A Vintage Lover's Road Trip
Living in London with all its vintage boutiques and markets at your fingertips is really wonderful. From Brick Lane’s many shops filled with hand-picked pieces and the multitude of fairs that take place over weekends, it’s fair to say that a vintage lover is really spoiled for choice in the Old Smoke. But it’s also fair to say the premiums commanded by said hand-picked garments for sale in shops with London-priced overheads are somewhat higher than those in other parts of the UK.
Couple this with the fact that, thanks to the power of social media, it’s easy to make friends with like-minded people across the country and scope out the best vintage shopping insider secrets that our fair isle has to offer, and it can mean only one thing. Road trip!
In the many years that I have been buying and wearing vintage clothing, I’ve tracked down some of my favourite things in towns and cities outside of London. Some have been lucky charity shop scores; others have been finds from shops old and new. I admittedly tend to stick to the south of the UK for my road trips, because, well, the north is really far away. And it tends to be a bit cold up there.
Back in the mists of time, teenage me endured a long, long road trip with parents to the Devon town Totnes, where Revival opened over 30 years ago. I won’t tell you how long ago it was that I went in there and picked up some now long-gone jewellery, but the shop (and indeed the jewellery itself) wasn’t actually all that old, at that point. But it was my first real experience of road tripping for vintage.
And my most recent one was only last summer, considerably-older-than-teenage me went driving off with a group of girlfriends to Frome in Somerset on a trip that was part vintage hunt and part hen do. Well, it was entirely hen do, if I’m honest, but we specifically chose Frome for its quirky, independent shops and vintage boutiques (as well as proximity to the amazing kitsch-fest that is Wookey Hole, but that’s another story).
We set off from London in two very small cars, each packed with four vintage ladies, far too much stuff for two days away and several CDs filled with best-forgotten 1990s' R&B. When in Frome, we checked out Donna May Vintage, which had rails filled with amazing quality clothing — no 1980s' polyester in sight — accessories and even a haberdashery filled with pre-1960s' metal zips.
…make sure you know it’s pronounced "Froome" so jokes about "When in Frome" or "Go Hard or Go Frome" don’t actually work.
Catherine Hill (where Donna May is located) and the surrounding streets of Frome are packed with antique shops, vintage and retro/handmade clothing stores that will happily eat up hours of your time. We even found a brilliant junk shop, packed from floor to ceiling with old china and decorative pieces on the way out of town, but the name escapes me. Basically, it’s a lovely place for a retro-lover’s weekend away or hen party, but just make sure you know it’s pronounced "Froome" so jokes about "When in Frome" (see above) "Go Hard or Go Frome" don’t actually work.
Not too far away from Frome, and a really nice place to drive around, is glorious Bath. The last time I was there was for Bath in Fashion a few years ago, where I was invited to give a talk on vintage glamour and confidence at a 1950s tea party event. Obviously, given the reason for my visit, it would have been plain rude not to go and check out the wares that Bath had to offer. There were two that stick out in my memory as having particularly nice things — Vintage to Vogue and Scarlet Vintage — both a couple of minutes’ walk apart. Vintage to Vogue also comes highly recommended by The Chap Magazine for its selection of authentic menswear, something that is not as easy to find as womenswear.
Last year I drove to Hastings to meet a fellow vintage lover I met on Instagram. Sort of like an internet date, but far less sleazy.
It’s not that often that I set out with the sole intention of shopping for old stuff; it’s just a happy bonus to my visits to friends in far-flung (and not so far) towns. No trip to Brighton is complete without a shuffle around Snooper’s Paradise and its treasure-troves of garments and homewares. Brighton also has a wealth of other vintage and charity shops to pick through. Nearby, Lewes is only a short spin further along the coast and its antique shops are packed with potential finds.
Last year, I drove with one of my girlfriends to Hastings to meet a fellow vintage lover we had met over Instagram. Sort of like an internet date, but far less sleazy. She, of course, showed us around Hasting's Old Town and its amazing shops. Similarly, a recent solo drive down to see old school friends in Gloucester saw me having a quick poke about in The New Gloucester Antiques Centre, obviously not to be confused with the old Gloucester Antiques Centre, formerly on the quayside. The relocated centre is in an amazing old building, dating from the Tudor times, with era-appropriate sloping masonry. It was a fabulous place for homewares and knickknacks. I came away with a framed cigarette card collection, despite my pokey London flat having run out of wall space a good while ago.
And in a very convenient segue, for anyone reading who doesn’t live in the confines of the M25, a road trip to London will definitely result in some of the best shopping the UK has to offer. As well as the aforementioned Brick Lane with its huge Beyond Retro, more trendy vintage places like Rokit and well-established shops like Hunky Dory, run by Ian and Ian. Then, there’s Scarlet Rage in Crouch End with its amazing early to mid-20th century stock, hand-picked in America several times a year. One of the best "secret" gems of vintage shopping in London is Dreamtime in Angel’s Camden Passage. It’s tiny and open at strange times but if you can get there, it’s worth it. My only London road-trip tip is that you leave your car in one of the outer boroughs and don’t actually drive around the city itself. That’s just silly.