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Vintage Shopping in New York

Planning a shopping trip to New York? Vintage shopping fan and Journalist Victoria Briggs shares with us her favourite New York vintage shops during one of her frequent visits to the city….

Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market

Every Saturday and Sunday, behind the Lincoln Tunnel, a small army of vendors take over a block in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, and set up stalls selling vintage clothes, collectables, vinyl records, jewellery and household items that your granny probably owned. How Hell’s Kitchen got its name is open to debate. One theory has it that the once tough, working class neighbourhood was so crime-ridden that the other name it goes by, Clinton, didn’t really do it justice. Another theory is that the area was once the site of several, less than sanitary abattoirs, the smell of which inspired residents to label it anew. Whatever its origins, the modern day Hell’s Kitchen is located close to the city’s theatre district, bounded by 34th Street to the south, 59th Street to the north, and west of Eighth Avenue. While gentrification has transformed the neighbourhood in recent years, the streets around the Lincoln Tunnel are among the grittiest in Midtown Manhattan. The Market occupies a block closed to traffic at the weekends. Admission is free and entry is at 39th Street and 9th Avenue—a little out of the way, but its outlying location is reflected in the prices. Go towards the end of the day (the market closes at 5pm) when vendors are more inclined to give you bargains. I bought an as-new silk shirt, a 60s psychedelic dress and an 80s tea dress, all for $20.

Beacon’s Closet

A regular in ‘top shops in NYC’ listicles, and with good reason. For vintage lovers and style-hunters alike, it’s an Aladdin’s Cave of second-hand designer labels, retro prints, quirky one-offs and perennial classics. Confession time: I’ve got a low-level addiction to Beacon’s Closet stores (and there are four of them, praise be: three in Brooklyn, one in Manhattan). It’s the first place I head for in New York after checking into a hotel, pretty much. When I’m not in Beacon’s, I’m thinking about being back in Beacon’s. When I am in Beacon’s, I have to set myself a spending limit so I don’t blow the bank. Fortunately, stock sells at a reasonable price. Last visit, I bought a vintage, pure wool Bonwit Teller coat (the original Bonwit Teller store on Fifth Avenue was demolished in 1980 to make way for Trump Tower), along with a cute tee and a Paul Smith shirt for my other half: total $55. Because clothes rails are crammed and shoes come stacked high, it helps if you like to rummage. To avoid crowds, as well as the sharp elbows of New Yorkers, shop early (stores open 11am-8pm) and towards the beginning of the week—evenings and weekends are busy. Beacon’s also buys clothes. Take along vintage or seasonal pieces and receive 35% cash or 55% in-store credit on items selected (ID is required—a passport is fine).

Brooklyn Flea

Proud of it’s legendary status, it is the city’s largest flea market, selling vintage and designer wear, antiques and collectibles, with street food stalls to boot. It’s been around for a decade and moved locations as it’s grown. Every Sunday, at the time of writing, the market is held al fresco in Dumbo—a fashionable neighbourhood located between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. It’s a prime spot, with great views of Manhattan just across the East River, and prices that reflect its popularity with tourists. Don’t go to Brooklyn Flea if you’re looking for a bargain. Do go if you want a good day out and don’t mind paying a bit extra for the whole experience. According to Time Out NY, the place also ranks as one of the city’s ‘essential pick-up spots’, so if you don’t score a bargain, there may be other advantages to mingling with the crowd. Best value finds while I was there included vintage sunglasses selling at $15 a pair, and the food stalls, which are cheap, fresh and excellent. While there are some beautiful vintage pieces to be had (selling anywhere between $75-$225), the market also has its fair share of overpriced tat, so be discerning (the worst offender I found was a 70s string bag, worn-out and discoloured, and on sale for $40). Get to Brooklyn Flea from Manhattan by walking over the Brooklyn Bridge—Dumbo is the first neighbourhood you hit over on the Brooklyn side—or else take the Coney Island-bound F train to York Street. Word of warning: if you don’t want to end up on a thousand Instagram feeds, avoid the hoards of snappers as you come out of the subway. For nervous types, there are trains thundering across the Manhattan Bridge, directly over head, all the time you’re browsing, so it gets pretty loud.

