Until recently, secondhand meant second-best for a country that remembered making do in tougher times, and only students and the city-dwelling vintage vanguard went to flea markets for fun. Now, old stuff is being viewed with a fresh eye. Bilbao is ahead of the curve – championing, repurposing and rendering cool the unique, pre-loved, quirky, crafted and durable.
The gritty San Francisco barrio is a vintage showcase, from the upcycled decor of bars to hipster-run shops. “Providing second opportunities” is the mantra at La Zapa de 2 de Mayo, where restored machines are used to repair shoes and custom-make new ones from leather or recycled bottle material. Independent vintage shops abound, though the best bet for finding them open is to go on the first Saturday of the month, when the Rastro 2 de Mayo flea market is on and loads of vendors gather to sell everything from vinyl to luggage and jackets, knick-knacks and art in an ebullient atmosphere, along with stuff that’s harder to take home, such as 1950s furniture.
There are two big vintage markets on Sundays in the industrial warehouse district of Zorrotzaurre. The Open Your Ganbara flea market fills the Antigua Fábrica de Galletas biscuit factory building. Celebrating the 3Rs – reduce, reutiliza, recicla – it is an excellent source of eclectic treasures, especially vintage lamps, toys and household stuff. Nearby, Zawp Bilbao is great for vintage clothes, vegetarian food and people-watching. Here, too, on the last Sunday of the month, MuMe is a secondhand market selling all things music-related, from guitars and vinyl to collectibles, against a soundscape of live performances. In the city centre, Plaza Nueva, known for its tapas bars, has a Sunday market (9am-2pm) specialising in secondhand books.
Elsewhere in Bilbao, Arizona Vintage Clothing is an easy option for Fila, Adidas, Hilfiger, jeans and vegan Navajo bomber jackets; Koopera has three shops selling cheap stuff for good causes; while Flamingos Bilbao sells clothes by the kilo (in three categories €13, €24 and €39). For something special, Silvia Marqués, close to Athletic Bilbao’s San Mamés stadium, might have turbans, hats, wedding dresses, bags or jewels in the fabulous and unique yet affordable category – if you can get past all the antique restored dolls.
Where to stay Caravan Cinema (doubles from €75 room-only) in Casco Viejo encapsulates the vintage theme, with each of its five rooms and two apartments a celebration of a famous film director and furnished with handpicked 1950s pieces.
“Berlin is poor but sexy.” The words of former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit perhaps help explain why the capital is so good for vintage. Purchasing power in this city has been, until very recently, lower than elsewhere in Europe and the culture of exchange and reuse has always been strong. This, along with the city’s liberalism and constant influx of youthful creativity, ensures Berlin has a good variety of low- to-high-end vintage and secondhand shopping.
A good starting point for a rummage is Humana. Years would be needed to work through the colour-coded chaos of the Brobdingnagian shop at the corner of Frankfurter Tor, in the Friedrichshain district, but there are 16 smaller branches around the city and they sell homewares, too. For a slightly more upmarket experience, PicknWeight sells clothes by the kilo, with scales dotted around the store for customers to keep track of their spending.
The best places for quality designer garments are the high-end vintage stores in the Mitte neighbourhood. At Sommerladen prices can be as low as €10 for a classic designer sportswear T-shirt; and the beautiful Garments shop, a few doors down, has lots of accessories (as well as clothes), such Pucci costume jewellery for under £90. Around the corner are Pineapple Factory and Das Neue Schwarz (“The New Black”!), offering exquisitely selected pieces, with particular outfits displayed on the walls. It would be possible to spend a few hundred euros on a rare archive piece here but still feel you’ve bagged a bargain.
More affordable options include Paul’s Boutique, a short walk away, which specialises in streetwear, with a huge collection of trainers, T-shirts, denim and accessories across two neighbouring stores. A third store, Repeater, in Neukölln, leans towards womenswear, with a 1970s hippy vibe. This district is a vintage hotspot, with shops like Sing Blackbird and the canalside Neukölln Flowmarkt every other Sunday (until 1 December, restarts in late March).
