Stepping into the treasure trove, you pause for a moment to take it all in. All around you are rails upon rails of odd, unevenly placed garments, shelves and shelves of battered, elegantly pointed shoes and heaps of quilted handbags in all the colours of the rainbow. Immediately you are hit with that musty, faded smell which is simultaneously stale and yet somehow strangely comforting- like the soft, enveloping smell of a beloved Grandapent's home that isn't unpleasant and yet, unmistakeably signifies 'oldness'. You move deeper into the dustiness of the shop, running your hands over the rows of hanging fabric, scanning the room for those glints of sparkle or pops of print, the ones that catch your eye and flirt with it outrageously, twinkling or calling at you to touch them, hold them, try them against your skin in the mirror- just to see. You run your hands over age-yellowed lace with delicately scalloped edges, fondle the fronds of the flowing fabric of a 1950s prom dress, feast your eyes on cute-as-a-button pearl embellishment...Welcome to the world of vintage shopping.
The first vintage item I ever bought was a little red printed sundress from Peekaboo Vintage at Topshop, when I was seventeen, about to turn eighteen. It was sixty five pounds, and it was from the Topshop in Bromley, when the store had only just moved to its new location, and they had one rail on the top floor of vintage clothes. It was my first encounter with vintage, and I fell in love with the uniqueness of the items right away. I thought that the dress was expensive, and it took a big chunk out of the holiday allowance that my mum had given me for my first holiday away with my boyfriend. But I didn't care. I had to have it, and it was worth every single penny. I still wear it every summer to this day.
At the time, the high-street was overflowing with smock- tops and empire line dresses. I'd searched high and low, but for the life of me, could not find a summer top or dress that didn't make me look like I was pregnant. (For the record, I'm not personally a fan of the empire-line). I was desperate, I mean DESPERATE for a dress that cinched in at the waist. Since the revival of waisted belts in 2005, something which I had never encountered before in my life-time, I had fallen in love with the idea of defining my waist. There was always the option of belting a smock with a waisted belt, but it didn't achieve that cute but sexy 1950's hourglass shape that I was after. When I found the row of Peekaboo Vintage clothes, I felt like I'd stumbled upon a little piece of heaven. Ok, so the clothes were pricey, but they were beautiful. They came in all sorts of wacky colours, cutesy prints and figure- enhancing shapes that I'd never really seen anywhere else on the highstreet. These clothes were funky; they were edgy, and best of all, they were just different.
I will never forget the feeling that I had that day after trying on that dress, of milling around Topshop, picking out colourful neon holiday pieces (I was in love with the nu-rave look, and had just discovered electric blue), with the little red sundress flung over my arm. I felt like I'd discovered a hidden gem; I had finally found a dress that showed off my waist and no one else in the whole wide world had the exact same one. None of my friends owned anything like it, and I knew that it would make me feel like a pin-up amid a sea of identical smock dresses. As I picked out the rest of my holiday wardrobe with the money I had over, I could smell my new pink Johnson's 24 hour moisture hand cream. To this day, when I smell that hand cream, I am seventeen about to turn eighteen again, browsing the rails in Topshop in Bromley, an array of colourful clothes hanging off of each arm, and feeling like the luckiest girl in the world because I am about to be whisked off on my first grown-up holiday with my first proper boyfriend.
Since that day, my love of vintage has just grown and grown. I've learned a lot about it too- what suits me, where to shop, and what kind of price I should be paying (you wouldn't catch me paying 65 quid for a cheaply-made sundress these days!) There is something so satisfying about going into a shop and digging out an undiscovered beauty that nobody else has noticed yet, hiding beneath a pile of musty old scarves in the 'everything for a fiver' bin. I am aware of the argument that these days, whilst vintage dressing was originally a reaction against mass-produced clothing and mainstream style, it has now become so popular and on-trend that it has started to become mainstream in itself. However, I would argue that, whilst you might get girls walking around in Brick Lane with a similar sense of style- no two outfits are ever the same. I don't care what you say about the way vintage lovers dress- you'll never see someone in an identical dress/coat/skirt/top walking past you in the street, or see someone who has put their outfit together in exactly the same way you have. That's another thing- girls you see in East London who dress in vintage are so much more experimental with their hair and makeup, that everyone has such a totally outlandish and unique look.
What's more- vintage clothing is so varied and spans so many decades, that it allows you to be so much more creative in the way you put it together. You can go for a top-to-toe vintage look which perfectly emulates the style of a specific decade, mix vintage pieces together from different decades to totally put your own spin on the look, or mix vintage with high-street and/or designer pieces.
To be honest though, I think what appeals to me most about vintage is that it proves that clothes aren't just clothes, as so many people think. All of the clothes that you buy have a story behind them, and vintage clothes especially, because not only do they have your story behind them, but they also have someone else's story before you. Everything in my wardrobe has a story. Everything is special. Maybe it's just me with my romantic ways, sentimentalizing the clothes, and maybe it's because I am a writer and a lover of stories...but it's why I just can't bring myself to throw away the stacks of rainbow-hued, high heeled shoes I have mouldering away in a drawer under my bed. They are all hideously outdated now, not to mention battered and worn, and are actually about a fraction of the height of the heels I wear now (no one embraced the birth of the sky-scraper like I did!) But I can never throw them away. To me, they represent my acceptance of being tall and being proud of it for the first time in my life. Each pair has it's own special story. It's like a little piece of the magic I felt when I wore them is still encased within each pair, like the magic in Dorothy's ruby slippers. They represent a time of happiness, a time of freedom, friendship, sixth form parties, underage drinking at Amadeus nightclub and hair extensions...I have a whole drawer of ruby slippers, and I can't ever throw that away.
So, now that I've won you over to the joys of vintage, let me take you on a little account of my recent vintage adventures...
I recently payed a little visit to my favourite vintage shop, Rokit, which is pricey for vintage, but has such an amazing collection of pieces that you don't even have to rifle through to find something decent. I like to think of Rokit as vintage shopping made easy. I get generally the same feeling in there that I do in Topshop and Urban Outfitters, that I love EVERYTHING on the rails and want to take it all home...
Outside the Covent Garden store
Inside one of the Brick Lane stores
So here's what I bought: an amazingly sweet white/cream summer dress which enables me to work the all-white trend I wrote about in my last post (plus- it was only £16 in the sale!), a cute headscarf and a faded green blouse.
After my Rokit rendezvous, I popped into Urban Outfitters and found this AMAAAZING book on how to do vintage hairstyles! I snapped it up immediately.
After that. I set off home back to Orpington and headed straight for one of the charity shops in the Highstreet I'd popped into a few days before after work. I'd seen an adorable little cream lace blouse in there which was only FOUR POUNDS. It was another one of those things that I saw, left, and then couldn't stop thinking about! I wore it to my night out on Friday to an uber-trendy bar in Brick Lane, called 93 Feet East. What do you think?
Ankle Boots: Miss Selfridge
Belt: Vintage from Rokit
Bag: Charity shop in Orpington Highstreet
Fur coat: Vintage from Ebay.
To add to my brilliant day of shopping, I even discovered another gorgeous little vintage-esque blouse in the charity shop which I'd failed to notice before! It was just as cute as some of the blouses I'd seen in Rokit (all £20) but this one was THREE POUNDS! Now is that a bargain or what? Plus, it's for a good cause :-)
Here it is:
I hope you enjoyed the story of how my heart was stolen by a vintage dress, and why I've never looked back....
love and kisses,
The Porcelain Princess xoxo