Sunday, 19 December 2010

Snoopers Paradise

As icy tempests funnel through East London's narrow avenues, deep pile snuggery is what I opt for. I want to hibernate, to squirrel away within my chunky cowl-neck, nubbly polo-neck, and over-darned jersey; to prowl in a shroud of ancient, moth-aromatic fur, ravaging the roadside leaf coverings, in rugged, conker-coloured brogues.

One thing to be cherished, in this chilliest of seasons, is the sudden necessity for plenty in the world of the wardrobe, where my clamorous collection of cheaply sourced garments ceases it's idol summer crease-gathering. The pre-owned is affordable for us students, frequently braving the bitter London elements. What could better suit?

London's labyrinthine streets harbour some of the most inspiring vintage outlets in the country. First time buyers into the second-hand experience should begin small-scale; the dizzying amount and variety of treasures in Absolute Vintage, a Shoreditch warehouse, can be overwhelming, as can Oxford Street's Beyond Retro, a brimming underground haven of cast off costume. Market stalls, (try those of Camden and Brick lane) offer a more refined selection, easing one gently into the throne of the thrifty.

Rifle for classic regalia in charity shops- they charge less than self-proclaimed 'vintage boutiques'. Peckham, Lewisham, Catford and Bloomsbury all contain charitable treasure-troves. London's alternative night-life has introduced 'Swap-A-Rama Razzmatazz' at Favela Chic, Shoreditch, where clubbers snatch clothes, swapping or bartering items at the sound of a foghorn. The internet wields brilliant finds (ebay often offers the long searched for garment at the tap of a finger). Try freecycle, a site where members request and give unwanted garms for free. For the super-skint, relieve your Granny's wardrobe of impressive furs and frumpy mohair cardies, or squeeze yourself into hoarded childhood get up- a rifle through my attic presented preppy red braces and a little woollen blazer- detested when I was five, now proudly donned. Skips, hand me downs, offering to help clear away at boot sale closing time, can all wield priceless treasures.

Obviously, hands-on thrift shopping is not for the obsessively hygienic. The faded wine stain on the hem, the lose threads, the cigarette burn, can be enjoyed as the evidence of human hands, remnants of former lives. When you do find a brilliant gem, gleaming between rows of less-impressive trash attire, remember the care of your garment is essential in ensuring its vitality for future owners. To avoid the devestation of shrinkage, hand-wash your finds with devotion and care. Harsh sunlight will weaken and fade your yarns, and the same follows for velvets, silks and delicate lace.

Finally, expect your thrifty successes to arrive in bouts. Predict fruitless wanderings through markets, diligent rifling through crates of musty tatter, before the wielding of delight. After a recently experiencing a month-long drought, I uncovered... a dusky-rose Laura Ashley shot-silk prom gown, butter-soft teal leather gloves with lattice detailing; and a strapless full skirted mini- dress. Seven layers of taffeta, webbing and silken underskirt, all in the course of one fifteen-minute Peckham stint. And for under a tenner.

The display in the relative warmth of the lecture theatre- layers of old-fangled outerwear, cardigans in shades of mushroom and oatmeal, mossy green Barbour jackets and plentiful fur, shrugged off reveal brilliant flashes of colour, trimmings of skeletal lace and glints of costume jewellery beneath- is somehow reminiscent of the stashed antiquities of some eccentric collector- bright, fragile pinned butterflies, glancing between vast displays of taxidermy. The key is in the mismatch. These endlessly inspired combinations-classic button up shirts and artfully knotted cravats; prim, ribbed 'Malory Towers'-esque tights, teemed with scuffed, coquettish heels. Clearly, the humour and inventiveness of under-graduate trash scouting is far from out-moded.