WHEN Caroline Jones lost her mother to cancer she set about raising money for charity. But instead of running a marathon or conquering a mountain, fashion-loving Caroline decided to wear a different outfit from Cancer Research UK charity shops every day for a year.
Most of the outfits came from her local branch in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, where both she and her late mother Mary volunteered.
Caroline set up a Facebook page, Knickers Model’s Own, and each day posted a picture of her get-up on social media, asking for donations via JustGiving.
“I honestly thought about 12 of my friends would pay a tenner each and then tell me to just stop this,” says the 48-year-old mother of three.
But within days, her Facebook posts had gone viral. In one week alone, the site reached 140,000 people.
A run of high-profile media appearances followed, as well as a book deal. By the end of the year she had raised more than £60,000 for Cancer Research UK.
That amount continues to grow thanks to a book, Knickers Model’s Own, based on the fruits of her year of frugal fashion, with all proceeds going to the charity.
“The book features every single picture taken that year as well as styling tips and suggestions on how to get going with charity clothes shopping,” explains Caroline.
Fashion lovers can hear this advice for themselves by attending a special event Caroline is hosting in the spring. She is hosting an afternoon tea and charity fashion show at The Grand Hotel as part of Fashion City York on Saturday, April 8.
“I will talk about the year of my campaign and my book and answer lots of fashion questions as well as compere a fashion show. The local Cancer Research UK shop will curate the catwalk, choosing different looks for different models of all shapes and sizes.”
Caroline believes there are some key rules to follow to get the most out of second-hand clothes shopping.
“You have to work out your basic body shape. Then you need to know the gaps in your wardrobe. If I am looking for a denim jacket or a blazer I only need to go into a shop for a few minutes. For many people, shopping involves getting in the car, driving to the department store, then going home with something they don’t need or weren’t looking for.”
She says many charity shops have upped their game, selecting quality items for sale and presenting them attractively and in an easy-to-navigate manner.
“Clothes are often colour coordinated or organised by theme: skirts, trousers, dresses. Cancer Research UK is really on it and good at following the trends seasonally and they have good changing rooms.”
She acknowledges that charity fashion may not be as cheap as chips – you are unlikely to pick up a steal for 50p, but there are plenty of bargains to be found. “Prices are cheaper than the high street. If I saw some knitwear in a cashmere blend, I would be prepared to pay £10-£20 for it,” says Caroline, adding: “I’ve had some amazing finds.”
One such “find” is a long Burberry belted mac in moss green. She reckons it dates from the 1980s and cost her £25 from her local Cancer Research UK shop. She is wearing it as a dress today – along with a leopard print beret and a strong lippy: “Revlon’s Fire and Ice, it’s a really good, true red, with a matte finish.”
She has picked up some vintage designer pieces from Jaeger, Aquascutum, Paul Smith and Vivienne Westwood on her trawls. She has also landed some quality hauls from the high street. “Vintage M&S is great – St Michael from the Eighties is really beautifully cut and made in Britain. Clockhouse at C&A was great too – I have a floor-length coat I wore a few weeks ago and was seen by 20,000 people on Facebook. The quality of high street fashion was better then – you can’t have it all: you can’t have cheap and good quality.”
Ninety-five per cent of her wardrobe is from her local Cancer Research UK shop and despite finishing her fashion challenge in 2015, she has continued to buy second-hand clothes.
She reckons she has saved a fortune on her clothes budget. “My average outfit costs £30, including accessories. I now prefer to spend my money on make-up, a new haircut or great hosiery.”
Another fashion rule is to avoid black. “Black is a very hard colour to work with. If you add a note of black or blue it can cheapen it. If I put something colourful on, people tend to comment and it makes you feel nice.”
If you are still not convinced, she suggests experimenting with a bold shade of lipstick or nail varnish as an “entry point” to the world of colour.
Caroline’s campaigning year was a success in more ways than one. It earned her the JustGiving Creative Fundraiser of the Year award and a Points of Light honour from David Cameron.
But it is the charity sector that has benefited the most. Caroline – who volunteers in her local Cancer Research UK shop as a window dresser – says: “A lots of charities have said footfall into their shops has increased.”
Which is great news for the so-called “third sector”. Caroline warns that once you start hunting for bargains in charity shops, you can become hooked.
“If you buy a Vivienne Westwood cardi brand new you don’t get the same rush had you bought a similar label in a charity shop – that sense of wonderfulness just can’t be matched.”
Fashion City York event: Knickers Model’s Own, Saturday, April 8, 2pm-5pm, at The Grand Hotel & Spa, York, Station Rise, York Tickets cost £20, available online at: eventbrite.co.uk/e/knickers-models-own-tickets-31098062141
Caroline will also be signing copies of her book, Knickers Model’s Own - A Year of Frugal Fashion, with 100 per cent of proceeds going to Cancer Research UK (cruk.org/knickersmodelsown)
Follow Caroline: instagram.com/knickers_models_own
Check out the Fashion City York programme at: fashioncityyork.org