It probably started about eight years ago. I was in London on a short holiday to visit an old friend. One unusually fine day, I happened to walk into a little shop in Covent Garden near Seven Dials. There was mustiness in the air, but also a sense of peace and serenity. I wasn’t sure what to expect. The owner of the shop was an older lady who wore a Frankie Goes To Hollywood t-shirt over a sweater. Her hair was a shockingly frizzy grey and she had a pair of half-moon glasses perched on her nose. She was attending to another customer when I walked in, so I started to look around the shop by myself, quite happy to just browse.
I soon realised that there was something odd about the clothes on the racks and the items hanging from hooks on the walls. Then I read the little signs. These things were old.
Old. As in “pre-loved”, as in “used before”, as in “someone could have died in them”.
I stood there transfixed by the thought. A frisson came over me, and then a start as I heard a voice behind me.
"First time in a vintage shop, dear?" the owner asked with a knowing smile.
I smiled back, trying not to reveal my nervousness.
"It's all very nice, you know," she continued, "They all have their own stories to tell … it's all very delightful, my dear."
Suzanne then proceeded to tell me how she started the shop, how she got into vintage stuff after her husband passed away. There were many old items in their house – clothes, furniture, knick-knacks – but she thought they could be put to better use. So she learned how to refurbish the clothes that could still be worn, and found people to do the same for the furniture. She set up shop to sell the revived items and eventually found other sources of vintage items.
I spent almost two hours listening to her tell her story (Yes, she could talk). And in that time, I also found something on the racks that spoke to me – a denim jacket with the Rolling Stones logo embroidered on the back. Not that I was a Stones fan, mind you. I was just somehow enamoured by something that I probably would not be able to find back in "new is better" Singapore.
Over the years, I’ve discovered many more sources of vintage items, mainly dresses whose designs I feel remain timeless. I've learned the hard way that there are unscrupulous online shops out there. And I’ve made friends who share the same interest.
Vintage shopping is addictive. For me, at least. But it's an addiction that nourishes my soul. In our hyper-modern world, it is a welcome departure from blind consumerism. Every vintage piece I purchase is a window into another time. I relish making up stories for each of them, imagining the person who wore them, what they liked, who they loved, how they lived.
My preference is for pieces from the 60s because that was when my own mother was a young woman. But I also have tops and other accessories from other decades, just to mix things up a bit. And when I finally do get my own place, I already know how I’m going to furnish it. (This Scandinavian trend is so last season.)
One important thing I learned about vintage shopping: do the research. Vintage shopping is an excellent way to learn about how and why trends happened in fashion. It also helps so you know not to get ripped off by dishonest sellers.
The other thing to remember is fit. These items are truly one-of-a-kind, which means you won’t get a selection of the same factory-made design in different sizes. If you’re getting the item online, you’re in Lady Luck’s hands. But if you’re getting it from a brick and mortar shop, most will offer affordable alteration services to make sure the item fits you perfectly. Just ask nicely.
Ultimately, the key to successful vintage shopping is patience. You need to have that hunter-forager mentality about you to snag that perfect piece. Sure, there are lots of online vintage e-shops, but do beware that what you see may not be what you get. And because prices can be exorbitant, you’ll want to be careful not to succumb to impulse purchases.
Finding actual shops are more fun. Go explore hip locales like Arab Street, Bugis, or even the heartlands! You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find. Here’s a no-brainer tip: get friendly the owners so you can gauge how genuine they are about their business (it’ll probably give you an edge too when it comes to asking for a discount).
One of my favourite outlets is Déjà Vu Vintage. These guys have been around for almost 10 years, and carry some of the most interesting one-of-a-kind pieces I’ve ever found, including the ever-popular Diane Von Furstenburg wrap dress! Kelly, the owner, counts celebrities like Nadya Hutagulung, Stefanie Sun, Denise Keller, Yvonne Lim, and Michelle Chong among her regular clientele. So it’s clear I’m in excellent company when it comes to my vintage obsession.
In any case, whether it’s clothes, accessories or furniture, follow your gut. If it doesn’t feel 100% right, let it go. But when you stumble across shops like Déjà Vu Vintage, that exude sincerity, honesty and passion, you know you’ve found your own little doorway through time.