Fashion insider Emily London, who has a CV that includes working at Vogue, Outnet and Refinery 29, is an expert shopper with a passion for vintage. Discover her nuggets of knowledge on finding vintage gems, successful sample sale treks and learned know-how on making it all work with affordable high street picks
Do you shop when you’re happy or you’re sad or indeed both? Or do you simply shop for necessity? Oh, totally both. I do it if I’m happy, sad, indifferent or mega-stressed. Strangely I tend to buy beauty products when I’m sad or stressed. Perhaps because they make me feel hopeful that I can magically change something about myself with a flick of an eyeliner wand…
And how important is looking good to you? It is very important to me but perhaps not in the traditional sense. I’m not bothered by what other people may think of my outfit and I’m totally happy to leave the house without make-up or even brushing my hair, it’s more a need to wear clothes that make me feel strong and almost protected. A bit like armour. Over the course of my adult life I’ve been several dress sizes and I’m currently the largest I have ever been. I want to make sure all the bits I feel really unhappy about are hidden; tummy and upper arms mostly.
You’re a bit of designer sale fiend, what are your tips on getting the best from a sample sale or an outlet? Through trial and error, I now believe it’s important to look for the classic pieces the designer label is known for and produces season after season. When I was in my Twenties I used to go to the Alexander McQueen sample sale in London. I would spend a small fortune on outlandish runway samples that still had dressmakers’ pins in them (think a see-through rubber trenchcoat) but never wore them once I brought them home to my flat. They were too theatrical and my life isn’t a fashion editorial shoot and I just couldn’t work out how to make these ‘pieces’ work for me. Now when I got to Bicester Village, I look for oversize slightly Seventies-inspired sunglasses at Chloé, statement flats at Prada, butter-soft leather totes at Céline and satin pumps at Dior. Please note: I don’t leave these stores with bulging shopping bags every time I go there, but those items are always at the forefront of my mind when I’m walking around the stores as they are the items I would like to wear year after year.
What mistakes do people make when shopping sample sales? I think the big mistake is shopping on impulse. It is so easy to get carried away when you see something that has been in all the mags and papers, with a significant discount on the price tag and start thinking, ‘yes, I totally need those five inch, marabou feather tipped mules!’. But even if the mules are 75% off and are now £50, if you never wear them that’s £50 down the drain.
What have been some gems you’ve found in your time? I have to admit there have been a quite a few…..but I would say I tend to do well when the Sales move to Clearance, both on the high street and online. A couple of years ago I bought a fabulous pair of suede Tabitha Simmons ankle boots at Liberty for £99. They normally sell for £745. I’ve worn them every single week ever since. The cost per wear must be pennies by now.
And you love vintage shopping – how would you persuade someone who can’t bear the thought of wearing other people’s old clothes to try it? Firstly, I would say wearing vintage is not about looking like you are in an Agatha Christie-inspired murder mystery party. It isn’t about wearing it from head-to-toe. Instead I would suggest looking at it as another way to add something truly unique to your look, which makes you feel happy and reflects your personal style. I always say to start small, by wearing a necklace or carrying a handbag that is vintage to see how you feel about it.
And, what are your top five tips for getting the best out of vintage/secondhand shopping?
Don’t worry about what the size says on the label – if you like the item and it fits you, get it. Women were much smaller back in the day, so a UK16 in 1967 isn’t the same as the size is in 2017.
Try it on in the shop and try it on when you get home – it is really important to see if the vintage piece will blend in easily into your wardrobe. Do take the time of trying it on again when you get home as you’ll be able to see how it looks with lots of items you love wearing.
It’s not just about special occasions – a lot of friends tend to ask me about vintage fashion when they are going somewhere fancy like a wedding or black-tie party. Vintage is a great option for both of those occasions but I now believe that it is all about wearing a little bit of vintage every single day. Look out for great vintage trench coats (M&S did some great ones in the Seventies) or mint condition cashmere sweaters and cotton Liberty print skater skirts. All of these items look fab when paired up with high street pieces and tend to cost a third of the price of the vintage eveningwear pieces.
Check for wear-and-tear – As a 17-year-old and 27-year-old, I was very happy to wear Forties tea dresses and Fifties swing coats that had the odd mark on the fabric and moth holes in the lining. No more. I now look for items that are in boxfresh, mint condition. I’m still happy to sewn up a split seam and steam press a crumpled silk blouse, but I don’t want my look to be more shabby than chic anymore.
Think about the cost per wear – a vintage item that you need to buy is one when you try it on you instantly think of several other outfits you could wear it with. Vintage isn’t about dressing up. It’s just another way you can enjoy fashion, with a little bit of history thrown in for good measure.
Where are you vintage shopping hotspots? Sadly, lots of my favourite vintage shops in London are closing as the business rates are increasing at a punishing pace. It’s the reason why I make a pilgrimage to Edinburgh each year as the vintage shops I know and love are still there. Before I get off the train I’m already planning my shopping route.