Victoria will be bringing along some of her New York vintage finds to the next Olive Road vintage stall at Pop Up Vintage Fairs in East London’s Wilton’s Music Hall on 12th July 2018.

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Fashion Revolution Week: #whomademyclothes?

‘Who made this’ isn’t the first thought that pops into mind when shopping. Usually the thought process is fit, colour, suitability, affordability or just because it is has been one of those days and that cute little red jumper will cheer me up. The social enterprise, Fashion Revolution , are campaigning to raise awareness of our thought processes when shop so we consider ‘who made my clothes?’, where they come from and the thousands of processes that have taken place before our purchases hang in our wardrobes. Fashion Revolution was created by people working in the fashion industry following the Rana Plaza disaster in April 2013. The building in Bangladesh, collapsed killing 1138 people, most of whom were garment workers. The disaster highlighted the conditions many people across the world are working in to produce cheap clothes for the high streets in the West.

‘It is the retailers fault for demanding cheap prices’ is one chain of thought. Having worked in retail head offices for three large UK high street companies I know the issue is more complex than this. All the companies I worked for had stringent rules such as no child labour and the manufacturer was required to pay a minimum wage. They had teams of buyers and quality assurance managers who would visit the factory several times a year to enforce these checks. But the risk is the buyers and QA teams are only shown the best factories and not shown where the work might be sub-contracted to, perhaps smaller, less ethical factories. However the retailer is not fault free and the low price they demand leads to the manufacturer having to resort to other measures.

As a customer, we are not an innocent party. The UK high street is one of the cheapest places in the world to buy apparel. We demand lower prices and the stores seem to be constantly on sale. We have a powerful role to play in improving working conditions for the people who make our clothes. Fashion Revolution are asking us to campaign to our favourite high street stores and ask them to reveal their supply chain and tell us about the people who are making our clothes. Head over to their website to find out how to get involved. Supply chain transparency is key in preventing future disasters and improving the lives of textile workers around the world.

Back in February I attended a discussion panel as part of the Sustainable Living Festival in Melbourne. The panel discussed ethical fashion from the water and pesticides required to grow cotton through to the billions of tons of clothes that are being thrown into landfill. I wrote an article on the outcomes of the discussion for award winning Pebble Magazine. Read the article here and and pick up tips on how to reduce the fashion waste problem. There were two big messages I took away from the festival in Melbourne: Fashion supply chains are complex and it is going to take years to get it right. So as a customer, I need to decide what values are most important to me when buying clothes. When I started an earlier version of this blog I created a list of values that were most important to me when going shopping. I’ve posted the original below as I think it is still valid several years later. Of course, not every product is going to tick every box but three or four would start to make a difference against fast fashion.

The second take away from the panel was the importance of buying second hand or vintage clothing. It might take longer to find the right style and size but with a bit of extra effort it prevents waste. A thought goes out to the people who made it and knowing that I am giving their hard work a new lease of life. The Ellen McCarthur Foundation report ‘A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future’ recommends by just wearing clothes for longer is the ‘most powerful way to capture value, reduce pressure on resources and decrease negative impact’.

Fashion Revolution week runs all this week. You can find out more about their campaign and how to get involved here.

Coming up on the blog this week I will be talking to Nadien Klages who makes clothes for children from jeans and shirts worn by the children’s parents. I’ll also be talking to super crafter and upcycler Barley Massey who founded Fabrications in Hackney.

At the Sustainable Living Festival I took part in a fun workshop on how to refashion a man’s shirt into a dress or skirt. Barley teaches similar courses in Hackney on how to re-work your clothes. Or get in touch if you are interested in joining a craft group in Bow, East London.

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Haberdashery Addict

Finally! It has taken me all year to build up to selling some of my treasured vintage fabrics. It is an emotional and slow process: I chose a piece, press it, photograph it to list on my online vintage shop then remember how beautiful it is and all the wonderful items I could create with it. The next thing I know, it goes back into my ‘keep’, box whilst the ‘for sale’ box stays empty. No wonder it has taken me a year to declutter.

