Tips for Vintage Shopping from Those Inside the Stores

Courtney at Beyond Retro gives the best starter advice: “just dive in!” She tells me that the key to vintage shopping is to go digging, because you can find some real hidden gems amongst the mass of clothes.

It is no secret that Brighton is absolutely paved with vintage clothes shops. Visitors regularly take day trips to our beautiful city to parade through the lanes and graze their fingertips along the clothing rails which crowd the narrow streets. On an occasional afternoon off, I find myself drifting into these clothing stores simply to admire the collections from multiple decades and eras. When it comes to shopping vintage though, it can be overwhelming. 


The endless rails and abundance of pieces to choose from, with no consistent theme or aesthetic, can feel like a minefield. However, living in Brighton, it feels like a betrayal to not make the most of these treasure troves scattered around the city, especially considering we should all be making an effort to shop more sustainably and ethically. On a mission to make sustainable and vintage shopping feel less overwhelming, I took myself into Brighton’s lanes and asked store assistants their best tips, tricks and advice. 


She manages to convince me that the hunt is worth it. Looking around Beyond Retro, there are fedora hats on display, silver boob tubes on the edge of a rail, and fluffy sequined dresses popping out from the tightly packed rails. The fabulous thing about vintage shops is that some of the clothing is absolutely outrageous and so fun, but you never know what you might find beneath the random concoction of clothing. You might even surprise yourself and decide that something beyond your usual taste is exactly what your wardrobe is missing! 


Every piece of clothing has a story. Courtney describes it immaculately by saying that “vintage is old, but still as beautiful now as it was back then.” Even if you don’t find a piece of clothing aesthetically pleasing, it is the sense of story that each item holds that gives vintage shopping a feeling of experience. She continues: “Vintage shopping is bringing back an era.” Fittingly, as I left Beyond Retro, two customers walked in and person A said, “Do you know what this is?” To which person B responded, “old stuff.” A short but sweet introduction to vintage. 


Someone with very passionate opinions on this is Tristan from Jackalope. He says that vintage shops are a way to “revisit history”. He talks to me about the cultural and historical significance of clothes, even hypothesising that one day they may be considered antiques. Tristan is clearly a well-researched individual when it comes to the world of sustainability. He tells me about the ethical and sustainable benefits to shopping vintage as opposed to highstreet brands. All pieces at Jackalope have been previously owned, so they are reusing historical items, instead of adding to the issue of mass production. 


All of what Tristan tells me is genuinely very captivating. He even points out a pair of dungarees and is able to assure me that the person who made them was paid fairly. “Vintage is about sustainability and ethics,” he summarises. I ask if he is pro customising vintage clothing or whether we should respect the authenticity of the pieces. His advice is to try and find pieces of clothing with less cultural or historical value to customise. He observes that the owner can do whatever they want to the item, as it’s an inanimate object, but proceeds to tell me what he saw as a tragic story of a friend of his who decided to cut up an original Metallica t-shirt. The moral of the story there, as I understood it, is that customisation can, if you’re not careful, be like damaging history. 


Back to Courtney from Beyond Retro. She encourages that “if you’ve got the talent then customise away!” She tells me about a varsity jacket that she has bought and wants to add badges to, because it is just a plain jacket. Customisation can be a fun way to make vintage clothing more personal and to your taste, while still being sustainable. Courtney continues, “that item of clothing has become yours and you are just giving it another life.” Whether that new life is simply being owned and worn by someone else, or whether that piece is given a whole new identity, is completely up to you.

Speaking of the personalisation of clothing, I ask Claire from Independent Rag what is one piece of clothing, in her opinion, that everyone should have in their wardrobe. She very validly responds, “it is hard to speak for everyone,” because clothing is such a personal and independent commodity. She does tell me however that she is always in skinny jeans. I believe a good pair of jeans will forever be timeless. Everyone has their favourite pair of jeans; or their comfiest pair of jeans (the ones which are faded but you can’t bear the thought of chucking them out); or their ‘smart’ jeans. Jeans hold so much identity, so if you want a very decent pair of jeans you can depend on, why not find a vintage pair? Claire has also bought three coats recently, stressing the importance of investing in a good coat for the wInter months. In agreement with this is Georgina from To Be Worn Again. “I think fur coats are fabulous,” she declares. “They look good on guys and girls, and can keep you so warm”. 


A good quality, stunning fur coat can be pretty expensive though, so I ask Georgina if vintage shopping always has to break the bank. The answer is a confident no. She admits that vintage shopping can be expensive if you are looking for something particular and specific. To go back to Tristan’s point earlier, something with cultural and historical value will have a steeper price tag. Shopping vintage doesn’t always have to be expensive though. Georgina tells me that To Be Worn Again currently has a 50% off sale on all clothing, so you can find items for as cheap as a fiver. 


A great alternative to vintage shops are charity shops. “If you’ve got the time to go hunting at charity shops and car boot sales, you can find some really good pieces,” Claire tells me. “The good thing about the vintage shops in Brighton is it’s like someone has dug through the charity shops already and is presenting to you all the good stuff.” Courtney also suggests that charity shops may be a good place to begin if you are new to shopping more sustainably, also because charity shops are generally cheaper. With proceeds going to good causes too, charity shopping is unarguably ethical. 


Today, meeting Tristan, Georgina, Claire and Courtney, I gained a whole new appreciation for vintage clothing and exploring their shops rebirthed a love for fashion and reignited a desire to appreciate materialism in a sustainable manner. Next time I have an urge to go on a shopping spree, I will give myself the day to dig into rails and dive into shops with an open mind. I may not find what I need or want, but instead find a gem on a rail which is full of culture. Vintage shopping is a whole experience: you interweave yourself between decades and imagine the type of people that used to wear the clothing – clothing which now finds itself embedded in the heart of our lanes.

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