising transaction, it arose in the purchase of a matching camisole and French knicker set. This was another purchase over which I dithered before making the transaction. It was very pretty – but would it fit? There was no size label and I had to guess. My feeling was that the knickers would be OK, but the camisole could be too small even for me. (As it turned out, this guesswork was about right).
Eventually, I decided that the camisole didn’t matter because the French knickers were worth at least the £3 asking price. On that basis, I took the lingerie set to the counter. The lady looked at it, picked up a pen, crossed out the £3 and wrote £2 instead. And that was what she charged me – but why? I’ve often wondered about that…
Possibly the lingerie set had been priced by a rival whose prices she enjoyed altering. I would like to believe that she thought transvestites should be encouraged to wear frilly undies, and liked to sell them as cheaply as possible if a trannie was buying. I’ve tried to convince myself of that explanation – but haven’t yet succeeded!
I have made a few really good buys in charity shops – but has the charity shopping, overall, been worthwhile? I doubt it. I am reminded of people with gambling habits.
Speak to any gambler and you’ll be told that he or she (usually he) has made an overall profit from betting. If this was true, Ladbrooks, Coral and all the rest would have gone bankrupt. Instead, they appear to be doing very nicely. The punters misperception is surely a matter of selective memory.
So it is with charity shopping. I remember a few real bargains. How could I forget them? The things are still in my wardrobe. What I rarely do is to balance these against a large number of mistakes.
More – what have I done with these mistakes? For the most part, they’ve gone back to a charity shop. This is a process which increases the size of the charity shop haystacks of the unwearable which obscure the needles of occasional real bargains.
If I added up the total of my charity shop spending, and divided it by the wearable clothes with which I emerged, I’m sure that my bargains would prove rather expensive. If I added on the cost of the undies ruined by dye from the red charity shop skirt…
Well – I’m sure you get the picture. There’s no such thing as a free frock. You’ll be lucky if you even find a cheap one that’s any good.
Normally, a charity shop habit is not quite as expensive as a gambling one, although a wash day disaster can leave it so. However, the truth is that almost all of my wearable girlish clothing was bought new.
Alas, in this cruel world, charity shops are very far from Aladdin’s caves for transvestites…