Ascot fashion at bargain pricesBy Caroline Cook
May 29, 2012
With just under a month to go until Royal Ascot, ladies are on the hunt for the perfect outfit, and with tough times ravaging our purses we are all becoming more savvy in the fashion stakes.
Caroline Cook finds out how to get a bargain whether you’re after Chanel or charity shop
Dress: £165 (was approx £500)
Shoes: £150 (were approx £400)
For most people, owning a pair of Jimmy Choos or a Birkin bag is about as likely as popping to Windsor Castle and marrying Prince Harry.
With price tags for designer items stretching into the thousands, the Louboutin shoes and Prada dresses stay firmly on the wish list.
Or at least they did, until Chic&Seek came along.
The brainchild of Reading-born entrepreneur Tara Nash-King, Chic&Seek gives people the chance to buy high-quality designer items for a fraction of the original price.
Although the price tags are still not cheap – we’re talking £150 to £350 for a pair of heels – the big reductions do put designer items within reach for those looking to splash out on events like Ascot.
“It’s so nerve-wracking taking the plunge to start your own business, and I didn’t have any idea who we were going to get the clothes from or if people were going to buy them,” says Tara, who founded the company in 2009.
“People started buying them even before the website went live. It’s taken over everything but the hard work is beginning to pay off now, which is really exciting.”
Tara hand-picks all the items for Chic&Seek herself, selecting only the highest quality seconds, some of which come from celebrities, although Tara is careful not to drop any names.
“A lot of the time I don’t meet them, I just meed their PAs,” she says. “But because these women shop a lot – they are being photographed so they have to – they are changing their wardrobes all the time.”
But it’s not just the selling side of the website that is attracting women whose wardrobes are already bursting with Prada.
“I started just as things were getting bad in the economy. I thought the people, buyers and sellers, would be totally separate and the people who sold wouldn’t be interested in buying,” explains Tara, who has a degree in sociology from the University of Exeter.
“But actually I was amazed at some women who are super wealthy but are really interested in buying from us. They can say ‘I have bought this coat that would have been £2,000 but it’s now a lot less’.
“They tell all their friends whereas before, when the economy was booming, they would have been like, no thanks, why do I need something second-hand? People’s mindset has definitely changed.”
Having grown up in Tilehurst, Tara moved to London after graduating but her love of fashion began in her childhood.
“My mum was always very well dressed and she really loved clothes,” she says. “She always had these fabulous wardrobes in her bedroom and we would play with her handbags.
“She would take us up to London and we would go round Harrods and it was really exciting. I love all that.”
As one of the biggest events in the fashion calendar, Royal Ascot is top of the list for designer fans like Tara and there is plenty on Chic&Seek for those looking to splash out.
“I’ve chosen a Philip Limm dress in beige with black polka dots,” she says.
Tara also chose a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes, a Diane Von Furstenberg bag and a black sweeping-brimmed hat in black from designer Philip Treacy at Harrods, to finish the outfit.
“I think hats are going to come back in and people are going to present them in a classic way,” she says.
“The Duchess of Cambridge is going to bring that kind of ladylike chic back.”
Helen and Douglas House
Without a doubt, Royal Ascot is all about the luxury. Whether it’s sipping on champagne or throwing down cash on the horses, wealth is everywhere.
But with more people than ever choosing to buy from charity shops, a stunning race-day hat or dress doesn’t have to be as expensive as you might think.
Nestled in the heart of Wokingham, the Helen and Douglas Charity Shop is proving a haven for race-goers looking to keep up with the fashion parade without bumping up the price tag.
“I would say we do get a lot more people coming in now,” says shop manager Steph Carter. “When they see the quality of the clothes we sell people are quite surprised.”
Lined up in the window of the Peach Street shop are an array of wide-brimmed hats, ideal candidates for Royal Ascot but a fraction of the price of those in high street stores.
“We collect lots of hats throughout the year, specifically for Ascot, Henley and weddings,” says Steph.
“We’ve had about 15 this year and we have slowly been selling them. People ask the price and are usually quite shocked at how reasonable they are.”
With headlines preaching the doom and gloom of the economy, people are becoming shopping savvy and looking for cheaper ways to spruce up their wardrobes.
“A woman came in last week and bought two hats because she could get them for the price of one in other shops,” says Steph.
According to research from the Charity Retail Association, shoppers spent £30 million more in British charity shops in the last year than in the one before.
“I think charity shops have really stepped up to the mark,” says Steph. “Before it was all Auntie Flo’s old skirt but we get new clothes in as well now.
“If the charity is personal to someone, they will go out and buy new clothes for us to sell.”
And word is certainly getting around, with 57 per cent of people in the South East buying something from a charity shop in the last 12 months.
While the shop floor is filled with donations – handbags neatly lined up on shelves, jewellery, books and clothes – upstairs a dedicated team sorts through the donations and prices them up accordingly.
“We get a huge variety in. We get everything,” says Steph. “We tend to keep the Ascot-style dresses to one side until we have a full rail and we make a feature of it.”
A dress which was donated to the shop last month stood out as an ideal outfit for the races and the ladies in the shop selected a floral hat and gold shoes to match.
And the outfit was such a hit it was quickly snapped up by shopper Eileen Marsh.
“I had been looking for a dress for Ascot and I saw this one in the window and realised what a bargain it was,” says Eileen. “I liked it, it was my size, and now I have enough to buy accessories.
“Also it is lovely to know I am supporting a good cause.”
The Helen and Douglas House Charity Shop raises money to help provide hospice care for children and young adults. For more information visit www.helenanddouglas.org.uk