Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Last-Year Shops: By Retro, Istanbul

I spend a lot of time in second-hand stores. More so than ever recently because I've been working on an exciting soon-to-be revealed new project. I thought I'd try and write about some of my favourite stores, or the more unusual ones, as a new series as this kind of information can be surprisingly frustrating to pin down even in the days of t'internet.

Second-hand or 'vintage' stores divide people into different types of shoppers: do you like everything to be shifted through before it hits the shop floor, and only the best items displayed? Or do you prefer a rummage, searching through piles of stuff to pull out a dusty number which requires some repairs but then will be perfect? Do you care what era the item came from, or anything about where it was made? Or is it enough for it to look nice? I'm probably a mixture of all of the above.

(Don't worry I will get to the ceramic bunny wearing sunglasses at the top of the post.)

My first shop By Retro in Istanbul is a slightly odd example but I'll start here as it made me really question what I liked about second-hand stores. It made me realise that my favourite kind of second-hand store are the ones where I can picture myself wearing things. That sounds a ridiculous revelation, I know, as everyone likes shops where they find stuff they want to wear. I'll try and elaborate. We were walking down one of Istanbul's main shopping streets on holiday when I spotted the sign to By Retro. It said it was the world's (THE WORLD'S!) second biggest vintage store.* The heart palpitations started along with the mental calculations of how much I could justify spending, as I pictured row upon row of delicious cotton dresses, exquisite sixties shifts and 70s numbers to float about in till the end of my days.

Inside, it was undeniably large. It took a fair while to walk around and look through but ultimately I left feeling disappointed. Turkish fashion - especially historically - is different to my taste and to the kind of British and American vintage I'm so used to seeing. As a whole, the selection of clothes available were a really interesting rebalance to the Paris/London/New York dress history we're told over and over again. As a predominantly Muslim country, things are more modestly cut and, while I don't think of myself as a skimpy kind of dresser, it looks like I am by Turkish standards. If I'd wanted a long woollen winter coat, I would have been spoilt for choice while Libertines fans would have been in raptures over the military jackets. To be honest, I'd have a great time dressing for Abigail's Party here. The only things I really could picture from here in my wardrobe were the accessories: shoes, bags and - my only purchase - the sunglasses pictured at the top of my post. The lenses seem extra dark by British standards - probably because the sun can be extra bright in Turkey. I like to imagine them on a 70s woman, glamorous in a scarf and lots of gold jewellery, enjoying her cigarette.

The cigarette bit is probably inspired by the staff at By Retro who were all puffing away, despite the fact they were in a basement stuffed full of polyester and other highly flammable materials. That's possibly another reason why I didn't linger as long as I might have hoped. But, in the world of vintage, it made me realise how important my own cultural background is to how I see clothes, in thinking about what I might want to wear and also in imagining the back stories for the clothes as I look at them: I could picture the lady wearing the sunglasses so I bought them, while almost everything else failed to spark my imagination as it fell outside of my frame of references. Perhaps I'm not so open-minded about clothes as I like to think I am.

This was the first time I've visited a dedicated vintage store outside of the UK, USA or western Europe, so I wondered if any of you had similar experiences?

The rest of this series will be about shops where you'd want to buy lots of things, promise...

* is this true? I haven't been able to verify it. And, if it is, what's the world's biggest? And what's your favourite? 

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