Firstly I head straight to the Grassmarket and pop into Armstrongs to pick up cashmere jumpers and cardigans in a variety of shades. The prices are so reasonable and the quality is always top notch. I’ve also bought Lee denim jackets and Jaegar linen jumpsuits before too. I then head up to Herman Brown, which is a store that has been going since 1983 and hosts a fantastic edit of vintage pieces from the Thirties through to the Nineties. I’ve picked up Fifties cocktail dresses, Eighties trench coats and Bakelite brooches from there. The rails aren’t bulging so it isn’t overwhelming to shop through and the owner Anna Nicholson is a font of knowledge when it comes to fashion.
Then I head to Stockbridge where my all time favourite vintage shop, Elaine’s Vintage Fashion, is at 55 St Stephen’s Street (0131 225 5783). The bijoux shop is filled with the most beautiful examples of vintage fashion from all eras and the choice on offer is eclectic. Laura Ashley smock dresses compete with Thirties empire-line gowns, Edwardian night shirts and tuxedo jackets. Elaine, the owner of the shop, is so friendly and I always look forward to having a chat with her. I’ve been shopping at her store for over 20 years and still wear a lot of the pieces I bought from her when I was a student in the city, Miss Bizio Couture is also on St Stephen’s Street and offers an intoxicating array of vintage fashion from the owner’s personal archive.
Finally, I finish my vintage shopping tour with a go-see round all of the charity shops on Raeburn Place in Stockbridge. I’ve never seen so many charity shops on one street in my life. They are all beautifully presented and I always come away with a bargain or two. Last year I found a pair of Emma Hope velvet shoes for £5.
But is there a point where you have to sell stuff on because you’ve got too much?Absolutely yes. And that time for me is now. I’ve got a spare room just filled with rails of clothes I love but don’t wear any more. When you can’t open the door properly you know that it’s time to do something about it.
And how do you sell your surplus? What sites/places do you go to? In the past I have sold my designer items to consignment stores but they don’t pay you very much per item. This time around I’ve decided to sell on Ebay as it is so easy to upload items to their site through the app and the fee they charge, per items sold, is fairly small compared to other businesses.
What are the do’s and don’t of selling on designer?
Take lots of pictures of the item at all angles – Buyers will want to see every aspect of the product (including authenticity cards if you have them).
Provide provenance – Ebay are very vigilant about designer knock offs. If you bought this Miu Miu bangle at Harvey Nichols in the sale, add that into the product description as it will make a lot of buyers happier knowing where the item came from. If you have the original receipt, take a pic of that too.
Be realistic about the price – Have a look on eBay and see what price other items similar or the same, as the one you want to sell are going for. Aim to be in line with that price. Just because you spent £150 on a designer bag in 1998 doesn’t mean you are going to be able to sell it for that price. Some brands are very popular right now, Gucci, Ventements and Balenciaga, particularly, but a lot of other brands won’t retain their value in the same way over the years.
Highlight imperfections – if there is an ink stain in the lining of the bag, take pics and let the customer decide if they want to buy it in its present condition. It saves all the headache of arranging a return in the long run.
Take it personally – sometimes I get customers emailing me with offers to buy some of my items for silly prices. Twenty pounds for a pair of box fresh Manolo Blahniks anyone? It’s easy to get frustrated with the process and annoyed by the cheek of some of these customers. But it’s all about holding your nerve and being polite when handling these types of queries, as in places like Ebay, the feedback customers give you improves your ratings and gives you greater selling privileges the longer you sell through the store.
Cut corners – I see lots of items for sale with barely any information about them. It is really important to put the time into adding in all the measurement details and high res pictures which accurately shows the item you want to sell. Not only does adding more copy into your product description help with your item being ranked higher on Google Search, you won’t have to field some many questions about the item from prospective customers.
Is there one buy that was an emotional buy that you still love and reminds you of a certain time in your life? Yes – and I’ve just sold it on Ebay this week. It was a blue tweed jacket from Balenciaga from the AW’04 collection. I bought it for £150 in the sales at Selfridges. I’d just got my first staff role on a mag called Happy and I felt the bees-knees in it, like I had really arrived and was a true ‘fashion person’. It wasn’t the most practical of jackets as it buttoned up just under my bust and the sleeves were so tight I couldn’t bend my arms, but I like to think I look pretty fierce in it.
Describe your go to look for every day. I’m quite uniform in how I dress at the moment. I love wearing Breton tops, normally from Joules or Uniqlo and I pair them with knife pleat skirts from ASOS or H&M. For outerwear, as it is so warm I wear a khaki safari jacket I picked up in the H&M sale too. I always wear flats as I’ve finally realised that I can’t walk in heels. I love statement styles from Mango, Zara (amazing mules this season) and Ancient Greek Sandals.
Describe your go to look for a night out. I don’t really have one. I’m a great believer in taking your look from day to night. It’s a horrid phrase – who has time to switch looks after a long day? Not me, I’d rather be at the bar having a G&T. I tend to add new accessories if I’m going out. Recently I found on Ebay a pair of gold metallic leather Christian Louboutin low wedge heels for £39! They are the first pair of heels, in about a decade, I can walk in, so I tend to slip into them to fancy up my Breton/flouncy skirt outfit combo. I might also add a slick of red lipstick too for good measure.