When I was a teenager in the late 1990’s there was no such thing as “Vintage”. The clothes I loved the most were all second-hand, sourced from the same patch of charity shops every week, namely Traid, Oxfam and Cancer Research on King Street in Hammersmith. Why save up pocket money to buy new clothes that felt almost right when, for a fraction of the cost, I could unearth something rarer, mustier, something with “character”?
“Character”. The same word used by estate agents to sell an unsellable house. It’s also the word actors use to describe the person they’re pretending to be, of course. To this day I still view getting dressed as an opportunity to take part in the most low-level acting exercise possible.
For the 1930s costumes of Indian Summers, stylist Nick Ede sourced all the fabrics from suits to saris himself, locally in Penang, and had them sewn together by local tailors. The result? A perfect combination of traditional 1930s structure with a subtly Asian influence, completely faithful to the traditional pieces worn in Simla, Himachal Pradesh, at the time. Wearing all those suits definitely galvanised my current love affair with the high-waisted trouser. These days, I’m wearing them so high and braced, my upper body has virtually disappeared.
Nowadays, the high street is saturated with “heritage” references – from Steve McQueen-style peacoats at Gap to the ubiquity of James Dean/Brando-inspired denim/leather jacket combos. But as the influence goes mainstream, devotees have become more discerning, with magazines such as Mens File featuring vintage style taken to forensic new heights. Personally, I look to eye-wateringly beautiful and expensive labels such as Mister Freedom and The Real McCoy for truly faithful reproductions. Meanwhile, Old Town, based in Norfolk, offers a more homespun British approach, with a more reasonable price point.
Whether it’s vintage-inspired or the genuine article, I’m a clothes enthusiast. My personal inspiration is the end of the 1950s, before the 1960s started to swing. Refined tailoring, but with collars getting bigger and waists higher. The lightweight tailored elegance of The Talented Mr Ripley is, to me, the perfect style poem. But since I’m a Londoner first and foremost (and sadly not able to swan around only wearing loosely rolled-up linen trousers in February), I mix in some tougher Teddy Boy elements – a drape coat, Dr Marten boots, and a whimsical topcoat inspired by David Hockney. Most of the time I’ll end up looking like a beatnik/antiques dealer/jewel thief – but that’s fine with me.
5 lessons in vintage shopping
1. Get to know a nice tailor
While filming Indian Summers, I passed my time designing and experimenting with the help of Deepak at “DeePee Tailor”. I realise that’s a rarefied experience but the more you know about how clothes work, the more you can understand what can be tweaked and what can’t. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a tailor improve a vintage find with a few nips and tucks.
2. Visiting a flea market? Plan ahead.
There are phenomenal vintage markets all over the world. The Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena is truly a wonder, and stretches as far as the eye can see, but it can be overwhelming. With a little pre-planning, and by writing down three to four key things you’d love to find, you can sort the wheat from the chaff (rather than spending hours of sifting through Hawaiian shirts).
3. Try, try, try
There is no substitute for trying things on. I’m a sucker for a beautiful coat, bomber jackets, blazers and old double-breasted suits. I’ve got short legs and a long v-shaped body, so I’m always keen to redress the balance, hence the high-waisted trouser. The more clothes you try on, the quicker you’ll get a taste for what feels right and wrong. Soon you’ll be able to just look at a rack of vintage clothes and tell instantly what works for you like some kind of style ninja! .
4. Boot force
Having danced many nights away in ancient brogues (and felt the pain), I can testify that vintage-inspired-but-new shoes are the way to go. Some looks seem to never die (in a good way), so finding a solid pair of boots seems a no-brainer when it comes to pulling off a variety of vintage looks. Whether it’s a dressier Chelsea boot (I’ve got an APC pair), or something hardy like DMs, Wolverine, Blundstone, Chippewa or Danner, buy the best you can afford, and repair rather than replace.
5. Overlooked accessories
Vintage menswear is full of weird and wonderful curios that aren’t commonplace anymore. If you can’t find them at a market/vintage shop then some people are doing them: tie pins, pocket squares (Liberty and Drake’s), silk scarves (Drake’s) lapel chains (Armoury) and button-on braces (Albert Thurston) are all fantastic ways to add colour and flavour to an outfit.