I’ve enjoyed sewing since I was a small child, making dresses for my Sindy dolls from old clothes, progressing to making clothes for myself during my teenage years with my Nanna Betty’s help. Then onto the London College of Fashion to learn design, pattern cutting and construction. Working life took over and I’d more or less forgotten about the thrill of finding a beautiful piece of fabric until I started working in the Cath Kidston offices five years ago. The company have created an archive room with floor to ceiling shelves, each shelf containing a length of fabric of every print they have ever sold along with pieces of vintage fabric used for inspiration, a wonderful library of fabrics. It was like walking into Willie Wonker’s chocolate factory but with bright floral prints instead of sugar daffodils and a chocolate river.

Cath Kidston Ltd fabric and print archive room

Vintage fabrics can be found in the most unexpected places: Tucked away under random kitchen items in a charity shop or those large antique warehouses that are like an indoor market. I’ll find a forgotten cardboard box under a rail of clothes filled with textiles from the past 50 years. I found the below Christmas print lost under a rail at the end of a very busy day at Pop up Vintage Fair. I remove the stains, unpick the hems (frequently vintage textiles were a set of curtains in a previous life) and it is ready to be made into something new.

Vintage Christmas Fabric from Olive Road London @ Etsy

I like to reflect on the history of a piece and wish it could tell it’s story: when it was produced? where it had been? who did it belong to? The below piece has Sanderson printed on the selvedge and I posted a photo of it on Instagram asking everyone which decade they thought it was from. 1970’s or 1980’s was the general concencious. Upholsterer Phillips and Cheers had a piece of the same print and he thinks it is from the 1930’s.

Sanderson vintage fabric on sale at Olive Road London @ Etsy

If you buy a piece of vintage fabric or haberdashery from me please promise you will post a photo on Instagram of what you have made with the fabric and tag me in so I know it has gone to a good home. Touch Wood Design from Brisbane, Australia did when she bought a few lengths of vintage fabric from my Etsy shop last month. She has already made one piece into this beautiful cushion.

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Sunday Morning Shopping at Clerkenwell Vintage Fair

Some Sundays are made for lazing around in bed, thinking about getting up but not quite making it until a hungry stomach signals it is time to get up. Then there are Sundays like today, where it is worth jumping out of bed before 9am and heading into Shoreditch. Tucked away amongst Victorian warehouses and East End ‘caffs’ is The Yard on Worship street where you can find Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair at their new location. I was super keen to be there for the best selection of vintage fashion and arrived a bit early. Roving Cafe were busy selling Sunday morning substinence of breakfast rolls and homemade cakes. A hot chocolate gave me some energy for a morning’s vintage shopping. 


Entering the glassed ceiling warehouse, I was overwhelmed by the industrial interior dressed up for the day in the City’s finest vintage fashion. Delicate ivory lace, soft midnight blue velvet, fun bright novelty prints, heavy Harrington tweed coats and chic silk dresses straight from the dance floor of the Art Deco period, all hanging from the exposed steelwork. 

Squirrel Vintage
 

I get caught up by the history of each of the vintage pieces. Was it made in the 1950’s or is it a 1980’s take on the past? I wish vintage clothes could tell us their stories, who were they worn by? Were they bought for a special occasion? How many owners have they had? I was chatting with Hesta and Pippa from Peacock Vintage about getting attached to an item.’You want the right person to buy the right dress’ we laughed together and it was certainly true when they sold the 1940s wedding dress at the last fair to bride-to-be Sarah at the last Clerkenwell Fair. Vintage fashion is so individual, one off pieces in one shape and only one size.They are waiting for right person to come along and breathe life into them again.

Hesta and Pippa from Peacock Vintage
Ellie from Darlings Vintage
 

Sundays were made for vintage shopping. A leisurely walk around the fair, hunting through rails waiting for the right piece of vintage apparel or vintage accessory to catch your eye. Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair provide a large changing room so it is worth trying pieces on. The fit can be difficult as we are built differently to past generations, even as little as 30 years ago but persistence pays off. I’m a UK size 16 and often unable to buy many pieces that I fall in love with (better for my bank balance than my wardrobe), So I was thrilled to try on this 1940s tea dress from Honeykins Vintage and found that it fit as if it was made for me, no alterations required. 