Flea markets are an integral part of Berlin life: from the touristy Mauerpark with its riotous Bearpit Karaoke to rare books and antiques in a splendid setting by the River Spree, opposite the Bode Museum on Museum Island. Markets at Boxhagener Platz in Friedrichshain and Marheinekeplatz in Kreuzberg offer mixes of clothes, homewares and bric-a-brac, and a trip to the pretty Arkonoplatz in Prenzlauer Berg promises superb furniture. When temperatures drop, the vast, roofed Treptow Arena has tonnes of tat to wade through on Saturdays and Sundays, and OFT in Mitte has a cornucopia of clothes, furniture and bric-a-brac. And, if you’re down to your last cent, look out for the zum geschenken (gift) boxes left out on the street by residents for passersby to take their pick. You may be poor, but you can still be sexy.
Where to stay Michelberger Hotel (doubles from €116 room-only), a converted factory in party-central Friedrichshain, has unique retro-style rooms.
Buried by volcanic ash that erupted from Vesuvius in AD79, the former Roman town of Herculaneum, south-east of Naples, mainly attracts tourists to its archaeological ruins. But since the 1950s, vintage enthusiasts, costume designers and retailers have also flocked to the nearby shops and stalls of the suburb of Ercolano, at the western foot of the volcano. Via Pugliano, otherwise known as the Mercato di Resina, is known by insiders as Europe’s original vintage source, its rows of houses spill secondhand treasure on to the streets at giveaway prices.
The genesis of “vintage” in Italy can be traced back to just after the second world war, when Americans would send used clothes to Europe as part of the relief effort to support those in need. The pezze Americane – American rags – arrived in eagerly anticipated half-ton bales to the port of Ercolano, with many believing money or jewellery might be found in the mix. But as fast as the bales were opened, the items in them ended up on the black market, with the residents of Corso Resina and Via Pugliano garnering a reputation for sorting and upcycling the loot.
In central Naples, vintage “king” Antonio Esposito has been selling a bright collection of men’s clothing from his tiny modernist-inspired store Per Voi Giovani (Via Carbonara 78, no website) since the 1970s. He remembers scouring the markets by the railway with his friends as a teenager for blue Levis jeans and US Navy jackets. They sorted through piles of clothes laid out on bedsheets and bartered with the sellers who brought the best of Resina to Naples. “We wanted to impress the foreign girls arriving on holiday,” says Esposito. “We could look sharp for very little money.”
Also in the city, Pop 21, I Love Vintage and Caravan cater for a student crowd on Via Mezzocannone, the artery that runs between the two main universities. In the same area, Moda e Costume specialises in 1950s and 60s dresses, and Oggetti e Stampe D’Epoca is a cavern of prints, lights and antique knick-knacks.
Those who don’t have the time to venture to Resina or the patience to sift through shops crammed with clothes might prefer Retrophilia, also on Via Mezzocannone. The co-owners, Gigi Cirella and Alessandro de Gais, are passionate fashionistas who relish picking out clothes they think will suit you. They have even been known to order in espressos from the nearby bar as you try things on – a gesture that is as Neapolitan as the tradition of vintage itself.
Where to stay The Church (doubles from €50) is a B&B on the top floor of a palace, with with reclaimed and repurposed furniture in its large, light rooms.
In Bordeaux recycling and upcycling pervade all aspects of life. Bicycle services pick up home food scraps for composting, and there are secondhand shops – from charity outlets to trendy vintage boutiques – all over town. Underlying the newer trends is the port city’s love of antiques and brocante – a term that covers anything from household tat to serious vintage pieces. The mayor’s office runs an official list of markets, including the two key brocante areas, Saint-Michel and Chartrons. Vintage and secondhand clothes can be found in both but lots of smaller shops have opened recently, and often have the best stuff.
Those serious about their threads should Google friperies and dépôts-vente. Hotspots include Freep’Show in the city centre, where prices range from €15 to €50 for vintage gear including jackets, flowered silk shirts, maxi skirts, sharp trousers, shoes, boots and sunglasses. The cheaper Emmaüs charity shop is at the Darwin Ecosystème on the right bank of the Garonne (Tuesday to Saturday 1pm to 6pm), a former barracks repurposed as a “green economy hub”. On an average day, Emmaüs offers a range of fairly basic items (trousers from €2), toddler toys (ditto) and furniture and electrical goods (prices vary widely). But a nice bit of hippie chic or a smart tie is not unknown either. A good place to gloat over finds is Darwin’s large indoor-outdoor organic brasserie-cum-general store, Magasin Général, open daily for lunch, dinner, drinks and snacks (mains from €12).
