Emily London is a former fashion and beauty journalist, with over twenty years’ experience writing for some of the world’s leading magazines and websites. Most recently, her focus has shifted towards sustainability and she documents her passion for second-hand fashion and thrifted style on her Instagram channel @emilylondon.
Q. In your Instagram Stories you take us around a myriad of Charity Shops and show us your finds, have you always been a “second-hand shopper" or was it a sustainable fashion choice you made?
A. I’ve been a second-hand shopper since I was a kid. I’d go ‘knicky-knacky-noo’ shopping with my granny, which meant going around the charity shops with her in the village she lived in, in Cumbria. She loved antiques and finding quality items for a bargain price. How I shop in charity shops today is based on the tips and tricks she gave me when I was little.
As a teenager, I used charity shops to seek out the clothes I saw my pop idols wearing on the pages of Smash Hits, The Face and Sky. Velvet blazers, vintage Levis 501s, and ‘40s tea dresses, were the items on my shopping list. The more I shopped in this way, the more interested I became in vintage clothes, especially from the ‘40s and ‘50s eras. I actively started to seek out vintage shops, alongside charity shops, to find vintage items from these eras.
From my university years, through to my twenties and thirties, I continued to shop in charity sales, vintage markets and designer consignment stores, alongside spending a small fortune on high street and luxury fashion purchases. It wasn’t until 2018 that I decided to consciously cut back on buying new and concentrate on shopping second-hand as much as I could.
Q. You head to Charity Shops rather than Vintage Shops, tell us why?
A. One of the reasons why I share the finds I discover in charity shops rather than vintage stores, is simply because many of my favourite vintage shops in London are no longer trading. There are a few going but I find it more interesting to visit different parts of the city and see what the charity shops are like there. I connect with that delicious sense of possibility, a charity shop, which I’ve never shopped in before, provides. Vintage shops are a little more curated, which is lovely in its own way, but I just love the thrill of seeking out something special in a retail space which offers no clues as to where that special item may be.
Q. Vintage is a word that gets bandied about a lot, when does something stop being "second -hand” and tell us your personal definition of Vintage
A. Vintage really is a catch-all-phrase for a whole load of old clobber! I tend to agree with the industry standard definition, which states that an item can be described as ‘vintage’ if it is between 25 and 100 years old. So, my teenage crushed velvet Bay Trading Company flares from 1997 are vintage. It’s fairly mind boggling.
Q. On your Instagram you share loads of useful information about what labels to look out for in Charity Shops, tell us the labels you look out for and why.
A. As I’ve got older, the labels I look out for in charity shops have changed, as my personal style has evolved to match my body shape and considered shopping outlook. I don’t shop by trend or season, instead the labels I look for have a timeless appeal I know I will enjoy wearing for years to come.
St Michael from Marks and Spencer
This is a label produced in the 90s and the label is normally white or black in colour. The black label was used in the fancier pieces of the range. The items I’ve bought comprise of long line blazers, tailored shift dresses, velvet 50s style swing coats and wool crepe pencil skirts. All beautifully made, in muted colour ways, with delicate tailoring and great fabrics. There is a great Instagram account called St.Michael.Is.Life, which focuses solely on all of the different designs and labels M&S produced over the years. It’s a great resource if you are interested in dating any vintage M&S piece.
I’m obsessed with this label, especially styles produced in the 80s and 90s. The label is white with large embossed black lettering (make a point of looking at the label and fabrication labels when trying to figure out the age of a vintage item). The label’s coats are a cut above anything you can find on the high street today. I love wearing the oversize trench coats, blazers and swing coats from this brand. The cut is generous and the attention to detail is second to none. The prices are still very reasonable with this brand, too.
I love this iconic British label with all my heart. There isn’t any version of this label I’m not unhappy to see, though I enjoy the loosely tailored styles from the 80s. A special mention must be made about the oversize cashmere coats from the 80s and 90s period. If you’ve ever lusted after a MaxMara camel coat, but couldn’t afford it, then finding a Jaeger cashmere overcoat is what you’re looking for. It’s just as good as anything the luxury fashion brand produces now. If you need help dating vintage Jaeger pieces, go to the Vintage Fashion Guild and use its database of vintage labels to when specific labels were in use, based on time period.
Special mentions should also be given to the following:
Bold colours, boxy shapes and killer details – I love the waist belts and statement blazers, and oversize knitwear.
These floaty, multi-ruffled, mixed print, polyester dresses are a joy to wear. The prices are rising for this brand, so the time is now to get hold of a style.
This is my favourite designer brand of all time. I love finding styles from the 70s (think 30s style crepe drop waist dresses) and 80s (multi coloured, oversize suede jackets).
Another great British label that made wonderful coats (my favourite item to buy second-hand). Look for the softly rounded shoulders and oversize silhouettes this brand made in the 70s/80s. The tweed and boucle wool pieces are so comfortable to wear.
Emily is due to launch her website where she will sell vintage and preloved clothes, as well offering personal sustainable styling services and guided charity shop tours of London. Follow her @emilylondon for updates.
Jo & Rachel x