Now that vintage clothes seem to cost more than anything on the high street, it's time to find out where London's fashion bargains truly lie. Between the charity shops' rags and the vintage boutiques' riches lie the wonders of the thrift store; second-hand stuff that's beautifully curated but doesn't cost the earth. Sift through the wares in London's ten best.
The straightforward idea behind the EETS is to provide good value vintage – which is becoming a bit of rarity in the capital. The owners come from the Topman stable, and have a good feel for current trends. You’ll find lots of vintage denim shirts for £15 and jackets for £25, as well as leather skirts and cheap £10 party frocks. To bring you prices this cheap, money has been saved on decor – by which we mean to say, there isn’t any. But while the converted old Stepney warehouse isn’t pretty, it is functional. The first floor now sells more expensive product and the odd designer piece. Join the mailing list to hear about frequent sales and super cheap jumble events.
It’s difficult to walk into this east London institution and not be dazzled by the rainbow rails. With a decade under its belt, it’s easy to see what has made the franchise such a success: it caters for the festival teen, the trendy twenty-something and the shrewd, more mature, fashionista. For both men and women, this branch offers one of the widest selection of retro-wear in London, all under one roof. Ready for the summer shopper, the current stock includes Hawaiian shirts galore and its very own range of sleeveless cropped shirts in every shade and style under the sun. A word to the wise though: don’t be so overwhelmed by the potent mix of patterns and colours that you pick out any old thing, finding the right item takes time and consideration.
Absolute Vintage may be a stretch away from the crowds of Brick Lane, but that doesn’t stop it filling up, and with its cluttered display of goods, browsing can get tiresome. However, clothes start from a fiver upwards here and you can easily throw together an outfit for under £100 – although you’d be wise to exercise some quality control. The cracked shoe soles and faded colours take some patience to sift through, and boots are overpriced at £50 or £60. But the quantity of goods makes up for the quality, and there’s a great cabinet filled with hard to find Chanel bags.
This pocket-sized shop is stocked by Gallic owner Margot Waggoner with sweet sailorette dresses and bleached cotton petticoats. If you’re a bit crafty, you can buy a sweet little lace collar from here and sew it on to a plain dress to make it your own. There are also lots of collectible items that look like they’ve been raided from a 1950s Parisian larder; cute rusty tins and vintage bits and bobs which would make perfect gifts for the kind of people who would never throw anything away.
Blitz opened in 2011, and instantly put the other vintage shops in the capital to shame. This is a vintage department store, covering all floors of a glorious old furniture factory. The building itself is jaw-dropping, and has been renovated beautifully by the Blitz team. Floors are clearly merchandised with a furniture selection from Broadway Market’s The Dog & Wardrobe, an accessories floor, a book collection and rails and rails of neatly presented fashion. Buyers Jan Skinners and John Howlin look to nearby Brick Lane for their inspiration, buying immaculate seersucker blazers, coloured denim, brogues and silk kimonos for their fashion focused clientele. The selection is all killer and no filler – and cleaned, steamed and folded before it hits the shop floor. To see our video of Blitz, go to www.timeout.com/blitz
One of the very few menswear-only vintage shops in London, Crazy Man Crazy is worth the trek from Crystal Palace station. Owner Paul Davies is about to celebrate two years in trade, and stocks American style clothing from the ’40s-’50s. Although small in size, the store is cleverly laid out by style, and is stylishly propped with a gigantic white double bass and a retro radio playing ’50s rock and roll. The shop provides the vintage of choice for numerous rockabilly bands, and stocks a great variety of leather and bomber jackets priced from £65-£225, and a neat selection of jeans hung on mini meat hooks for £25 to £130.
As Rokit’s flagship store – there’s also one in Camden and two in Brick Lane – this branch stocks the most comprehensive selection of second-hand items, from tutus and military gear right through to cowboy boots and sunglasses. You won’t find many well-known labels here, but it’s still worth a rummage; on previous visits a Gunne Sax prairie dress and a Marimekko day dress were unearthed, and they were an absolute steal. There are also scarves, belts and hats galore. For men there are Doherty-style trilbies, waistcoats and shirts, as well as the usual male Americana. The shop at 107 Brick Lane is more boutiquey.
Tucked away on the largely residential Mountgrove Road, Cafe Vintage joins a petite parade of independent shops. Sisters Aysha Sparks and Nadia Allman head up the bijou boutique-café crossover and offer a distinctly nostalgic nod to 1940s Britain. The charming café (featuring homemade, retro-influenced cakes and artisan breads) leads to a small backroom rammed with personally selected, washed and ironed vintage. The wartime era is well represented here, but ’80s and ’90s outfits, shoes and accessories also feature and, though the space is small, a good scour is usually well rewarded. If you have spare threads yourself, Cafe Vintage also runs a competitive consignment service, with 50 per cent of the sales price going back to the seller.
This roomy and artfully arranged store in West London’s Whiteleys shopping centre fashions itself as a boutique appealing to the same shoppers that might browse the centre’s designer and high street labels. Apparel is of exceptional quality, men and women being equally well catered for. Choice retro garb including carefully selected dresses, shoes and jewellery join furs (mink and fox in particular) as well as gent’s suits, formal wear and dapper accessories selected by Jake Hammond, a clothes trader with years of vintage experience. Founders Zoe Plummer and her sister Rebecca do a great job of keeping the stock fresh and though items here may be pricier than more jumble-like shops in the East End, you’re paying for real vintage know-how and hand-picked pieces.
Laura McAlpine (now defunct Vintroville) and furniture designer Omid Asghari are behind this sleek outlet. Together, they look to source wearable vintage (that means no fancy dress prom dresses) from across Europe and make regular visits to Berlin, Milan and Paris to handpick their women's and menswear. Despite the effort these two go two, prices are surprisingly reasonable with almost all pieces (including coats and shoes) coming in under £50.
Perched between Angel and Highbury & Islington stations, this neat little Italian cosmetics store is easy to reach and easy to browse. An affordable (not budget, but not outrageous either) range of soaps, candles, creams and more are smartly stacked on shelves and chunky, wooden islands that you wouldn't look out of place in a farmhouse kitchen. Having started life as a herbalist shop in the northern Italian city of Lodi in 1978, L'Erbolario specialise in more than simply beauty products. Visitors will also find pet shampoos and perfumes here, as well as wardrobe scents and something called 'baby foam'.