Don't think that a central London location means that shopping is limited to high street chains and designer boutiques. Vintage and secondhand shops are there if you know where to find them, like the W1 outpost of Absolute vintage, Lucy in Disguise – the ritzy showcase for Lily Allen's vintage collection – and off-the-radar places like Reign Wear and Peekaboo.
Vintage shops in central London
Smaller than its east London counterpart, this Soho branch of Absolute Vintage moves away from the ramshackle, bursting-at-the-seams approach of its sister establishment, though it does share its focus on shoes. Lined up by the dozen on packed shelves, both men's and women's styles are arranged in meticulous order by colour and by type. So, if you're looking for a pair of gold loafers, black Dr Martens, or brown ankle boots, the search is made infinitely easier here. The boutique-style store also has a solid selection of bags as well as a back room packed with apparel. It's a whittled-down selection, helping you avoid a complete rummage-fest.
Venue says: “Affordable, high-end vintage fashion.”
Blackout II was peddling vintage threads long before it became fashionable. For some 25 years, the Covent Garden store has specialised in antique apparel (largely dresses from the '20s and '30s) as well as more wearable men's and women's clothing and accessories from the '40s through to the '80s. The duplex store is heaving with stock, and you'll need a great deal of rummager's enthusiasm to prise through the stuffed rails, but incredibly knowledgeable staff, together with signs on rails indicating era, make the shopping experience a smidge easier. An ideal place to go if you're after a specific item from a specific decade.
Styling itself as a boutique - rather than a jumble-style vintage den - this classy store in the Newburgh Quarter is a great place to find occasion wear. Founders Emily Bothwell and Michael Caunter (the pair behind Topshop's long-loved Peekaboo vintage concession) have moved away from the colourful, secondhand party garb that made them so popular on the high street and have focused instead on the more exclusive, grown-up side of vintage. Designer gowns and day dresses meet clutch bags, hats and immaculately kept heels. As you'd expect, price tags reflect the ethos, with dresses starting at around £90.
This brilliantly named store specialises in '60s and '70s fashion for men and women. Sandwiched between two cafes on Waterloo's Lower Marsh Street, the small but well stocked shop sells everything you need to pull off a polished retro look, from Mary Quant-style shifts and floral flares to kitten heels and maxi dresses which we can picture south London native Florence Welch stepping out in. Prices are reasonable, with shirts from £25 and dresses from £50, while gentlemen's jackets go from £45 to £80 for velvet trimmed suit jackets. Friendly staff are more than happy to let you rummage - particularly in the back where the furs, capes and evening dresses are kept alongside costume jewellery and accessories.
A favourite among Soho's media types, this Berwick Street store is well stocked with unique buys. The owners head to Austria, Germany and Italy (among other European countries) to source apparel, so items have a fresh feel compared to vintage dens that rely on American and British secondhand. There's also real attention to detail when it comes to arranging stock: items that work well together are paired on rails, and clothing is largely colour-coordinated - it makes the process of fashioning a complete outfit almost effortless. Prices are fair given the central London location, and you could walk away with a striking Nordic wool cardie for £30.
This airy secondhand store is filled - but not overstuffed - with affordable garments. Unusually, the men's section is up front, offering a choice selection of leather jackets, suit blazers (from £40), cool army coats and surprisingly, football shirts. The womenswear ranges from the '40s-'00s, although the last two decades err on tatty. There's a smattering of slightly dated designer clobber from Prada and Mui Mui, as well as Burberry trenches from £125 and Liberty print dresses from £30. If you're in the area, check out the additional men's and women's Wow Retro branches on Mercer Street, but don't expect to find pristine vintage; these items are well loved as opposed to lovingly preserved.
An expertly curated selection of men's vintage awaits discerning gents in this Seven Dials boutique. Among the usual plaid flannel shirts and flat caps, the store sources an interesting edit of vintage military jackets and holdalls, quality tailoring and tweed, and a solid selection of designer coats from Barbour to Belstaff. Dead stock is also part of the mix, together with a few contemporary labels including the lovely knits of British brand, North Sea.
Sew Over It
Independent stitchers can drop in and sew at this informal sewing café, where machines can be hired for £5 an hour (including a pot of tea). For clueless crafters, there are a host of classes ranging from the broad – an introduction to sewing, for example – to specific workshops where you can learn how to make a pair of knickers, a make-up bag, or even a ’50s dress.