The affordable travel trend that's shining a new light on city breaks

·14-min read
Thrift shopping in cities, shopping breaks, thrifty holidays, city breaks, vintage shopping - Clockwise left to right: Alamy, Getty, Armstrongs
Thrift shopping in cities, shopping breaks, thrifty holidays, city breaks, vintage shopping - Clockwise left to right: Alamy, Getty, Armstrongs

When it comes to retail therapy, there is surely no greater joy than that of unearthing a rare find tucked away on a rail in a thrift shop; wondering what previous life, or lives, it led, revelling in the simple pleasure of bagging a true bargain. Then there’s the smug satisfaction of someone asking you where you got it. “Oh it’s vintage, from that city break we took.”

If you can get to know a culture through its art, its architecture and its cuisine, you can equally embrace it through its fashion. For an increasing number of fashionistas, one answer to the very of-the-moment question of how we can travel more mindfully and more sustainably is to shop second-hand.

And given this year’s wince-worthy economic forecast, with households set to be £1,200 worse off on average, there’s never been a better time to join those embracing the growing trend of “thrifting”. According to a global report by fashion resale platform Thredup, the resale market is growing at a rate 11 times faster than traditional retail, and is estimated to be worth £63 billion by 2030. The fashion industry accounts for around 10 per cent of global carbon emissions and 20 per cent of wastewater: by already being in the system, second-hand clothes account for zero.

With holidays front of mind again, if you are off to a foreign city and have the time, money and inclination to shop, you may want to prioritise second-hand shopping over heading to the nearest department store. High-street fashion is becoming increasingly homogeneous; not a charge that can be levelled at thrift or vintage stores. They may be harder to find than the monolithic H&Ms that occupy every major high street in Europe and beyond, but, once found, the rewards can be far sweeter.

From specialist vintage emporia to thrift stores to charity shops in affluent neighbourhoods that yield great treasures, these are the second-hand shops worth tracking down in some of the world’s most popular cities. these are the second-hand shops worth tracking down in some of the world’s most popular cities.

Berlin

A week in Berlin wouldn’t be long enough to explore the rich and varied second-hand stores that pepper the city. The Neukolln, Friedrichshain and Mitte districts are particularly fertile grounds.

Paul’s Boutique

Not so much a niche find as a mini empire, there are four Paul’s Boutiques in Berlin. Head for this one; it also has a sister store next door, Goo, which only sells designer brands, with a focus on avant-garde ones such as Comme des Garcons, Alexander McQueen and Helmut Lang.

The details: Oderberger StraBe 47, 10435 (00 49 30 44033737; paulsboutiqueberlin.de).

Pauls Boutique, shopping in Berlin - Nady El-Tounsy
Pauls Boutique, shopping in Berlin - Nady El-Tounsy

Humana

The Humana organisation works across 45 countries and its charity shops are common sights in Germany. This branch is Berlin’s biggest and best, a vast four-floor emporium selling a vast variety of men’s, women’s and childrenswear. Be prepared to spend a while here.

The details:Frankfurter Tor 3, 10247 (00 49 30 4222018; humana-second-hand.de).

No Socks No Panties

Here you’ll find pink walls, friendly staff and an eclectic mix of vintage that runs the gamut from quirky pom-pom knits to rare Chanel bags. This really feels like a find.

The details: Stargarder Str. 10, 10437 (00 49 30 23272234; nosocksnopanties.de).

Edinburgh

The Grassmarket and Stockbridge are particularly good areas for higher-end vintage shopping, or head to the genteel Morningside Road for a raft of charity shops stuffed with donations from well-heeled locals.

Armstrongs

There are three branches of this Edinburgh institution, the most rewarding of which is in the Grassmarket. It sells everything from Victorian bloomers to sixties shift dresses to Y2K hoodies to biker jackets. Expect all branches to be extremely busy on Saturday afternoons.

The details: 81-83 Grassmarket, EH1 (0131 220 5557; armstrongsvintage.co.uk).

Armstrongs Vintage, shopping in Edinburgh - Armstrongs Vintage
Armstrongs Vintage, shopping in Edinburgh - Armstrongs Vintage

Herman Brown

Trading since 1983, this small but perfectly formed store is a gentle stroll away from the Grassmarket branch of Armstrong’s. It’s particularly strong on tailoring (think Burberry trenches) as well as accessories and delicious vintage jewellery. Oh, and it always smells divine – unlike some second-hand stores.

The details: 151 West Port, Edinburgh EH3 (0131 228 2589; hermanbrown.co.uk).

