Vintage shopping in London

Stephanie Rafanelli is a print and television journalist and writer for the Guardian and Telegraph newspapers. She lives in London

January in London is a time for gearing up. After the sartorial challenges of New Year, there is only a short respite, during which Aran sweaters and wellington boots are briefly permitted, before the fashion and awards seasons are upon the city once more. First come the London Men’s Collections, after which the in-crowd decamps to Paris (most of them on the same Eurostar train) to attend haute couture showings before returning for the peacocks’ parade of the BAFTAs in Fashion Week.

As a journalist with a clothes habit, I have ridden this merry carousel for many years. For over a decade, I have survived London events populated by human mannequins in catwalk-fresh designer clobber. My personal coping strategy? Buying vintage. It’s classic, reasonably-priced, often beautifully made, there are no cookie-cutter risks and it’s thrilling to hunt down treasures in hidden boutiques around the city.

I have attended the BAFTAs three years running in one-off vintage gowns and felt that I had at the least held my own in a 1950s black velvet fishtail dress, a red silk backless gown with organza panels, and a 1920s lace dress with gold underlay (which was three times mistaken for vintage Chanel). These were found by riffling through rails at Black Out II in Covent Garden, and cost around £250 each plus an additional spruce-up at a high-end tailor. (My favourite is Studio Colpani in Mayfair ). My latest purchase there was a black cashmere coat with a Persian lamb front, handmade for Harvey Nichols in the 1950s.

Annie’s Vintage has provided Victorian opera jackets, 1920s silk gowns and vintage fur coats. My 1930s bias-cut red lace dress with Guinevere sleeves, bought there, has done eight seasons and its doppelgänger popped up recently in Valentino’s winter collection. For the new New Look, kick-started by Raf Simons at Dior, Cloud Cuckoo Land, just off Camden Passage, is the place, filled with little black crepe 1950s dresses that make an easy day-to-night transition.

Vintage doesn’t have to be thrifty. William Vintage in Marylebone stocks designer and haute couture investment pieces. YSL and Dior winter coats cost around £2,000, although that’s still cheaper than their modern equivalents. For aceing boardroom meetings, there are Balenciaga and Balmain skirt suits. If you are lucky enough to be invited to the awards this year, there are dresses from the rails of 1950s Hollywood . The shop’s current prize piece is a Dior haute couture gown for  £34,775. That might be considerably more than the cost of your entire holiday – but it would steal the show at the BAFTAs.

Photo by Getty Images

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