Of course, there is no need to worry about size when it comes to vintage accessories, like this bright selection from Honeykins Vintage.

If you are new to vintage shopping or want to improve your success of finding something fabulous, Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair’s founder, Savitri Coleman shared her top tips with Olive Road on this previous blog post

Charlotte and Marcia from House of Vintage
Julie from She Wears the Trousers

The best thing for me about being both a vintage trader and shopper are the incredible people that I meet. Fun and friendly with a mutual respect for the preservation of vintage clothing. A perfect Sunday morning, I’m now off to help out at a East End Women’s museum stall in Barking & Dagenham, asking local residents what they would like to see in the museum. I’d love to wear my new dress but I think I’ll be a bit chilly standing in Barking Abbey park.

Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair is on until 5pm today, Sunday 16th September 2017 at their new venue, The Yard, Worship Street, Shoreditch (behind Liverpool Street Station).

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Vintage Stories: A Filigree Find

Savitri Coleman, Founder of Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair shares the story of the beautiful vintage dress she is wearing along with her her top ten tips on shopping for the ultimate vintage style.

The story starts with the enlarged Portuguese Filigree earrings Savitri is wearing, a gift from her partner who is Portuguese. Filigree jewellery is derived from the Latin ‘Filum’ meaning ‘thread’, the craft dates back to Egyptian times and the style imitates a lace or thread pattern. At the Clernkwell Vintage Fashion Fair earlier this year, Savitri spotted this ivory and scarlet maxi dress. She couldn’t believe that the print was identical to her treasured Filigree earrings and had to buy it. ‘It is easy to dress up or dress down for a festival with a pair of cowboy boots’ Savitri tells me. It is certainly striking, suits her perfectly and goes to prove one of Savitri’s own vintage shopping top tips below….


Savitri’s top ten vintage shopping tips

  1. If you’re shopping for vintage for you it’s really useful to know what era suits you and your body shape. This will save a lot of time at fairs when browsing so you know which periods are just not you and even if the print or fabric is fabulous it just won’t do you any justice.
  2. Keep an open mind when shopping for vintage at fairs or markets as you are unlikely to find exactly what you are looking for but you will find other interesting things.
  3. Try on garments and photograph yourself in them so you can see how you really look rather than how you think you look in a mirror.
  4. If an item fits then it’s meant to be. If you love it – buy it. You won’t find it again
  5. Google vintage fairs and markets to find out what fairs are on and when.
  6. Instagram is a good resource to search for vintage traders and vintage apparel
  7. Check the width of hems to know whether it is a 50’s dress instead of 80’s. Some 1980’s copies are great and sometimes they have used 50’s fabric but the hems are usually really thin and overlocked.
  8. If you are unsure of the price or worth of a vintage garment you can always get a second opinion by speaking to other traders or contacting auction houses to see what similar pieces have sold for.
  9. Earlier pieces like 20’s and 30’s can be expensive as they are harder to come by in good condition especially beaded or with embellishment (Check under the arms on chiffon dresses for tares, check the seams are in tact or you won’t have much wear out of it and lastly for moth holes)
  10. Lastly always get a receipt so if you have any queries you can always contact the trader

The next Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair takes place this Saturday, 17th September 2017 as part of London Fashion Week.

Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair celebrated it’s eighth birthday earlier this year, read more about it here.

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Where to find us: Autumn & Christmas Fairs

This Autumn, Olive Road will be trading at a variety of Vintage and Craft Fairs in East and North London. As much as I enjoy chatting to people on social media, I do love meeting friends and vintage fans at fairs.  London is renown for it’s street style, I often pick up style ideas from people I have seen on the bus or walking down the street. Vintage fairs are a hub of street style and attract vintage shoppers who enjoy the opportunity to show off their vintage style whilst they shop for more individual pieces. I’ll be selling a curated collection of vintage fashion which you can’t buy from my Etsy shop, along with some special Christmas pieces. I’m making a new batch of clutch and tote bags, handmade from vintage fabrics, that will be available at on my stall and make great gifts. Don’t be a stranger, come along and join the vintage club.

