Wednesday, 27 May 2015

How To Find Cool Vintage Menswear in Charity Shops (& How To Care For It)



Since I was a teenager I've been mad about vintage menswear, loving the quality & clever tailoring and selling my more outlandish finds to local bands. Jon's worn vintage since his early teens and gets a real buzz out of converting sceptical vintage virgins into dedicated wearers. 23 years later I still pinch myself at my good fortune of meeting someone with the same passion.

Photo of happy customer courtesy of Aspidistra Vintage
At most fairs you'll discover that true vintage menswear is in short supply. Finding vintage menswear isn't that difficult but finding vintage menswear in top condition is. Men have a habit of wearing their clothes to death and it's a full time job to keep our rails topped up with choice vintage finery.

Our lovely regular Phil (his wife Lynn blogs HERE) modelling his new-to-him Kinky Melon jacket
Unlike many of the female visitors to our pitch, men are generally much easier to sell to. They don't tell us that they're too old for vintage,that they can't buy it as they wore it the first time round, that they never go anywhere to wear it or they're the wrong shape. They see it, try it and buy it and that's that (unless they're married to a vintage-hater and that's a different matter entirely).

Vintage Hardy Amies three piece suit

These days most of our stock comes from private sales but we still find a fair few vintage gems in charity shops. Here's how:

Feel the quality - Harris Tweed stands out a mile from the contemporary suit jackets
On first inspection the menswear rails in chazzas can look a bit uninspiring but if you take time to look you'll find treasure. Run your hand along the rack and you'll find that the quality fabrics stand out a mile. Cashmere, Harris Tweed, cotton velvet and Merino wool have a completely different feel to the majority of modern, mass produced clothes. It's no wonder that men used to spend the equivalent of a weeks' wages on a suit. Quality stands the test of time.

Check out the rainbow lining in this 1950s cashmere coat designed by Hardy Amies for menswear chain Hepworths.

Know your labels. It helps that Jon & I are vintage so we're familiar with a lot of the now-defunct British menswear chains like Dunn & Co., Foster Menswear and John Collier that once traded in most major UK towns. Some brands like Aquascutum, Jaeger, Moss Bros and Burton (known as Montague Burton, pre-1960) have been going for years.  Familiarise yourself with their current labels so you can easily spot an older one.


The label on the left comes from a 1970s wool suit, the right is from a 2014 cashmere overcoat.


The St Michael label on the left is from an early 1970s jacket (the washing instructions indicate that the garment is post-1960s) whilst the St Michael for Marks and Spencer blazer (image from Google) is 1990s and as it is less than twenty five years old it is NOT vintage.

This stunner of a vintage Moss Bros velvet dinner jacket was labelled Size 16 and found on the womenswear rail recently
Don't be shy and do out check the women's rails. Some vintage menswear is so flamboyant that the charity shop volunteers can't get their heads round the fact it was designed for blokes. We've found frilled dinner shirts, embroidered waistcoats and braided evening jackets mixed up with the Per Una & Monsoon separates. Fringed Tootal scarves, pocket squares, bow ties and psychedelic cravats are invariably dumped in baskets along with the ladies headscarves.

1980s leather biker jacket - another mislabelled beauty.
Just because the charity shop has labelled it "vintage" doesn't mean it is. We've spotted ASOS & H&M in the vintage section whilst the genuine article often looks so sharp shop volunteers think it's modern and it gets missed . Vintage is something at least 25 years old, not something made in the style of a previous era. As a rule of thumb if something is labelled Made in West Germany (and, sadly, Made In England) then it is vintage and if it's Made in China then it isn't.



Discovering the age of this dinner jacket was easy - the tailor's label is dated 16th May, 1935. In the old days menswear was tailor made or bought off the rack and hand finished to fit. Check for an inner label in the inside breast pocket and you'll often find the tailor's (and the previous owner's) name.

If the cuffs are threadbare, the elbows are bald, the collar has worn thin, the fabric has gone shiny in places or there's visible fag burns then put it down and walk away. Repairing an item so far gone will cost more than the value of the garment. Torn seams and clapped-out pockets can be mended and, as they're on the inside, the repair doesn't have to be perfect if its something you're keeping (as opposed to reselling).

Boxed vintage Church's shoes - a similar pair now cost over £400
High end, British made shoes (vintage or not) are always a good buy. Church's, Loakes, Grensons, Crockett & Jones retail for hundreds of pounds. If you find a pair in your size then it's definitely worth snapping them up. Our local cobbler resoles shoes for £15 so, even if they need repairing, you're still saving loads of money. If they're a bit too big (or a bit tatty inside) get yourself some insoles from Poundland.


If there's a super cheap clearance rail in your charity shop it's worth snapping up tatty jackets and shirts to salvage the trims (jumble sales are great for this, too). Buying replacement buttons from the haberdashers can add £££££s to the cost of your bargain vintage find. I've collected so many over the years from unwearable vintage clothes I can find a perfect match to almost any item missing a button.

