There are surprisingly few good vintage shops in London. Despite the popularity of vintage clothing in recent years, there haven’t been high-profile stores here like Wooden Sleepers in New York, Le Vif in Paris or Broadway & Sons in Gothenburg.
The stand out was always The Vintage Showroom, but sadly Doug and Roy announced two weeks ago that they wouldn’t be renewing their lease in Covent Garden (which was doubtless expensive).
The business will continue at the showroom in Buspace Studios, west London, but with limited availability for retail. There is a concession in Selfridges at the moment, but for most people access will be restricted to e-commerce, which is apparently being refreshed in June. The latest updates are on their Instagram feed.
The alternatives are mostly in East London: The Vintage Showroom was always an outlier in terms of location. There is the excellent Levison’s, and just down the road the much smaller but lovely Hang Up Vintage.
I wanted to highlight Ben at Hang Up in this series on London retail as an alternative to The Vintage Showroom, but also for two other reasons.
One, Ben is young and pretty friendly, happy to chat and help with whatever you’re seeking. To be frank, most vintage stores are not like that - but most of the new breed, like Wooden Sleepers and Le Vif, are. Ben belongs in that category.
And two, Ben does some lovely repair work on old clothing - which is something fairly unique to offer alongside vintage, but is also a good option for readers that want a treasured piece repaired.
When Alex [Natt, photographer] and I visited, Ben was working on a pair of jeans with a series of rips. The rather particular customer wanted some closed and repaired, but others left open. Such repairs are a whole other area of creativity. (Another example there being Atelier & Repairs.)
Our eye was also caught by the old chore jacket you can see above.
Apparently it had been discovered rolled up in the corner of a house. The parts that were exposed to the sun had been slowly bleached, while the ones that were hidden had been eroded by the rusting buttons.
It’s not really very efficient in terms of labour to cost ratio, and indeed perhaps something no one will ever wear. But it does look lovely on the wall.
Everything else in Hang-Up Vintage is more ordinary and wearable. There are field jackets, overshirts, denim jackets and denim shirts; a few leather jackets, the odd souvenir jacket: most standard categories of workwear and military clothing.
The shop is not big - basically a small room, with Ben working away on a sewing machine at one end - and this limits the range.
For example, finding good vintage jeans is always hard. But when there are only a dozen pairs to choose from, perhaps three in your waist size, and just one in the right leg length, the chances the fit and style will also being perfect are small.
Shopping for vintage is often like that. The key I think is to enjoy browsing everything, as you would a new shop or brand. You can keep a wish list as well if you want, as an aide-mémoire, but it’s best to just be open to inspiration.
Alex and I tried on perhaps a dozen things.
He was lucky enough to walk away with a pair of jeans - perfect in every way, except perhaps the rise. (But then when are ready-made jeans ever perfect in every single aspect?)
And I delighted in Ben’s range of old badges. He recently put some of his personal collection into the store, and that included some great band ones. I picked one showing the cover of Piece of Mind, which I particularly liked because it had no text. It’s basically just a picture of a screaming monster in a straitjacket.
The fit-out of Hang-Up is nice, and Ben actually began in antiques, with a stall in Spitalfields Market. “I had a space back when it was much easier to get one - it’s almost impossible now,” he says. “I was selling antiques and just brought along some clothes as filler, but it was the clothes that sold.”
That was five years ago. He sold in the stall for a while, and then bought the current space on Cheshire Street in early 2019. “In just five years the market has got noticeably harder,” he says. “There are more people looking for these pieces and supply slowly dries up. I kick myself for things I sold just a few years ago.”
There may not be many vintage stores in London, but the world has got bigger, with many suppliers just online. And it’s easy to find how much things are worth - rather than having to go to a dealer.
Ben likes talking to everyone that comes into the shop. It certainly beats his first career, in shoe development. “It sounds great, but there very little money in working for designer brands, and nothing of interest in high-street shops,” he says.
The only problem with talking to everyone is that a lot of the old-timers want to do nothing else. “They’re lovely, but they never, ever buy anything!” Ben laughs.
“They spend most of their time telling you how much cheaper vintage was back in the day. Everything seemed to cost 80p. They like being around vintage clothes, and examining them, but they don’t seem to be able to accept that it’s not the niche it used to be.”
Interestingly, one similarity between Ben and old vintage shops is that it used to be more common to offer alterations and repairs - what Ben calls his ‘Make Good’ service. It’s extensive too: he not only hand and machine sews, but he’s built up a big stock of spare parts, and will replace buttons, linings and hardware.
For me, this should be part of the vintage world as much as historic clothing. After all, one of the lovely things about vintage is the signs of repair the clothes have had over the years. There’s no reason you shouldn't add your own.
I recommended Ben in our ‘How to alter jeans’ article a few weeks ago for that reason. I’ve had my jeans repaired by Levi’s and by Blackhorse Lane, but Ben offers a much wider range of repairs, rescues and even entirely new creations.
One example of the latter was a jacket on display at the back of the store, a combination of the remnants of a souvenir robe from the 1950s and various varsity knits. There are some good examples of the repairs on his Instagram highlights.
I recommend popping into Hang-Up and perhaps Levison’s any time you're in the area. The other vintage around there is either more womenswear, modern (football shirts) or cheaper (more second-hand than vintage). But these two are worth spending time to travel to, and the time to go through the racks.
Just go in with an open mind.
hangupvintage.com @hangupvintage, 44 Cheshire Street
www.levisons.co.uk @levisons_london, 1 Cheshire Street
Photography: Alex Natt @adnatt