Sunday 1st October

Pop Up Vintage Fairs, St Stephen’s Church, Hampstead, NW3 2PP


Sunday 26th November

Cancer vs Cabaret Craft & Vintage Fair, Bethnal Green Working Man’s Club, 42-46 Polland Row, E2 6NB


Sunday 10th December

Pop Up Vintage Fairs Christmas Extravaganza, St Stephen’s Church, Hampstead, NW3 2PP

Olive Road at Wiltons, July 17 – Official Flyer to follow
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7 Places to Buy a Vintage Wedding Dress

My friend Josie gets married in six weeks, nerve wracking for most brides but Josie doesn’t have a dress! She did have a dress, a beautiful beaded long bias cut number designed in New York. When she went to collect it from the boutique, she found it to be in a sorry state and not at all what she had ordered. The boutique had used her dress at a wedding fair where a model had pranced about in it all day. Josie is very organised and not the type to leave things to the last minute but now she has no choice but to look for a dress off the peg. Thinking about Josie’s predicament, my mind turned to vintage wedding dresses as they are always bought off the peg. With Josie in mind, here are my seven favourite places to buy a vintage wedding dress in the UK

Elizabeth Avey


Oh how I wish this shop was around 13 years ago when I got married. It is everything I was looking for. A boudoir of vintage dresses from every era, a relaxed atmosphere with the help of owner Elizabeth who is on hand to help find a vintage wedding dress for every bride. Hidden away in an upstairs room, a stones throw away from the Cutty Sark in Greenwich it takes a bit of dedication to find. Once inside the door I was welcomed by the effervescent Elizabeth with a vodka cocktail (it was 1pm so surely cocktail o’clock!). Saturday is open day, appointments are not necessary. The walls are lined with individual and exquisite vintage wedding dresses from as early as 1914 and 1920s with plenty of dress from the mid-century. I’ll be writing a full review of this wonderful shop soon. 

Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair.


I was lucky enough to be there when bride-to-be Sarah bought this beautiful 1940s dress from Peacock Vintage (photo above), on my previous blog post. The fairs take place nearly every month and has a variety of different traders at each fair so it it is worth visiting a few months in a row to find what you are looking for. Their next fair is 17th September 2017.

Those Were the Days, Edinburgh


I stumbled across this fantastic vintage shop tucked away, on a side street in Stockbridge on a weekend trip to Edinburgh. The store has a colourful selection of designer vintage fashion expertly cleaned and restored. A section of the boutique is dedicated to bridal wear plus the staff will source a specific design if given enough notice.

Frock Me Vintage Fair, Chelsea

My friend Cathy and her TV stylist sister discovered a beautiful 1950’s silk dress calling out to be worn as a wedding dress. You can read more about how Cathy found this striking dress on last month’s Vintage Stories.

Pop Up Vintage Fairs, London 


The wow factor doesn’t always have to be about the dress, accessories can also be the star of the show. Pop up Vintage Fairs in London are a great place to find unusual jewellery, bags, shoes and headwear. Miss Ava’s Millinery can often be found at this regular fair and makes new hats inspired by millinery from previous decades such as the delicate satin hat in the above photo. If you are looking for something a bit different or perhaps want to buy a vintage outfit for the groom then this fair is worth a visit (Olive Road will be at the next fair on the 1st October)

Charity Shops (including online)

Over the summer I’ve discovered a few charity shops that specialise in vintage wedding dresses. The cute 1970’s dress in the above photo is from Pilgrim’s Hospices shop in Folkestone. A large section of the shop is dedicated to bridal wear with a reasonable sized changing room. British Red Cross and Oxfam also have dedicated bridal shops.