This vintage mac - with retro spy series The Game currently on TV, is one of our most requested items.
So how do we launder our vintage finds?


Most (shirts, acrylics, macs, ties, scarves and trousers) are washed on a 30 degree cycle with a tablespoon of Wilko soda crystals and then line-dried. Particularly grubby articles get a pre-soak with Poundland's Oxi fabric stain remover before going in the machine. Woollens are hand washed in baby shampoo (from the pound shop) and dried flat on a rack over the bath.

A filthy 1950s leisure shirt is transformed.

Coats and Jackets marked Dry Clean Only are spot cleaned with diluted baby shampoo and tumble-dried on a delicate setting for 10 minutes with a lavender bag (or a muslin cloth spritzed with some essential oil) to freshen them up.


We're off out on the hunt again today. We're in Bath this weekend and last time we traded there we were so busy that so that when Em & her mum came to visit they ended up serving customers and offering styling advice.


PS The internet /phone line has been horrendous after BT did some work in the street and managed to f*ck up our connection on Bank Holiday Monday. If I don't comment or reply to any messages it isn't through want of trying!

See you soon!

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Cuba Libre


When I started my blog I didn't expect many people to take much of an interest. I'm a bit niche to say the least. A middle-aged woman with no interest in fashion, celebrities or high street shopping. A weirdo who gets excited by rummaging through other people's cast-offs at car boot sales, who doesn't give a toss about age and can happily shop at Poundland and live on a diet of Lidl noodles & oranges if that's what it takes to afford to do what I consider the important things in life - seeing the world & having a laugh. 


Turns out I was wrong. In the six years I've been blogging I've found hundreds of people from all over the world just like me, many becoming real-life friends. One of which is Walsall-based artist Glen, a fellow vintage-loving, bargain hunting, rum drinking, intrepid traveller and vegetarian. On meeting in the park a couple of years ago (HERE) he told me that he was a fan of my blog. We often bump into each other at car boots and a couple of weeks ago he handed us an invite to his 60th birthday party. 



A Cuban themed dance party with a vintage dress code and a photo-shopped image nicked off the best TV programme in the world, Peaky Blinders? Hell, yes! By a massive stroke of luck it was the first weekend in weeks we didn't have a fair booked so we could go, drink rum and stay out late.


We met Liz & Al in the Queen Vic pub, known locally as The Katz despite reverting back to its original name almost twenty years ago, for a few cheeky ales and a catch up (it had been a month since we'd last seen them) before heading down the road to the deaf institute where we were issued with Mojitos on arrival.


Glen, the birthday boy (on the left) in head-to-toe vintage and a bad ass necklace from Poundland.


With his brother, Vincent. Glen's originally from Brighton but, like many, went to college in Walsall and never went home.


Glen's gorgeous wife, Annette.


The guests had made a splendid effort in keeping with the vintage theme.


Good tunes,


And great characters. The best type of night out.


Dressed to impress.


Dude.


We loved this chap's amazing orange trousers.


Who knew that publishing a few words on the internet could lead to so much fun?








After a lethal mix of real ale, cheap white wine and rum we said our goodbyes, staggered walked home and collapsed into bed.


We're having a lazy day today as it's far too wet & miserable for booting. I could crack on with some sewing or price up some stock ready for next weekend but I'll probably watch crap on the TV and eat crisps instead. We're keeping our fingers crossed that it's sunny for tomorrow's Bank Holiday car boot.


See you soon!


Thursday, 21 May 2015

Riviera Style Via The Black Country

Photograph: Lancashire County Council
What is it they say about life being a series of strange coincidences? I was going to write about something completely different until I opened Facebook earlier & saw that Patti had shared a link from The Guardian about an exhibition celebrating a century of swimwear about to open at the London Museum of Fashion & Textiles. The images had me captivated.

Photograph: Lancashire County Council

Photograph: Lancashire County Council
Photograph: Lancashire County Council

Photograph: Lancashire County Council



The coincidence? I've added another three vintage 1960s swimsuits to my collection in the last few days.


I can't take the credit for this one, Lyndsey Boomerang found the fabulous St Michael floral number.


Sadly it's a bit too big so it'll be appearing on our rails very soon, where it will hopefully find a more buxom wench to adore.




This purple swimsuit is by Silhouette and, together with the Slix black fishnet costume, was from a charity shop in a market town a hour's drive away. We only visit a handful of times a year but the manager always saves any vintage donations for me to look through first. Talk about once seen, never forgotten!


This has never been worn as the plastic gusset is still intact. It must have been bought as a school uniform as the previous owner's name tag is sewn inside. Its a raunchy little number for a schoolgirl, isn't it?


I'm dedicating today's post to Kathryn & the gang, my amazing fan club in St Louis, a seniors' care home in the States who've followed me for years and send the most hilarious emails. Clyde (who is 87) says he'll kick the ass of any haters out there so, if seeing me in swimwear causes you to become so outraged that you troll me, watch it.



See you soon.