I spent most of my early Twenties happily foraging for vintage bargains. This was mostly because I was broke and, in the early Noughties, vintage tea dresses, scuffed-up old cowboy boots and geeky glasses were what hipsters wore before anyone thought to turn that phrase into a social movement. But thrifting has come a long way from dingy stores hidden off Brick Lane in east London.
William Banks-Blaney – who opened his chic Marylebone vintage store in 2010 (Victoria Beckham and Amal Clooney are clients) – has just launched his new online proposition; a sharp edit of pieces that range from an embroidered waistcoat circa 1775 (styled with jeans, yours for £1,875) and Norman Hartnell Fifties couture to what Banks-Blaney calls his “drunk dresses”. “A drunk dress doesn’t have to have a label,” he says, “they were made to have a good night out in, something that it would be impossible to have a row in.”
Alongside the couture creations are his “great unknowns”, cheerful printed sundresses for less than £300. “While we might do precious things, we’re not precious. We’re not label snobs,” he reassures. “Our entry point is £175 and we go up to anything [he is currently stocking a 1936 Schiaparelli coat for just shy of £10,000]. Our smallest size is a 00 and our largest is a 16 or 18. If a garment still has a story to tell, and is relevant for a woman today, then it will work for us. Vintage is for everyone.”
There are exquisite pieces from Alexander McQueen, Yves Saint Laurent, Halston, Thea Porter… endless wardrobe trophies that offer something completely unique. All pieces are in good condition and each one hand-selected by Banks-Blaney, who largely sources from dealers and private sellers. With vintage there is an extra sense of serendipity – to find something you love, which fits, is rarer than walking into a shop with racks of the same pieces in every size – but that winning feeling is so much greater. “There’s a different sense of possession,” says Banks-Blaney. “We buy clothes all the time and don’t really think about it. We order stuff online and within a month we’re over it. It’s a different feeling with vintage – it’s something you come back to in your wardrobe because you really love it.”
His intention with the website was to create something that would appeal to customers used to the art direction of luxury fashion sites such as Net-A-Porter. “We wanted the site to be very modern and pared-back, so when you look at it you’re just judging the dress. I want you to be able to think, would this work with a pair of gladiators or with a heel?”
Banks-Blaney’s crucial vintage mantra is to keep it relevant – he is not into what he calls “dress up”. “Wear one piece at a time if you don’t want to look like you’ve stepped out of Downton,” he advises. “Don’t overthink it or approach it differently than you would something from a contemporary collection. Simply ask, does it make you happy?”
He doesn’t do vintage shoes or bags: “I love seeing a great vintage piece with contemporary accessories. It’s a much fresher look. I can’t tell you how many red carpets I’ve done where I’ve paired an extraordinarily expensive dress with a pair of shoes from Dune.”
One of the best things about vintage is that the chances of someone turning up to your dinner party or Ascot in the same number are joyfully slim. Plus the opportunity for reinvention, which is no doubt what aficionados of festivals such as the Goodwood Revival feel (attendees often turn up in full Forties vintage regalia). Oxfam recently staged a competition for bloggers who are stylistically devoted to a particular decade, a nifty showcase for their own extensive archive – which is a great place to start for inexpensive fun finds (also available online – Oxfam.org.uk – if you can’t do rummaging). Susan Caplan is a veritable trove of vintage jewellery, too, with very affordable options. There are fabulous gobstopper earrings and stand-out necklaces that will spice up any outfit.
The problem with new fashion now is that it is horribly ubiquitous. In times past, splashing out on an “investment” designer piece assured you some level of exclusivity. But now, with the same luxury fashion collections being sold by every online retailer and shipping to every doorstep in the world, shelling out hundreds of pounds on something so widely available doesn’t bring the same cachet it used to. And let’s not even talk about the same-dress nightmare that getting anything from the high street ensures.
Journalist, American ex-pat and Milan resident JJ Martin launched her website, LadoubleJ.com, last year, selling her own sourced vintage from more than 20 years of collecting. “I think luxury is so boring right now, I don’t feel inspired to buy anything,” says Martin on the current state of the fashion industry. “We don’t need to be inundated with product like this. The entire system is on the brink.”
For Martin, vintage takes getting dressed back to simply enjoying yourself. “I really don’t take fashion seriously at all. More than ever, you need a wink and a smile in this business. It’s become so bonkers. Digital has turned everything on its head, and there are wonderful outcomes to that, but it’s made me realise that I’m not into the mass game of fashion. If speaking to 10 million viewers means that Kim Kardashian has to like what you’re doing then I’m not remotely interested.”
On her website, you’ll find brilliant bright vintage finds (with prices starting at around £180); from Yves Saint Laurent quilted Seventies jackets to jewellery from legendary fashion editor Anna Piaggi’s private collection. The design is colourful and spirited, with a fun cartoon feel to it. Everything is delivered in colourful, ribbon wrapped boxes with a personalised note (free shipping to the UK). “We spent a lot of money on fantastic photography so you can see the garments really closely and there are detailed product descriptions” says Martin.
She has also launched her own collection of dresses, skirts and shirts (La Double J Editions) taken from the Mantero archive’s vintage prints, one of the oldest silk manufacturers on Lake Como, who work with Dior, Chanel and Pucci amongst others. The prints are tantalisingly loud, but the shapes (“universally flattering on everyone”) T-shirt dresses, classic button-down shirts and tiered maxi skirts are not. “They’re really fun” says Martin, “colour and print really has the power to transform your energy, your mood, your everything.”