I don’t consider myself to be particularly cool. I’m not willing to ombre my hair in a spectrum of rainbow brights and tattoo on some thick black eyebrows in the name of fashion, nor do I quite get why you’d want to wear a cardigan that looks like Joseph’s Technicolour Dreamcoat. I’m not ashamed to admit that in my books, a pair of beaten up Converse worn the right way can be just as cool as studded shoe boots with nine inch heels that cost more than your average house deposit. And if you’re anything like me (you enjoy dressing well, perving on models in glossy style magazines and spending a little bit more than you should on beauty products, but aren’t quite what is considered cutting edge) then you may sympathise when I admit: I often feel like a fish out of water at vintage fairs.
These events are undeniably the epitome of cool, but it can be hard not to feel intimidated when surrounded by those impossibly fashionable girls that float through the sea of musky clothes and sparkly broaches like magpies, sipping skinny chai lattes from Starbucks and flocking around that neon orange suit that you’d mocked 10 seconds earlier. But I’m here to urge you not to write vintage off just yet: if you know where to look, these events can be a goldmine of little fashion treasures. Here are my top tips on how to survive vintage markets and fairs without resorting to ducking under the nearest jewelry table and rocking back and forth in the foetal position - being careful not to spill your skinny chai latte, obviously.
My first piece of advice is to steer clear of the countless clothing rails on your first visit. The authentic Japanese kimonos covered in questionable stains and the manly trench coats bulky enough to provide shelter for a small village can be slightly alienating if you’re expecting to miraculously discover a perfect 1920s flapper dress or fifties pin-up style skirt in the first ten minutes of rummaging. Plus, from a practical point of view, it’s difficult to try those sorts of things on at a crowded market with no dressing rooms. And it’s not like shopping on the high street where you can take your purchase home, realize there is no way on earth your boobs are going to squeeze into a bodycon dress that tight, then queue for roughly seven hours at the Primark customer services desk to return it. Vintage fairs are usually one-day-only events, so buying a piece is a commitment.
Secondly, it’s often worth having a sneak peek online to check out the key trends for the season. As I mentioned in my previous post, fur is a big one this A/W, as are vintage style hats and tweed/tartan prints, all of which are key players at most vintage fairs. I visited a small market in my hometown at the weekend and came across these beautiful fur stoles and scarves for less than £15 each, which is amazing value for authentic items of such quality. I also picked up an original Barbour wool scarf for £8, a cute little black hat with a gorgeous broach for £10, and a black velvet clutch with fantastic detail on the clasp for only £8. Yes, I could have picked up similar pieces on the high street. No, I would not have the same satisfied smirk on my face right now. Plus, it’s always nice knowing your versions are a bit more special.
If you’re really struggling, stick to the jewellery boxes. I love picking up a really decorative broach in antique gold and stunning jewels, and using it to jazz up a blazer or cardigan, or finding a great pair of cameo earrings that are timelessly stylish. I often like to ask the stall owner about where they came from – they usually don’t know, but I once stumbled upon a beautiful peach cameo necklace that had been found in an American yard sale and purchased for 99 cents. I only wish I hadn’t paid £5 for it then lost it in a trebles bar. Oops.
And finally, if all else fails, take a shotgun and fire it into the sky. The loud noise should send all of the magpie-hipster-latte girls running for shelter and you’ll be free to browse in peace. Or, you know, you could just sharpen your January sale elbows and dig your way through the crowd for a less illegal solution. Either is good.