Last weekend when I visited the reclamation yard I also had a wander around the nearby vintage emporium. They have all manner of items from yesteryear, from war-time radios to fluffy haired trolls (remember them?!) as well as a good selection of vintage clothes (although they do mainly stock homeware so don’t rush there in hope of finding a treasure trove of retro frocks.)
There’s so much to look at and you could easily spend an hour or two browsing the shelves. It’s like finding yourself in your granny’s attic among dozens of long-forgotten belongings from days gone by.
I almost always come away with something as the prices are quite reasonable but note that not everything is officially vintage (hence the trolls) and there are also lots of reproduction items so if you do decide to visit make sure you check before you buy. The people who run it are lovely and are always happy to answer any questions. They leave you to browse in peace, though, so there’s no pressure to actually buy anything.
When it comes to homeware and individual items there’s a lot to choose from. If you’re planning a wedding or a garden party, vintage china is always an excellent choice to add some old fashioned glamour to proceedings and luckily they have loads in stock.
They also stock a lot of bric-a-brac from the eighties such as He-Man and She-Ra figurines which always take me right back to my childhood (“For the honour of Greyskull!”) And if you’re a fan of creepy dolls or masks look no further. (I have to admit, whenever I visit such places there’s always at least one item that makes me shudder to my very core. On this occasion it was the weird elf-type creature with the yellow hat in the picture below…Imagine waking up to that thing staring at you every morning and trying to convince yourself it’s not in the latter stages of plotting your murder.)
Vintage stores are obviously great for fans of memorabilia and I often hear people asking about particular items. On this occasion I dug out some letters from an old Woolworth’s sign (not quite vintage but Woolworth’s was such a well known store in both Britain and America that they’re already steeped in nostalgia). These are the kinds of things collectors will be chasing in years to come.
What I really love is that these stores are fun to visit even if you don’t have a specific item in mind. You never know what you might find and in this one in particular there’s so much inspiration to help you build unique and interesting spaces as it’s divided into sections and each one is styled in a different way. This means the shop appeals to a wide range of tastes and you can pretty much guarantee that something will always catch your eye.
While this is a great place to visit it’s not huge so I also try to drop by the vintage fair in Alexandra Palace when it’s on and I like to nip to Shoreditch when I can for a rummage. If you find yourself in Brighton any time soon I’d also highly recommend Snooper’s Paradise in the North Laine, which is crammed full of all sorts of weird and wonderful finds.
When it comes to vintage shopping, I think the key is to look for items that appeal to you personally rather than following the crowd and buying whatever happens to be on trend that particular week. I was tempted to buy a set of horns as shown in the photo above but had to admit I don’t really like them despite their current must-have status. It’s taken me over ten years but I’m now the proud owner of a number of items with a good bit of history behind them and that I genuinely love, such as an old record table, a tiny vintage black cat and a leather chesterfield armchair from the sixties. I feel that they bring a real touch of character to my home and I wouldn’t be without them regardless of the fashions.
Great as vintage fairs and shops are, I must admit that I do find it easier to get hold of affordable items at car boot sales or charity shops because those selling them often just see them as old junk (great news for the likes of you and me). It’s always a good idea to visit early in the morning, particularly when it comes to car boot sales, as traders have an eye for these things and often snap them up to sell on at a much higher price. This kind of thing always leaves me feeling somewhat flat as it’s sad to think that those with a genuine love and enthusiasm for vintage risk missing out to those who are only in it for the money. That’s thankfully not the case with this store as the owner and his wife share a real passion for vintage and they don’t charge crazy prices like some of the places I’ve come across. The other thing I really like is that everything is already priced up so there’s no awkwardness in asking how much things cost.
Wherever you go, if you do find a vintage bargain make sure you check it over before parting with any cash. The other day I found a gorgeous little Victorian chair in a charity shop and was about to snap it up for a tenner when I took a look underneath and found it riddled with woodworm. It’s easy to spot – just keep an eye out for lots of tiny holes in the wood – but not so much fun to get rid of. Equally, if buying clothes, take a look at the zip and check the fabric for marks; nothing ruins the retro-chic look quite like a yellowing armpit stain.
And you shouldn’t be afraid to haggle. I find that asking the seller if this is their best price often gleans good results. Sadly this isn’t always the case and I’m still recovering from the time I said this to a stallholder in Malaga and was sent on my way with a barrage of abuse. Generally, though, you will know if you’re getting a good deal so don’t be afraid to politely enquire if you think you could get a few pounds knocked off, particularly if you’re buying more than one item (but note that this doesn’t apply in charity shops).
Finally, be realistic. Vintage shopping should be all about the excitement of walking away with a unique and special item but don’t let your heart rule your head and – I speak from experience here – try to be practical. Will the item fit through your front door? (The sixties chesterfield armchair spent the night in my downstairs neighbours’ garden while I plotted as to how I’d get it into my flat). Does it smell? Is it damaged or broken beyond repair? Is it overpriced? Keep all of these things in mind to ensure you don’t wind up regretting your purchase later on. Other than that, go for it; I’ve yet to regret any of my vintage purchases and often find the opposite, only to go running back the next day and discover that whatever I wanted has gone. So if you have your heart set on something (and it’s practical) buy it. Life is short!
I hope this has given you some ideas or inspiration for your next bargain hunt. Wherever you go and whatever you do, for the love of vintage get out of bed at dawn and beat the traders to it!