Renowned for being a fashionable city, whether through the historical elegance, the variety of twentieth century subcultures, or the street style looks of recent times, it’s no surprise that London has a thriving second-hand shopping scene. Whether it’s conventional denim, dresses distinctive to a particular era, or the general thrill of giving a new life to an item of clothing, there’s something both familiar and unanticipated about second-hand shopping. The terms ‘vintage’ and ‘retro’ are often used loosely but here are just some of the places in London sourcing clothing from the past.

Shoreditch can be regarded as the location to visit when intending to go on a shopping spree, with just about all of the stores specialising in the second-hand or independently produced. Dipping in and out of numerous places in one continuous motion, it’s also ideal if you’re new to vintage style and intrigued by the prospect of individualist clothing and accessories with a worn-in history. The Vintage Market, taking place Thursdays to Sundays down some stairs at 85 Brick Lane feels like a maze with multiple routes to head towards and sections of independent brands seeping into each other making it easy to lose a sense of direction. As well as items picked up from the past, like the classically British jackets sourced by Handsome Angus and Mrs Pie, and absorbing assortment of vinyl records, there’s garments that have been reworked with a contemporary twist: denim jackets hand painted with slogans such as ‘Beyonce for president’ (Randolph’s Range) or customised with a portrait of Frida Kahlo (Smoking Gun).

ATIKA, previously called BLITZ is a two storey (ground floor and basement) concept store at the end of Hanbury street. Upon arrival, it’s spacious and understatedly glossy: fairy lights strung across the walls, fashion editorials stuck up for decoration, selections of books, magazines, and comics for sale, and a nail bar and seating area with sofas bringing a laid-back homely feel. Vintage Basement on the other hand, at 7 Cheshire Street, features a £10-and-less lower ground floor with a disco ball hanging from the ceiling for a retro feel, perfect for picking up an oversized top, plaid shirt, or 80s’ blouse at a low cost. There’s also Absolute Vintage, holding a bounteous selection of shoes, and Hunky Dory Vintage with its 1940s- 1970s clothing sourced from Italy, France, and UK tightly packed within a cute wood panelled exterior.

while there’s the conception that you’re immersing in something unique, stores consist of similar looking garments

Beyond Retro and Rokit are two retailers that lead the way in terms of vintage and retro styling, both with multiple stores situated around London. Rokit can be found on Brick Lane, Camden High Street, and Shelton Street and it’s the latter in Covent Garden that’s especially great. If found with time to spare while in the centre of the city, you can pop in and browse through the circular rail of colour-coordinated t-shirts, peruse the outdoorsy jackets, and try on a couple of sparkly jumpers. It’s a similar case with Beyond Retro, situated at Cheshire Street (Brick Lane), Stoke Newington Road (Dalston), and Great Marlborough Street (Soho). With its Soho location, just off of Oxford Street, you can take a breather from the excess of the high street and discover summery playsuits, handmade 60s’ tennis dresses, and shimmering evening wear all of which tend to have noticeable signs of a previous life. Walking around the city should always be preferred because it’s while soaking up the vibrancy that you could take a new turning and discover a place you never realised existed. Goldsmith Vintage, for example, is a small gathering of branded clothing and shoes, neon jackets, and men’s denim, located on Charing Cross Road a short distance from Tottenham Court Road.

The most poignant thing about vintage style though is that, while there’s the conception that you’re immersing in something unique, the stores all consist of similar looking garments. It’s a curation of North American sports t-shirts, denim shorts and dungarees, and reclaimed items like Ralph Lauren shirts turned into cropped ones tied at the waist and plain sweatshirts snipped and shortened. In contrast, One of a Kind down Portobello Road in West London is a designer treasure trove and fashion archive. Its back rooms are an accumulation of rare items, the kind of seemingly lost items that become sought out by designers in search of inspiration, celebrities wanting a classic look for the attending of an event, and museums seeking sartorial additions to exhibitions. One of a Kind is available to visit by the arranging of an appointment but this only adds to the exclusivity and charm of the unexpected.

Thus there are the stores that intend to create an experience as oppose to just a place to browse. Paper Dress Vintage, previously located in Shoreditch but now in Hackney, is a bar and boutique stocking UK-sourced clothing from 1900 to the 1980s: flapper dresses, 1950s’ faux fur coats, and hippy era psychedelic prints. Its bar houses a selection of locally brewed cocktails while live performances, club nights, and launches take place during the evenings, supporting up and coming musical talents.

These are just several. If you pick a district of the city (North, East, South, West) you’re sure to find places specialising in second-hand, vintage, and retro. London has a thriving market scene too that’s deep in history and therefore ingrained in the city’s culture- For example, Brick Lane, Old Spitalfields, Portobello Market, and Greenwich Market. Therefore, even when not on the search for clothing and accessories but maybe just having a casual stroll, finding a bite to eat, or inspecting the antiques and bric-a-brac, you could be met with a moment of serendipity and catch an item that you know you may never be seen again. It’s these pieces that we own that tend to hold more meaning, purchased with a story surrounding them.

it’s these pieces that tend to hold more meaning, purchased with a story surrounding them

Written and photographed by Francesca Rose