Vintage gear is big news these days. Think stars like Kirsten Dunst, Julia Roberts and Laura Bailey kitted out for major awards ceremonies and fashion events and you get the picture. Who would ever have thought that other people’s cast-offs would become today’s biggest thing in fashion!
It all began in earnest when Julia Roberts wore a black and white vintage Valentino gown to the 2005 Oscars, and promptly scooped the best actress award for Erin Brockovich. After that it was lift off for vintage fashion.
There have always been collectors of everything from antique comic books to cutlery, and Oxfam has been going for as long as any of us can remember. But in the past, second hand stuff, (which vintage essentially is), had always been associated with either weirdo bookworms or little old ladies. Seeing cool actresses and singers in vintage clothing somehow made the movement legit.
Nowadays, if you’re savvy enough, accumulating a good vintage wardrobe, comic book, furniture or homeware collection can be a viable financial investment. You just have to know your stuff. Laura Bailey and Dita Von Teese are rumoured to have wardrobes worth many thousands of pounds and joining their ranks would not only bring you style kingpin status, but could also net you a tidy profit should you decide to sell it off. London is a fantastically good trawling ground, with its wealth of charity shops, markets and car boot sales. And if all else fails, you can always raid your grandmother’s wardrobe.
So off I went to Notting Hill, land of the minor and major celebrity, and impossibly beautiful people eternally on the cutting edge of fashion. It had to be a good stamping ground. On Pembridge Road, a lazy few yards from Notting Hill Gate Station, I came across Retro Woman. Almost everything on sale is by top designers, and there is an awful lot to sift through. Excellent bargains that I came across were a pair of cream and white Ralph Lauren shoes for ?15 and pristine black Prada stilletos for ?70. There was also a Moschino jacket for ?50, a sleek black Joseph trouser suit for ?40, and a brand new looking camel Ralph Lauren coat for ?90. Due to the high number of fashion vultures in the area, you have to strike fast because it really is a case of here today, gone tomorrow. It’s probably better to come in during the week, unless you’re not averse to a tug-of-war with a member of the Portobello market crowd, the shop does stay open till 7pm. Also worth checking out across the road is Dolly Diamond, an upmarket boutique which stocks vintage clothing for ladies and gents, and Portobello market itself.
By now it’s apparent that ruthlessness pays off, with the best bargains being mainly the preserve of the persistent and determined. Here’re some tips to becoming one of them – if you find a good vintage or charity shop, go back regularly because the best purchases will be snapped up early, most often by the staff and savvy locals. Try to scout charity shops in posh areas like Notting Hill, Knightsbridge, Kensington and Hampstead, there are many stylish locals who get bored with their designer outfits after wearing them only a couple of times and give them away in near perfect condition.
On the opposite side of town and in an equally cool area, is the legendary Absolute Vintage (15 Hanbury Street), just off Brick Lane. Now this is a real fashionista hangout, next to the birds of paradise alongside me I felt quite dowdy, despite having spent more that an hour choosing my best threads for the occasion. There are fewer top notch brands here, and the emphasis lies more on quirky British and European fashion designers. Shoes are the main focus, with rack upon rack on every wall, and there is a great selection of bags. Most of the merchandise is a bit worn and battered looking which, some would argue, is what vintage fashion really should be all about. Nobody can knock the prices, you can get a funky and unique head to toe outfit here for under 50 quid. There is a smaller section for guys, with a good range of vintage Levis and leather jackets.
Just down the road in the Sunday up market are a number of stalls selling vintage Adidas tracksuits, Ralph Lauren polo shirts and Thomas Pink suits. If all this can be found in one small part of town just think of the joys that await at the many more charity shops and market stalls in London and of course, on Ebay. The vintage possibilities are endless…