Brides do Good: Not only does this online bridal store have a varied selection of pre-loved designer and vintage dresses, the sale of every dress benefits charity. Founder Chantal Khoueriy’s mission is ‘to help the United Nations eradicate child marriage’. A third of the cost of the dress is donated to Plan International and Too Young to Wed, two charities working towards the prevention of child marriages. To keep their costs down they don’t have a shop but they have a comprehensive website and dresses can be returned within 14 days.

You can find this list and more on my Vintage Wedding Dress Pinterest board. I hope this list has been useful, I’d love to hear if you have found your perfect dress and share it in the Vintage Stories section of this blog.

 

 

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How to buy a vintage wedding dress

‘I only came here to get ideas’ Bride-to-be Sarah confesses to me at the Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair in May. Despite this, she has found the dress she wasn’t even looking for, a 1940’s vintage wedding dress from Peacock Vintage, one of the many stalls at the fair. ‘I wasn’t going for a traditional dress. The first stall I came to I bumped into Savitri and she took me shopping’. Savitri is the founder and organiser of Clerkenwell Vintage Fairs. When Olive Road caught up with Savitri back in May, she expressed her delight in helping customers find their ideal vintage outfits. Savitri advised Sarah to be open to ideas and try on as many dresses as possible. Between them they chose a dress completely opposite to what Sarah had planned, the beautiful traditional off white, silk dress that Sarah models in the above photo. The neckline sits across the clavical with tiny silk covered buttons running down the back seam to the base of the spine. The sleeves are slightly gathered at the shoulders, creating the classic 1940’s style. The highlight of the dress is it’s dramatic long train. Sarah was excited and shocked in equal measure and when I caught up with the bride-to-be she was waiting for her friend Jenny to arrive to give her a second opinion. 

Vintage shopper Sarah at the Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair, May 2017

I know from experience how difficult it is to find a vintage wedding dress in a style that suits you and that fits. Before planning my wedding 13 years ago I had watched the 1957 film Funny Face staring Audrey Hepburn and dreamed of a three quarter length wedding dress. I am not blessed with a 1950’s sized waist and I gave up looking for a vintage dress before I had even started.  My friend Cathy suggested that I buy a vintage wedding pattern and have the dress made. I found what was looking for on an early version of Etsy, I think it was called Ruby Lane?  Luckily a friend had recently commissioned her wedding dress to be made by costume designer Nancy and she agreed to make my dress too, altering the original neck line of the pattern to suit me. I asked Nancy to include a vintage diamanté belt buckle, that I had sourced on eBay.

My wedding dress and the vintage Vogue pattern it was styled from

Cathy had more luck in finding her vintage wedding dress off the peg. Her sister Su is a TV stylist and a vintage fair veteran as she shops for vintage clothes and ideas for her work. The sisters went to Frock Me at the Chelsea Town Hall and saw a beautiful 1950’s pure silk dress on a mannequin. ‘I want that one’ Cathy exclaimed. ‘As soon as it floated over my head and Su pulled up the zip it was if it were tailor-made for me, I couldn’t believe my luck’. It wasn’t a traditional wedding dress but Cathy hadn’t planned on a traditional wedding so it worked perfectly. Read more about Cathy’s dress in this month’s Vintage Stories.

Cathy and Matt on their wedding day
 

Sisters Pippa and Hesta from Peacock Vintage agree with Cathy that in order to find a vintage dress for your big day you don’t have to stick to a traditional wedding dress. ‘It pays to put the time in and do your research and try dresses you wouldn’t normally wear’ says Pippa. Hesta adds that it is important to ‘buy the dress when you see it otherwise it will go’. This true of all vintage clothing and if you change your mind you can always sell it on.

Pippa and Hesta from Peacock Vintage

Savitri Coleman shared her vintage shopping tips with Olive Road on a recent blog post and adds ‘When looking for a vintage wedding dress it is important to try different shades of white to find out which one suits your skin tone. Shape is also important, different eras suit different body shapes. For example bride-to-be Sarah was lost in a 1960’s box shaped dress yet the 1940’s dress fit her like a glove, it was like it was made for her, it was unique and the long train and sleeves added drama’. I caught up with bride-to-be Sarah a few hours later, she had bought the dress for her Australian wedding to Ian and was off to celebrate with her friend.