Back over the river, the Chartrons neighbourhood was the heart of the city’s wine-broking trade from the 17th to 19th centuries. Now it is thronged with restaurants, bakeries and Bikram yoga studios. In short, the smart stuff is here in places such as Village Notre Dame, a sprawling indoor antiques gallery selling anything from 18th-century mirrors to antique sapphire pendants, plus rather expensive paintings, ceramics, furniture, rugs and other trimmings. At the more affordable end are items such as a 1950s fantasy ruby-style ring (€300) or delicate enamelled Austrian-made glassware (€280).
On the main Chartrons artery, rue Notre-Dame, coffee, lunch, cocktails and dinner options are plentiful. One of the current favourites is a wine bar that looks like a brocante, La Conserverie, which offers regional specialities, such as cassoulet and confit duck from €14.
Saint-Michel is huge, and has an open-air market every Sunday (7am-2pm), and a series of shops in the Hangars open every day bar Wednesday. The price ranges and options are vast, and bargaining is vital, but a recent Sunday morning netted vinyl and CDs from €5, copper pans and Le Creuset pots from €20 and handmade jewellery from €12. Sundays play out to the sound of church bells and a healthy buzz of general chat. St-Mich is in the city’s North African quarter, also home to Spanish, Portuguese and Turkish communities – but on market days barriers break down and even shoppers from posher parts haggle over finds and mourn losses. The glasses of wine that start to replace coffee quite early in the day might help. Even if you don’t brocante, don’t miss it.
For lunch bargains, Brasserie du Passage Saint-Michel is open every day for lunch and dinner, with fixed-price menus from €15.90. For other comestibles, the Capucins food market, just minutes away, bulges with goodies of every description, and has lots of cheap-and-chic places to eat, such as Bistro Poulette, which serves moules-frites.
Where to stay One of the more eco-friendly, urban-chic options is Seeko’o design hotel (doubles from €99 room-only) close to Chartrons and the river.
For centuries a focal point for art, music, history and culture, it’s less well known that Vienna is also a treasure chest for vintage shoppers. Start any retro adventure at the Naschmarkt, the food market that has been running since the 18th century, but which since the 1970s has held a flea market every Saturday morning, with stalls selling clothes, furniture, art, jewellery, old vinyl, books, cameras, tableware and ceramics. It’s the perfect place to browse – and then snack on specialities, such as Kaiserschmarrn (shredded pancakes) or Palatschinken (rolled crepes).
A short walk away is stylist Arian Alexander Commone’s secondhand clothes shop. What makes shopping here so special is that he loves helping customers create a look from his collection of vintage couture. There is something for every budget, from lesser-known designers to big-ticket items from Chanel, Prada, Moschino and Valentino.
Flo Vintage, in the arty Freihausviertel district on the other side of the Naschmarkt, often supplies costumes for theatre, films and TV from a classic collection spanning a century of design up to the 1980s. Featuring everything from pearl-embroided flapper dresses to Armani blazers, it’s become a place of pilgrimage for fashion-lovers, including (according to its website) Helmut Lang, Karl Lagerfeld, Kate Moss and Stella McCartney.
At the other end of the scale, Burggasse 24, in the buzzy seventh district, is a laid-back retro concept shop and exhibition space that sells more affordable items in light, bright, uncluttered rooms. Clothes are arranged neatly by gender and colour – women’s on the ground floor, men’s upstairs – and there’s a comfy cafe as well. A bus ride away in the sixth district, Polyklamott focuses on loud T-shirts and sweatshirts, parkas and bombers from the 1960s to 90s, as well as new pieces by young local designers. It also sells small retro items, such as sunglasses, purses and badges for €5 from a 24-hour vending machine.
Where to stay Hotel am Brillantengrund (doubles from €72 B&B) has parquet floors, modernist furnishings and local art, plus a Mediterranean-style courtyard.
Finns are die-hard environmentalists, so secondhand isn’t a trend but a way of life. Add to this the Finnish disdain for online shopping and you have a city full of Nordic treasures you’d never encounter further south.
