London’s affection for secondhand clothes has blossomed over the last decade. Andrew Whittaker, author of Secondhand and Vintage London gives an expert’s guide to the best secondhand shops North, South, East and West in the capital.
There has always been a good trade in old duds, from cast-offs to classics (in the medieval era dealers would gather on London Bridge to sell used garments), but the recent surge of interest in all things ‘vintage’ has seen a rapid rise in the number of shops selling pre-loved clothing.
Generally, the shops fall into certain moulds. Some of the larger stores now buy stock in bulk, and tend to use the word ‘retro’ as often as ‘vintage’ (think racks of check shirts and denim shorts). Many smaller outlets still buy from auctions and private suppliers around the country, and sell the clothes on as genuine vintage, from flapper dresses to utility ware and modern couture (‘vintage’ referring to quality as much as age). Some shops specialise in one field, concentrating, for example, on classic British tailoring or bridal wear. The charity shops, as they always have done, will sell pretty much anything.
Similarly, the shops cluster in certain areas of London – Shoreditch, Stoke Newington, Portobello Road (under and around the Westway) and Notting Hill Gate are all hotspots.
Wherever you shop for secondhand clothes, keep an eye out for rips and stains. Equally, always try on before you buy – sizings have changed over the years (I’m afraid we’ve all got larger). Some shops offer an adjustment service if the clothes don’t fit perfectly.
21st Century Retro
162 Holloway Road
A long-time resident of the Holloway Road, 21st Century Retro is fed by a parent warehouse full of good, honest (but rarely designer) retro garb. Men and women’s clothes from the 1940s onwards cram the racks, and the vast shoe collection roves from Chuck Taylors through to Cowboy boots.
A Dandy in Aspic
Unit D13, Horse Tunnel Market, Camden
Carefully selected and lovingly presented men and women’s vintage clothing. There’s a classic British feel to much of the stock, with silk scarves, brogues and a particularly good collection of sharp 1960s and 70s suits for men.
Brixton Village Market
Eva Sykes’ Woo Woo Boutique is part of Saloon 97, Brixton. She cherry picks vintage with an expert eye (customers at a previous shop included Jean Paul Gautier, who came for corsets); the clothes can date to the Victorian era, although 1930s through 50s – demob and utility in particular – are a speciality. Partner, Mark, runs Two & Six, featuring men’s vintage, two doors down.
87 Lower Marsh, Waterloo
At Radio Days they treat vintage as a lifestyle choice. The clothes speak of mid-century Britain, with trilby hats, stockings and rockabilly dresses. The rest of the shop fills in the gaps, with old Woodbines boxes, vinyl, sunglasses and telephones.
15 Hanbury Street, Shoreditch
Absolute Vintage feels stuffed with clothes and shoes, and yet the merchandise here is well edited and perfectly in tune with the local milieu. Chunky Fairisle knits, 80s sportswear and colourful dresses line up alongside the largest vintage shoe collection in London.
114-116 Curtain Road, Shoreditch
Paper Dress is more cultural adventure than shop. The clothes, shoes and bits of homeware – from the 1900s to the 1980s – are all well sourced and lovingly presented, but it’s the in-store coffee shop and regular event nights – bands play in the window and cocktails are served – that make it a genuine delight.
282 Portobello Road
A standout shop amongst Portobello Road’s vintage crowd; unusual in its preoccupation with what co-owner Claudia calls ‘classic British vintage’. That means riding boots, wax jackets, tweed and fur. “It’s timeless, it’s beyond fashion,” she explains.
26b Kensington Church Street and 2&4 Kensington Church Walk
Bill Hornets’ Kensington shops recall a time when men wore hats and brogues never went unpolished. He sells what he calls “classic, English, masculine clothes”, with one shop stocking secondhand daywear, including morning suits and tweed, and a second filled with dinner jackets, cravats and the like. Splendid.