Buying a vintage wedding dress will ensure that you wear something completely unique for your special day. Not everyone will be as lucky as Sarah and Cathy in finding their dress so quickly but the same can be said when buying a new wedding dress. Start shopping early. Ask friends, write a post on social media requesting recommendations for dress makers who can make the necessary alterations for you, or in my case, copy a dress to fit and suit you perfectly. Most off all, have fun in searching, take a friend and treat yourself to a glass of bubbly when you find the dress of your dreams. 

Find more vintage wedding dress tips on my Pinterest board. The next Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair is on the 17th September 2017 at the Yard in Shoreditch. Olive Road’s next fair is at Pop-Up Vintage fair on 1st October, St Stephen’s in Hampstead. 

 

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Sew Amazing

‘I hate throwing away old machines’ sewing machine engineer and Sew Amazing Ltd. owner Robb Myers tells me as he shows me an early Bradbury sewing machine. His stock room is full of over 40 antique machines from his personal collection. ‘If they are 100 years old, I still repair them if I can or strip them for parts’ including a Singer domestic hand operated machine that is over a century old. I’m sitting very still in Robb’s workshop just off Roman Road market as there is a lot of heavy sharp equipment on the work benches and I am very clumsy. Sew Amazing are celebrating their birthday as it is 70 years since Robb’s father Alfie first set up the business in Stoke Newington. I’ve come to chat to Robb about the beginnings of the business and how it has changed, you can read the full piece on the Roman Road blog.

Robb used to have over 100 antique sewing machines in his collection but did manage to part with the majority of them to create more space for storing machines he services, for individual customers, schools and colleges. He lends them to TV and film prop departments. You can find Sew Amazing at the corner of Roman Road and St Stephen’s Road in Bow, London E3.

 

 

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Clerkenwell Vintage Fair Celebrate their Eighth Year

Olive Road talks to fair organiser Savitri Coleman to discover the secret to the fair’s success and her top tips for vintage shopping.

Weekends were made for shopping. I don’t mean heading to a shopping mall, wandering around aimlessly seeing the same styles in the same stores but with different names. I mean a relaxed day out, chatting with your friend, hunting through rails and antique suitcases with excited anticipation on what you might find. Then when your feet start to ache, the luxury of being able to stop for a coffee or cocktail and listen to live music. My day at the The Clerkenwell Vintage Fair last month was one of those perfect shopping days. A stones throw from Columbia Market in their new home, the Shoreditch Courthouse Hotel, the fair celebrated their eighth birthday with live band The Volstead Orchestra playing in the jewel coloured cocktail bar of the hotel. I was meeting with the fair’s founder and organiser Savitri Coleman to discover the secret of eight successful years of the popular vintage fair. Whilst I was waiting for Savitri to finish with a customer, I spotted a dapper looking couple enjoying the music. Moira and Chris and were on holiday from New York, they had spent most of their trip in Glasgow visiting family and had booked a trip to London, choosing to stay at the Courthouse Hotel so they could be near today’s vintage fair. 

 


Not long after I’ve said goodbye to Chris and Moira, Savitri flurries in wearing a long cream and red printed vintage maxi dress, the print being based on filigree jewellery from Portugal with matching drop earrings and cork wedges. Savitri is excited as she has just helped a bride find her perfect vintage wedding dress at the fair. She explains that personal shopping with customers around the fair is what she enjoys the most but she doesn’t always get the time on the day as she organises the fair on her own. Savitri leads me down a large wooden staircase into the hotel’s chambers which has been transformed into a sea of bright graphic prints, long delicate bias cut dresses, feathers on hats, tiny buttons on gloves and boxy shaped jackets glittered with sequins. I spotted a colbolt silk paisley scarf priced at £5 and a chocolate silk Dior dress coat at £175. As I delved deeper I discovered a WWII nurse’s woollen cape, 1950’s swimsuits and sundresses covered in cartoon style prints and an Edwardian Lawn lace dress, in the photograph below from Cabinet 49.