If you think you don’t need a pair of limited-edition Moomin salt-and-pepper shakers (€16) or vintage Marimekko fabric (from €20 a metre), the Hietalahti flea market in central Helsinki’s Hietalahti Square will prove you wrong. The smaller but still hopping Hakaniemi market to the north, in front of the Hakaniemi market hall, is also chock-full of fun, only-in-Finland finds, such as Arabia ceramics, vintage Finland travel posters and Iittala glass. At the smaller, indoor fleas, such as Helsinki flea market in the ritzy Töölö neighbourhood, locals drop off items to sell on account. These can be hit-and-miss but when you hit, it’s often one of a kind.
Helsinki’s vintage shops are, like the city itself, tiny. The Kallio neighbourhood has the highest concentration of stores. Frida Marina and Hoochie Mama Jane are standouts for (mostly) women’s clothes and accessories. A quick stroll south is record shop Black & White, which has a world-class collection of new and used vinyl.
For more upscale shopping, Penny Lane clothing shop, in Töölö, looks unpromising from the outside but is actually several storeys high. Also in Töölö, resale shops, including Relove, are the insider’s secret of secondhand Finland. Locals hire space to sell their stuff, so every rack is an adventure. Relove has a back room for used designer wares, a charming coffee shop and Finn-centric pop-ups in the front. Brand Second Hand in nearby Kamppi also mixes secondhand, thrift and new, but offers a street vibe – and more for men, from inexpensive designer T-shirts (€15 and up) to, say, a vintage Gucci leather jacket (€650).
Extreme bargains can be found at the UFF (12 branches) and Fida (eight branches) charity shops that dot the city and which are stuffed with finds from furniture to glassware to clothes. The skiwear sections, especially, have some real steals.
My favourite finds – by dealers and collectors
1967 Corgi Toys Tour de France camera car
Every Sunday from late spring to early autumn, vide-greniers (boot sales) can be found in the villages of rural Burgundy. Local sellers and small-time dealers set up tables in church squares and fields to sell what they can. Poring over a box of forgotten toy cars, I discovered a Corgi Diecast Renault 16 Tour de France camera car complete with giant film camera, cameraman and driver, resplendent in flat cap and shades. It was stamped “Made in Great Britain 1967”, the year British world champion Tommy Simpson left us. It’s a reminder of the Tour de France’s previous popularity in the UK, as well as its timeless style. For me, a lifelong fan of Le Tour, France and all things pedal-powered, the car has little monetary value – I paid €4 – but I love it.
Tom Kevill Davies, owner of the The Hungry Cyclist Lodge, Burgundy
Puffin Books model
I bought Fat Puffin a few years ago at the flea market in Todmorden, which runs every Thursday. He’s a four-feet-tall, rotund model, probably made from fibreglass, and was used to promote Puffin Books in the 1970s. He has a damaged bill, but still looks cheerful. The message on his chest, “Fat Puffin loves you,” sparked a childhood memory about the Puffin Book Club, and he now lives in the corner of my kitchen awaiting restoration. I have a pitch in Hebden Bridge Antiques Centre in West Yorkshire, but I won’t be parting with the puffin.
Claire Tuddenham, vintage dealer, Calderdale, West Yorkshire
Romanian folk art dresser
Pastoral scenes, feudal lands, and families semi-subsistent, almost medieval in fact, surviving by their home-grown means – that’s Romania. Totally reliant on the rhythms of the land and a calendar of feasts, fasts and rules set down by its Orthodox church, with jars of neat pickles packed in their cellars, and homes filled with homemade furniture, often “primitive”, and decorated with folk art patterns. I’ve travelled through Romania many times, especially Transylvania and the north, and have furnished my home in Hastings with humble pieces from this ancient idyll. One of my favourites is a late-19th-century primitive dresser, which stands by the front door, a broom propped up beside it. Its naive lattice-like fretwork acts as a plate retainer on each shelf. Probably homemade, it has its original black paint and a couple of bent nails bashed into its lower double doors to act as fasteners. Crude yet totally charming, it was actually found in a henhouse in Warwick, with bits of straw clinging to its nether regions – which just added to its history. It reminds me of a land that time forgot, a land that still exists in Romania today.
Alastair Hendy, owner, AG Hendy & Co Home Store, Hastings
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