Your birthday party always calls for a new outfit – especially the big 3-0.
And with the celebrations culminating in a joint party for my Piscean friend and I at a favourite pub in Harborne this weekend I had some shopping to do.
So on Saturday morning, my little sister, Tara, and I walked, noses in the air, past the gleaming stores and heaving crowds of the Bullring to dingier Digbeth in pursuit of vintage bargains.
I was pleasantly surprised. Hip isn’t normally a word I’d use to describe Birmingham and the last place I thought I’d find it was in Digbeth, home to the country’s dodgiest bus station and ramshackle collection of rough pubs. But then the hip and artistic have always migrated to rougher areas, for their cheap real estate and ‘outsider’ status.
First we hit the bright yellow VINTAGE CLOTHING store on Digbeth High Street across from the bus station.
The tall building had a warehouse feel, fresh, airy and very light thanks to the floor to ceiling store windows. The staff are the epitome of vintage chic and the store was a cinch to shop. Neatly compartmentalised into women’s and men’s then divided further into dresses, t-shirts, button downs, trousers, skirts and shoes – each organised by colour. The store was so professional it could almost fool those who cringe at the thought of used clothing – except for the old tags, lack of clear sizing and that impossible to shed used-clothing scent.
Vintage shopping requires two key skills: patience, and the ability to guess the fit, as the sizing is often missing. You’ll often find that the one piece you fell in love with on the rack looks horrible when you put it on, but the shirt you nearly didn’t pick up looks hipper than a young Dylan. Most vintage stores have no limits on the number of items you can take to your change room – so take a bundle.
After trying on eight dresses, I found it. A lovely 70s-print wrap dress that could make Diane von Furstenberg jealous.
My sis picked up a chain-print shirt dress with a cinched waist and a fairly daring 80’s day glo jacket, which she plans to belt over jeans and a white tank.
Our next stop was the Custard Factory’s Saturday vintage flea market.
In its fourth year this market is a true delight and I defy any High Street addict to go here and not be converted. Vintage store owners from across the Midlands showcase the best of their hand-picked vintage collections in small boutiques. And you can try on clothes from any of the stalls together in the small changeroom.
Women can not go far astray with a great vintage frock. No worries about someone else wearing the same cocktail dress and an unbeatable reply to queries as to where you bought it, “It’s vintage dahhhhling.”
So Tara and I both scooped up another dress. She found a black shift dress with lace sleeves, a real classic, and I picked a not-so-classic but very bold 70s, open-backed black day-glo print maxi-length frock.
The best part?
Vintage shopping ticks all the boxes. It’s green because it’s reused. It’s ethical because you are supporting a local, independent retailer and choosing not to buy from a High Street store that might exploit cheap labour. It’s thrifty because it’s uber cheap. None of our frocks were over £15.
But the thing I like the best is the history. These dresses were worn by the hip chicks of the sixties and seventies and fashion victims of the eighties. Tara’s black dress was homemade and many vintage numbers were stitched and designed by young women and mothers before exploitation of cheap labour meant £10 frocks from Primark.
Surely this is shopping to warm the heart.