Surrounded by promising “London’s Vintage Mecca” banners, it occurred to me upon arriving at the Brick Lane Vintage Market that such a bold claim could only put the underground market in check.
Far from there; London’s largest collection of vintage clothing, the market is colossal in its range and scope, a veritable Aladdin’s cave of retro clothing and independent brands.
Loud music blares inside, and despite arriving on a Monday afternoon, the market – a collection of more than 40 independent traders and shops – was pleasantly busy, buzzing with chatter and the constant sound of rustling fabrics.
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the website promises “boutiques selling clothes from as far back as the 1920s that span every decade up to the 90s,” detailing “glamorous fur coats, feather capes, vintage bridal wear, men’s suits, vinyl records or distinctive accessories”. But there’s so much more, and I could feel my eyes wide open wandering like a child through a candy store as I navigated the zigzag maze of stalls and backed up the changing rooms.
Leather racing jackets; vintage European football shirts; brand jeans; fringed suede waistcoats and some of the most beautiful lingerie I have ever seen.
There’s no two ways about it; if you like clothes, you are at the Brick Lane Vintage Market.
And there’s no better time for it. While it was believed that the fashion industry in the UK was worth an insane £62.2bn in 2021, and growing. Industry is also the second largest user of water in the world, producing 20% of the world’s water waste.
And the UK is a particularly notorious offender, with 13 million pieces of clothing thrown into landfill every week, according to Oxfam.
Has there ever been a better time to buy vintage? “My older sister said when she was a teenager she and her friends only shopped at Topshop and Urban Outfitters,” 17-year-old Simon told me. He was shopping with friends, skateboards strapped to the backs of their backpacks. “But to be honest, I can’t imagine buying most of my closet from stores like this. I only go to Asos if I really need to.”
Her friend, Mila, agrees. “Vintage clothes are so much more cool and fun,” she said, a thread of excitement creeping into her voice. “I like that if I buy something, no one else at the party or whatever wears it.”
Would you say vintage shopping is cheaper than normal retail, I asked, fully aware that I didn’t look like the same Topshop-clad 17-year-old they were making fun of. They both nodded fervently, Simon adding that his friend had gotten a vintage cycling top for 12 pounds.
“Everywhere is having a sale right now, so if you want one too, it’ll be pretty easy to find,” says Simon. He wasn’t wrong; signs promising £20, £15 and £10 and under were strewn across the floor.
And don’t just take London’s youth at their word. From Bella Hadid’s everyday wardrobe to Carrie Symonds renting a wedding dress for her big day, the alternatives to the fast fashion routine we’re so comfortable with are quickly becoming as normalized as their counterparts. from the main street.
Monica works at the Vintage Planet stall in the market and attributes the rise in interest in vintage and second-hand clothing to the throwback to the 70s in today’s fashion. But for Monica, “vintage clothes never went away,” she told me. “It’s never something that goes out of fashion.”
She has been working in the vintage clothing and antiques industry for years now; at the other Vintage Planet stall in Camden, she once sold John Paul Gaultier bloomers. “It’s a very proud moment,” she said.
At Monica’s booth, she helps me find a pair of low-rise flared jeans that perfectly overlap today’s fashion trends with a bit of my personal style. The jeans, previously marked at £135, have been reduced to £50.
This price is passed on throughout the workshop. A cashmere sweater for £10 at a stall; a prairie-style maxi skirt on sale for £15 at another. Shelves upon shelves promising some of the finest clothes of all decades for just ten years!
Cheap, durable, stylish and – as Mila said – a piece no one else at the party will wear. Great British street, you’ve been a sweetheart. But it’s not me, it’s you; and the future looks a little more vintage and a little more underground.
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