As Savitri guides me around the busy room I ask her why she thinks the fair has been so successful for the past eight years.         ‘We offer an eclectic mix of good quality vintage at affordable prices. We are the go-to fair for fashion designers looking for inspiration. Designers can find interesting prints, embroidery, embellishment and tailoring from different era’s to draw ideas from for future collections. Stylists can pick up quirky one-off pieces for fashion shoots and celebrity red carpet dresses whilst seasoned vintage lovers come along to source pieces from their trusted vintage dealer and a fun filled day out. There is a price point for every pocket’. She goes on to tell me that she set up the fair in May 2009 as the recession was hitting vintage traders and many stores had started to close down. ‘I wanted to offer a good quality vintage event to support traders who had lost their shops and were paying extortionate fees for stands at other fairs. I wanted to create a fashion led event and make it a shopping experience with vibrant live music, a diverse range of vintage apparel and a specialist alterations team’. The alterations team is unique to the Clerkenwell Vintage Fair as they can alter items whilst you wait in the bar with a cocktail or carry on shopping. ‘Our alterations team understand fashion from different periods so you are rest assured your garment is in good hands and will fit perfectly whilst ensuring the shape of the garment still speaks of the era. A mistake that is commonly made in dry cleaners or local menders’

Squeezing our way through a cluster of customers eagerly searching each rail for that perfect vintage item I ask Savitri why she thinks vintage style is still popular ‘When you wear vintage, your individuality shines through. TV shows such as Sex and the City certainly whet peoples appetite for vintage and more recently Downtown Abbey have also inspired people to put vintage pieces back in their wardrobe’.  I wonder when Savitri first started her passion for vintage shopping. ‘I was raised on second hand clothes. We would traul charity shops and car boots at the weekends and had to make-do-and-mend anything that had fallen apart. I would turn up to school discos in a range of items from my mum’s wardrobe and pieces I had swapped with friends and everyone would always comment on how cool it looked. During the 1980’s I used to shop at Kensington Market and hang out at Mud club with the likes of Boy George, Marilyn and Philip Salon. It was all about being different, anti-establishment views and individuality. We would spend all week getting our ‘look’ together for one night. Hours of painstakingly customizing pieces to stand out from the crowd.’

Savitri’s Top Ten Tips for Vintage Shopping


  1. If you’re shopping for vintage for you it’s really useful to know what era suits you and your body shape. This will save a lot of time at fairs when browsing so you know which periods are just not you and even if the print or fabric is fabulous it just won’t do you any justice.
  2. Keep an open mind when shopping for vintage at fairs or markets as you are unlikely to find exactly what you are looking for but you will find other interesting things.
  3. Try on garments and photograph yourself in them so you can see how you really look rather than how you think you look in a mirror.
  4. If an item fits then it’s meant to be. If you love it – buy it. You won’t find it again
  5. Google vintage fairs and markets to find out what fairs are on and when.
  6. Instagram is a good resource to search for vintage traders and vintage apparel
  7. Check the width of hems to know whether it is a 50’s dress instead of 80’s. Some 1980’s copies are great and sometimes they have used 50’s fabric but the hems are usually really thin and overlocked.
  8. If you are unsure of the price or worth of a vintage garment you can always get a second opinion by speaking to other traders or contacting auction houses to see what similar pieces have sold for.
  9. Earlier pieces like 20’s and 30’s can be expensive as they are harder to come by in good condition especially beaded or with embellishment (Check under the arms on chiffon dresses for tares, check the seams are in tact or you won’t have much ware out of it and lastly for moth holes)
  10. Lastly always get a receipt so if you have any queries you can always contact the trader

Half way round the fair, Savitri is called to reception as a customer wants to shop at the fair with a small dog. She hugs me goodbye and rushes off whilst I wonder how she manages to run around all day in those high wedge heels and still look a picture of vintage glamour. The Clerkenwell Vintage Fair is back at the Courtyard hotel on the 25th June 2017, you can win two tickets for free entry to their summer fair by signing up for the Olive Road newsletter or commenting on the Facebook post in this link. Good Luck!