Some thoughts on shopping for vintage

Today is Bath's first vintage and antiques market at Green Park Station, a disused railway station in central Bath. Frankly, I was disappointed. The organisers have made an effort, and there were appealing things like a pop-up tea room, but too many of the stalls were just selling bric-a-brac. I don't have any problem with bric-a-bra per se; back in the 1990s, when I first moved to the city, there was splendid and cheap junk market in the old bus depot – as well as my treasured 1930s film magazines, I bought a tailcoat there that had moths (discovered before they damaged anything precious) and generally would have fun padding around looking at stuff. So why didn't I enjoy this market?

For me, there are two ways of shopping for vintage. The way I buy most often is from charity shops / car boots/ jumble sales. Everyone I know with more than a passing interest in vintage knows that it would be ruinous to shop only from dedicated sellers of period items, and that if you're prepared to go regularly and look through the 63 Jilly Coopers three weeks running to find one novel by MG Eberhart, or wade through 87 polyester scarves, some with dubious marks, because sooner or later you'll find a silk one for £2, you can find a great deal of what you need.

(Scared of finding scungy bits in clothes, stained cups or mildewy books? Can't face sniffing the armpits in an old frock before making a buying decision? Dare I say it, you might not like vintage as much as you think you do.)

Anyway, the other way to buy vintage is to shop from a vintage specialist; the vintage clothing seller, the retailer specialising in old china. If someone advertises as specifically selling vintage, I expect two things: one, that prices will be relatively high; and two, that the sellers will be justified in charging a premium because they will have done the legwork required to bring a lot of desirable vintage into one place. I'll spend more, but save time.

I expected the market to be packed with the latter type of stall. There were a few that fitted into this bracket, such as one selling midcentury modern homewares, Mrs Stokes' teaware stall, a stall devoted entirely to door furniture and one selling vintage toys and games, but there were plenty that just seemed to be selling random old stuff at very high prices, with the assumption that people into vintage will buy any old tat, and I can sift through much cheaper random old tat in charity shops. For me to go back to the market, either the prices have to drop or the quality of stall has to improve.

What do you expect from people claiming to be selling vintage? And where are your happy hunting grounds? (You don't have to be too specific, if you don't want people coming to hoover up 'your' stuff!)


  1. I could not agree more. I would expect people to know their stuff and realise that those seeking these items are not blind fools, clambering for anything remotely "vintage".

    I have seen a lot of band-wagon-jumping-upon of late because it has caught on that people are into old stuff. The misconception is that people will pay a premium for substandard toot.

    Then again - I guess if you cannot see the wheat for the chaff then you deserve for your money to be taken.

    I have a 40's style, but I mainly shop at charity shops and via second hand - like etsy. And dare I say it - the highstreet. I do LOVE vintage clothes.. their history and all that and wondering who they belonged to - but I do not like the upkeep of 70 yr old frocks. Thats just me. But accessories...? Hmmm... I can be a bit of a mug when it comes to screw back earrings..

  2. I had a very similar experience at a vintage fair in Reading today!

  3. I'm so glad you chaps agree with me! As I was writing the piece, I thought, 'Am I just being a rotten old trout?'. I felt awful for saying I didn't like it because I know some of the people involved put in lots of work, and some bits of it were good, but so much of it was not.

    I did wonder how much of it was due to location - Bath has a lot of what I think of as the 'Cath Kidston Brigade', who'll regard anything with roses slapped all over it as 'vintage' (every bit as annoying as the 'stick a cog on it and it's steampunk' gang, imo), and so it's possible some sellers raised prices because they knew they'd get sellers who wouldn't dream of going regularly to charity shops/ car boots.

  4. hi Mim! shame the market was poor. I was discussing the market with Cleo from Clifton Vintage Boutique and will be sure to let her know!(have you been there btw? fab lady with a real eye for quality and very reasonable prices as she's very passionate

    Shepton Mallet and Malvern flea markets are good for decent quality items (and the odd bargain)
    Otherwise charity shops in good areas!

  5. Hi Rach! I've never been vintage shopping in Bristol - in fact, I've probably been to Bristol fewer than a dozen times. Cities scare me! If ever you fancy a vintage shopping trip, do let me know :D

  6. yeah, you suggested meeting up anyway -so we should def do that and i can show you around! :D

  7. I'm a bit spoilt in London, but totally agree: it needs to be high quality and a nice shopping experience to cost more. I am more than capable of paying less and washing clothes should the quality and shopping experience be missing!

    One shocker I saw recently was one of those 'angry disclaimer' things at the bottom of an ebay listing. Now, we all know they say 'vintage many have tiny falws blah blah...' but this one said (I paraphrase) 'these items are NOT washed by me, if you like vintage you have to wash things you buy yourself otherwise you're not a proper vintage fan and don't deserve the clothes...'. It was for something machine-washable circa 1969. That really annoyed me: trying to pass of laziness as part of the 'vintage experience'.

  8. Perdita, that is a proper shocker! I'd expect to clean stuff after I'd worn it, but to be selling machine-washable stuff that hasn't been washed is pretty grotty.


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