“In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
There must be magical qualities inherent in the word vintage, that endow any item to which it is applied with a price tag several orders of magnitude higher than its actual value. It’s not as if that money is even going to a good cause. It’s going straight in the pocket of the shop owner, and for something they probably didn’t even pay for. That’s pure profit. Money for old robes.
I have a morbid image of funeral parlour hotlines in the back of retro boutiques up and down the country, where they await calls informing them that another old codger has popped his suede clogs and would they come and clear out his wardrobe.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this the beginning of a lengthy diatribe against people who dress like they fell out of Andy Warhol’s Factory, and the trade that enables them to do so. Far from it. I wish I could be among them, and would be but for one, hefty stumbling block.
My issue is in the pricing. The disproportionate difference in cost between charity shop and vintage boutique items borders on the obscene. For example, I own a Burberry-style trench coat – which I wear when I’m doing my Bogart impressions – picked up in a charity shop for four pounds. It smelled like it’d spent its first life owned by a sweaty, chain-smoking baboon, but I thought it a bargain. On the opposite of that, I found, in a very trendy parlour of the past, an actual 1960’s Burberry trench coat, for the mere sum of £180. Admittedly, it was a quality item – good condition, highly desirable, and guaranteed only one human owner – but I couldn’t see how it being forty-five times the price was justifiable.
Quality control is the given qualification. Whereas the rattling old charity shop dears assemble their wares in a manner akin to a jumble sale at a hospital for people with terminal cases of bad taste, a vintage vendor cuts the chaff, as it were. They are more selective, or at least they should be. I once found a Primark T-shirt – garments, in my experience, that barely have one life, let alone two – that Primark still stocked in a Vintage shop, on sale for twice the price Primark charged.
Also, some of the boutiques I have experienced are works of art in themselves. One such I discovered on a trip around York – a city never reticent to exploit its Ye Olde credentials, and not short of a fashionable outlet or two for hand-me downs. Entering Purple Haze, on Fossgate, is like walking into Doctor Who’s wardrobe and being told to have a rummage.
Prices, surprisingly, are relatively reasonable – my personal litmus test being the cost of tweed jackets, which here vary from £20-£60 – and I picked up a powder-blue leather, Samsonite shoulder bag for £25 – the same you would pay for an equivalent brand new Dunlop or Paul Frank bag, and probably of better quality manufacture.
Just a few winding streets away, but on a whole different scale, is Priestley’s, secreted next to a picture framing shop and opposite a cafe in Norman Court, just off Swinegate. Here, I struggled to find a cast-off blazer for less than £70, and they climaxed at an amazing £190. The staff smile very politely as the rob you, but so would I at those prices. One item that was almost completely irresistible was a gold silk, embroidered smoking jacket. If I was affluent and eccentric enough, I’d be Noel Cowarding around my front room in it already, but at £120 it had to, reluctantly, stay on its hanger.
Therein lays the problem, at least as far as I’m concerned. There are those who suffer from having more money than sense, but I, much as I’d like to, have never been one of them.