Fancy a fast fashion fix? Feeling queasy about buying a Primark top that’s cheaper than a sandwich? Can’t sleep for thinking about all those tiny fingers working into the night to make clothes that end up in a charity bag in three weeks (for a fun take on such angst click here )? Step away from the high street and into the increasingly smart world of clever, tempting vintage shops popping up on, yes, the high street. Vintage fashion, always the go-to choice for the art school brigade, is now just as cool but easier to shop for those of us who are not so cool. But how do you approach vintage when you are yourself, frankly, vintage? Here are some guidelines.
Know the decades that suit you best
You can save a ton of time if you know what fashion period suits you and your shape. I can wear 60’s shift dresses quite well – any decade which caters for the bolster shaped, I’m there. My more curvy, friend M looks great in 50’s prom dresses and has shopped for them so long she can spot one in a shop window from a moving car and know if it will fit.
But it’s not just what suits you; it’s also what you like. Having spent my formative years poring over every page in Jackie magazine, I am hardwired to love anything 70’s – flares, clogs, belted coats with big lapels, pointed collars on shirts. I can’t help it. When I’m wearing them, I look down at my loon clad legs and it just feels so right. You’ll be able to spot me in the care home – I’ll be one in the glitter platforms and the big Biba coat, like Huggy Bear on a zimmer frame.
Beware of stuff you wore the first time round
Proustian moments over platform clogs aside, if you find yourself in a vintage shop, holding up 80’s suits and shouting, “I used to have one JUST like this”, it’s time for an intervention. Gently put the suit down, walk away, take a deep breath. Stuff you last wore as a working adult, when George Michael was still straight, needs to go back on the rack. Otherwise people will assume you’re a candidate for “Extreme Hoarders”. Rest assure it won’t go to waste. It will look adorable and witty on a kooky twenty something, but best ignored by the Mme Mutton seeking a certain elegant vintage chic, like Cate Blanchett in “Carol”. We don’t want to be coming across all Melanie Griffith in “Working Girl”, now do we?
Ignore the size tags
The older the clothes, the more awry the sizing. Sad to say, we are all accustomed to modern vanity sizing. I can absolutely assure you that, despite what I’m wearing right now, I am not two jeans sizes smaller than I was in 1975. Then I was such a skinny lass I was told by a disobliging male that he’d seen more meat on an egg butty. Nevertheless, I remember very clearly lying on the floor of “Jean Genie”, being helped into my new Wranglers by one shop assistant holding the zip together and another pulling it up with a crochet hook. I had to be heaved, rigid, to standing by the pair of them, like a column on a Roman temple. The miracle of lycra alone does not explain it. The sizing has changed, not me.
Older vintage clothes are handed down from women who had never heard of free school milk and orange juice, let alone fast food and Cross Fit. They were a very different shape. Thanks to eating little but Findus crispy pancakes from 1970 – 1977, the waists on most clothes made before 1969 won’t go near me. For one’s self esteem, it’s worth remembering that even into the 70’s, clothes were made in the expectation that women would wear corsetry. Anyone remember “panty girdles”? At school we were encouraged to try them to “train” our stomach muscles and keep all that unruly teenage flesh firmly in place.
Learn to love a little imperfection
It is not unusual to find a piece of vintage which has been lovingly conserved in clothes bags and cedar balls and is as perfect as the day it was first bought. You may pay a little more but it is worth it. But on the whole, it’s more realistic to find the odd blemish. Wool is prone to an occasional moth nibble. Velvet pile flattens. Silk linings discolour. It’s the price you pay for quality fabric. If everything else about the piece suits you, then you can decide to live with a few irregularities. I’d always rather have darned cashmere than new acrylic. A good dry cleaner can help with minor repairs, or you can be bold and do it yourself. Check out Twisted Tee for patches which provide a fun approach to the problem.
It doesn’t have to be designer
There are amazing, rare designer vintage clothes available. Owning something by Ossie Clark, or Courreges, or Dior is like owning a beautiful antique – precious, special and requiring care. But there are bargains to be had from the high street. In those bygone days, when people bought fewer things and wanted them to last, the fabrics and finishing were so much better than nowadays. Labels to keep an eye out for are St Michael, Chelsea Girl, Bus Stop, Jaeger, Ginger Group (for Mary Quant’s diffusion range), Biba (if you can find the originals versus the more recent revival range), Laura Ashley, Country Casuals, Betty Barclay.
Know your shops
Vintage shops are often labours of love for the people who run them. They are constantly seeking out stock for their collection, more like curators than retailers. The best collect pieces that reflect their own personal style. One of my local shops sells exclusively pre 1960’s clothes – it’s what the owner loves and wears. Looks terrible on me, but I like to wander in just to look at the beading work and the 40’s lingerie.
Charity shops are different. There you are likely to find more contemporary items people have grown tired of. But if you choose your location well and are prepared to rummage, they can be goldmines. I’m still excited about the lovely wool checked scarf and trilby I found, under a fiver for the pair, in a Salvation Army shop in Glasgow. Look for wealthy areas or areas with an older demographic, for beautifully preserved older clothes or well priced designer clothes (top tip for North Londoners: the Cancer Care Shop on St John’s Wood High Street – brimming with designer names).
Here are some of the shops that I’ve come across that do vintage really well. Feel free to comment and add your own suggestions
BOBBYDOP, Dawn O’Porter’s pop up shop is now in Marshall Street, London W1. She sources a lot of her stock from the US so expect a good mix of designer gems and affordable chic. Also online
WILLIAM VINTAGE. This temple to couture, discretely tucked away in a London mews, is the rolls royce of vintage shops – beautifully selected and presented. This is the first port of call for stylists wishing to create a stir for their clients at red carpet events. They don’t sell frocks. These are GOWNS. A friend of mine bought a swathe of red velvet from there which had previously been worn by Gillian Anderson. And very stunning it was too.
LOVELY’S VINTAGE EMPORIUM. Online store selling largely 60’s and later fashion and jewellery. Very speedy service. Lovely by name and by nature.
MISHKA CROUCH END. Okay, this is one of my local shops but it is an absolute cornucopia. Luckily the sales staff are very helpful and know their stock well. Last time I went in there I came out with a wool dress and pair of leather culottes (don’t judge me). You probably have somewhere very similar near you.
SCARLET RAGE VINTAGE. The local shop I mentioned earlier. Pre 60’s fashion.
VINTAGE GURU, GLASGOW. I fell in love with Glasgow on a recent visit. What a city! Hip, edgy, funny, self-deprecating. Like Liverpool without the eyelash extensions. The vintage shopping in the West End, where I was, was exceptional. Byres Road is a gold mine for vintage lovers. Vintage Guru is a small, nicely presented shop crammed with beautiful arran woolies, good fur or fur-ish coats, little silk slips and beautiful dresses.
If you know what you’re looking for, check out ETSY where people have stores specialising in specific types of vintage item. Often they are from the US so do be careful about import taxes which can make your bargain not quite so appealing. Same goes for EBAY.
Finally, if the vintage hunting is just too much faff, try REVIVAL RETRO. They make and stock reproduction pieces (clothes and shoes) which have a touch of the Vivienne Westwood and a smidgeon of Land Girl about them. Personally, I’m rather smitten by their fair isle pullovers – guaranteed moth-free.