I’m not a good shopper. There’s a very short window of time before I get either hungry, fatigued or generally just a bit grumpy. But there is an exception to this rule – vintage shopping. I think it’s because there’s no pressure to find a particular thing, instead there’s an excitement in the not knowing what you’re going to pull up. Each shop visit could either be very expensive or slightly disappointing – but either way I’ll enjoy the experience, searching through a real mishmash of items with their own unique history. It’s a bit like being in a museum, but you can actually take the exhibits home – for a price, of course. The one real challenge with vintage shopping is willpower; just because I love that 60s sideboard, doesn’t mean it will fit into my terraced house, and I learnt long ago that I will never get round to “taking in” that dress/coat/glittery disco jumpsuit.
For those of you that also love a rummage, the good news is that there’s never been a better time to embrace past decades of fashion in Leicester. There’s so many places I could mention in this guide, but here’s just a taste of what’s on offer…
Sue Ryder Vintage and Retro
Loseby Lane, LE1 5DR
Based in The Lanes area of the city, the Sue Ryder charity shop specialises in vintage and retro items, handpicked from donations from across the region. Manager Amy Coulson explained how it works: “The lines are quite blurred when it comes to vintage. We see anything that’s over 25 years old is vintage, anything that replicates that style is retro. Also we pay quite close attention to current trends and we try to work those trends into what we pick as well.” It seems to work – some of their customers travel up from London just to visit the shop, with both vintage enthusiasts and traders filling their bags to bursting. Amy says it’s a good deal for the buyers and for the end-of-life charity: “We want to make sure we get the best value that we can for the items donated to us because they are things people previously loved, or they still love but they’re having to make room for life changes. So we do try and put good prices on things – what we feel they’re worth – but we’re quite lucky as we don’t need to buy stuff in so we can put lower prices on than the vintage shops.”
(On a side note, I’ve always thought working in a charity shop must be a great way of having your pick of the items, but it turns out that there’s policies that prevent – or at least slightly delay – that kind of thing. The staff can’t buy anything that’s been out on the shop floor for less than 24 hours and they definitely can’t price the desired item! But still, it seems like a lovely place to work and it just so happens that they’re on the look-out for new volunteers…)
On sale: Mainly clothes, but also household nick-nacks, vinyl, book, haberdashery.
Caught my eye: So many beautiful coats.
Previous purchases: The Dirty Dancing soundtrack on vinyl.
Cank Street, LE1 5GX
Spanning three floors on Cank Street, Dollymix Vintage is a family-run business, selling an eclectic range of vintage clothes, spanning from smart Edwardian to glamorous 70s outfits. The rails and rails of items on sale have been sourced over a number of years from “buying expeditions” at markets around the country. This is the kind of shop you could get lost in for hours – each handpicked item is like a mini history lesson in British fashion.
Shop assistant Ruby Waage-Townsend loves meeting their eclectic customers, from the casual caller to those who look like they’re on a day trip from the 1940s. As an artist, she finds the stories behind each item of clothing a real inspiration, and working there means she’s forever updating her wardrobe: “I’ve always dressed a bit differently. I change my look every day, from 70s to 50s. I just love it all and it’s just beautifully made. I’ve got four wedding dresses from here and I just wear them to go to the shops!” Ruby is keen to point out a big draw for the vintage shopper is the uniqueness of a lot of the clothes. If you’ve ever accidentally turned up to a party wearing the same outfit as your ex’s new partner, you’ll understand the potential appeal of a tailor-made item over the latest mass-produced high street look. Although Dollymix has been a popular feature in Leicester for a number of years, Ruby thinks the recent surge in vintage clothes shops is a thing to be celebrated.
On sale: So many beautiful clothes.
Caught my eye: A beautiful floral green 1950s day dress – and some sparkly 20s accessories.
Previous purchase: I’ve bought quite a bit from here over the years, but my biggest success was a 1950s-style floral skirt which has now been a summer staple for years.
See also: Pink Pigeon, The Wardrobe, The Vintage Scene – there’s a real explosion of vintage on Silver Street right now.
Montague Road, LE2 1TH
While there’s plenty of vintage outlets across the city, there seems to be a particular intensity in and around the Clarendon Park area; among them, interiors-focused Vintage Utopia. What started online moved to a physical shop and has now been in its present home on Montague Road for five years. Bucking the general trend towards digital, owner Richard Talbot estimates that 60% of his business comes from the physical shop. The furniture and other curiosities, largely ranging from the 1940s through to 90s, are picked from multiple sources: auctions, car boots, house clearances and direct buys from customers.
Searching for the stuff is the hardest part of the business, but a good find makes it worth the effort: “You never know what’s going to come in. That’s probably the most exciting part of the job.” While many customers pop in to have a browse for inspiration, there’s also those who know exactly what they’re looking for, and Richard holds many pieces of mid-century furniture: “Particularly Ercol and G-Plan is really popular at the moment.” He however, is very selective with the piece for his house: “I don’t like too much clutter, my house definitely doesn’t look like the shop”.
On sale: Furniture, mirrors, glassware, garden items.
Caught my eye: An original drawing by my former landlord (and all round wonderful bloke) Andy Hoogenbloom.
Previous purchase: Not my own, but my friend Elle has a beautiful display cabinet as an excellent impulse purchase.
See also: Clarendon Vintage, PLANK
Leicester Vintage Warehouse
Welford Road, LE2 6BD
Only a year old, Leicester’s Vintage Warehouse has become a popular choice for anyone looking for anything vintage or retro – and I do mean anything. If you’re looking to kit out your home with unique pieces of furniture, this is the place, but there’s so much more besides, even items you never knew existed. It’s one of those places I walk into and feel excited – almost like I’m in competition with the other warehouse browsers to find a real treasure before they do!
The warehouse is the brainchild of Jane Killigrew and Mike Haynes, who dreamt of a place to sell their own stock alongside likeminded dealers. After years of searching, they found their home on Welford Road, and moved in. Each item is labelled up so when you taken your chosen gem to the counter, they know who the money should go to.
Jane says their customers are as varied as their stock – from young kids starting off their first collection, to students on a budget, and real antique hunters. “We are often amazed by what people have had hidden away in their drawers and shed for years. I personally love the old toys that come in and at the moment we have some huge original French film advertising posters that would look fantastic in the home – if you have a wall big enough!”
On sale: You name it, they probably sell it!
Caught my eye: I’m a sucker for a sign or a bit of local history – it took a lot of willpower to not leave with a giant circus sign.
Previous purchase: My huge dining room lampshade for a bargain £36 (plus the tenner to have it properly installed by my dad’s mate).