jan30sailordress1There was a time when the buying and selling of vintage items would have involved a few broken necklaces at a car boot sale. Now, the exchange of vintage fashion has become indulgent and profitable. Ellie Woodward investigates the lucrative new business that is vintage.

I have a confession to make. I admit that until recently I was a charity shop virgin. I suppose I’d just never really seen the appeal of rifling through people’s old stuff. But one fateful day, as I was walking down my road, a gorgeous leather tote in the window of Tenovus caught my eye and the rest, as they say, is history.

You couldn’t get me out of the place. I was most taken with the jewellery displayed in interesting lumps of coral under a glass display top. I snapped up a gold chain and a pair of oversized costume earrings with large pearls surrounded by diamonds – the sort of thing that wouldn’t look out of place in the lobes of Pat Butcher. And the best part? My vintage finest came to only £2.

Next came the crystal bowl to hold my new additions to my jewellery collection and the leather handbag I’d had my eye on. I became friends with the manager and even volunteered there for a while, eyeing up the peep toe sandals and preppy twin sets that were donated each day in those big bin liners of vintage magic. There used to be a time when buying and selling vintage clothing would have involved a few broken necklaces at a car boot sale.

Since the revival of vintage with vintage items plastered across the pages of fashion magazines, it’s now wholly acceptable to rummage around in the bargain bins of Oxfam. Maybe it’s the fact that vintage is not only cheaper but more unique than clothing from the high street or designers, or maybe it’s its quirky appeal – silk dresses with puffball sleeves and pretty skirts with Sixties zips and plastic buttons that have all the potential to look utterly unflattering but teamed together correctly ooze that certain je ne sais quoi.

Either way, since celebrities began to chirrup ‘vintage’ in response to ‘who are you wearing?’ at red carpet events, our desire for vintage has become insatiable. So much so that charity shops are thoroughly investing in the idea. Oxfam’s website is now rammed with the term ‘vintage’ and is even employing some of the biggest names in fashion to reap the benefits of the demand.

Oxfam have enlisted the help of Jane Shepherdson, former brand director of Topshop, to oversee the project which involves preserving the very best of vintage clothing. The first of these new Oxfam stores was launched last summer inLondon’s  trendy Westbourne Grove. Two more are set to open in up-market areas of London with more across the UK this year. Nestled amongst the rails of vintage clothing – Agnes B tops, Chloe skirts. Cacharel dresses and Armani camisoles – are pieces reinvented by young designers from the London College of Fashion and the Fairtrade Foundation.

Whilst the price tags are slightly heftier than the usual local Oxfam (with some pieces priced at over £100), the clothes are one-of-a-kind beauties with the finish of Bond Street finest. Open-toed Prada sandals, vintage handbags, jewellery by Wright and Teague, as well as antique lace collars demurely adorn the mannequins. “These boutiques are all about creating a great shopping experience,” says Shepherdson. “Oxfam has always been a place where stylish people hunt for interesting items to create their look, the boutiques are set to make that even easier.”

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