Those Were The Days

One of several vintage shops in the area, this one specialises in vintage bridal dresses, but be sure to check it’s open before you visit, as it does close for private appointments.

The details: 26 & 28 St Stephen Street, EH3 (0131 225 4400; thosewerethedaysvintage.com).

Los Angeles

Does LA have claim on being the second-hand capital of the world? From Hollywood cast-offs (Valentino ballgown, anyone?) to the perfect lived-in jean, the city has it all. Head to Melrose or South Central for the highest concentration of vintage emporia.

Melrose Place, Los Angeles - LA Toruism
Melrose Place, Los Angeles - LA Toruism

Tried and True Vintage

This shop only opened this summer and already has a buzz. Selling menswear only, expect a focus on Y2K sweatshirts and baseball caps, as well as ultra-rare Nike and Adidas sneakers.

The details: 660 Anderson Street (00 1 323 782 1336; triedandtrueco.com).

Goodwill

Here’s a second-hand shop at the opposite end of the price spectrum: California’s version of Oxfam. The best outpost in LA is in Atwater Village, a 20,000sqft haven with an additional 27,000sqft outlet attached. Clothing is sold by the pound, so expect to trawl through bins of stuff before you find your treasure. It’s especially good for jeans and T-shirts, from $1.

The details: 3150 N. San Fernando Road, 90031 (00 1 323 223 1211; goodwillsocial.org).

What Goes Around Comes Around

We’re throwing one high-end store into the mix: think Tom Ford evening wear, rare Vivienne Westwood and pristine Chanel, with prices climbing into the thousands.

The details: 950 Brighton Way, 90210 (00 1 310 858 0250; whatgoesaroundnyc.com).

Christie's x What Goes Around Comes Around 25th Anniversary Auction Preview, shopping in Los Angeles - Getty
Christie's x What Goes Around Comes Around 25th Anniversary Auction Preview, shopping in Los Angeles - Getty

Copenhagen

Sadly, two of the city’s best stores closed permanently during the pandemic, but there are still plenty of finds to be had in central Copenhagen, an area small enough to explore over a weekend.

OSV

Short for “og sa videre” (“and so on”), the owners chose the name to convey their vision of giving old clothes new life. Conveniently located in central Copenhagen, this stylish jewel of a place sells everything from workwear to red carpet evening gowns, and is one of the city’s worst-kept secrets.

The details: Peder Hvitfeldts Straede 4 (00 45 42 498188; o-s-v.dk).

Veras

In its quest to make a linear system circular, all clothes sold in Veras come from local Danish wardrobes. Nor are any wasted: you can exchange or sell used clothes as well as buying them, with the all-women team happy to mend or upcycle your wares. This being Copenhagen, no surprises that Vera’s knitwear selection is particularly strong, as are its scarves.

The details: Studiestraede 27 (contact@verasvintage.dk; verasvintage.dk).

Milan

It’s the Italian fashion capital, so it stands to reason that Milan is a treasure trove of vintage finds, albeit not always of the cheapest variety. Pressed for time? Head for La Brera district first.

Bivio

This sells contemporary vintage only. All stock is bought from locals and meticulously vetted for quality (no broken zips or stains here), with a sharp focus on seasonality and what will sell. You can also sell and exchange clothes for store credit.

The details: Via Gian Giacomo Mora 4 & 14, 20100 (00 39 02 58108691; biviomilano.it).

Shopping in Milan - Chiara Venegoni
Shopping in Milan - Chiara Venegoni

Cavalli e Nastri

Italian for “horses and ribbons”, this is one of the most celebrated vintage stores in Milan. It has a particularly strong vintage watch selection.

The details: Via Brera 2, 20121 (cavallienastri.com).

Napoleone Vintage

Surprisingly affordable, given its city-centre proximity close to the Duomo. Large and messy, it’s particularly strong on polo shirts and leather goods.

The details: Via degli Arcimboldi, 20123 (00 39 02 875223).

New York

Thrifting has always been popular in New York and there’s still much to spark joy. You might have to look a little harder for it these days but this makes it all the more rewarding. Try First and Second Avenues, and, if you have time, cross the bridge to Williamsburg.

United States, New York, Brooklyn, Williamsburg neighborhood flea market Smorgasburg, shopping in New York - Alamy
United States, New York, Brooklyn, Williamsburg neighborhood flea market Smorgasburg, shopping in New York - Alamy

Mr Throwback

You’ve got to love the name, and also the stock, which specialises in Eighties and Nineties throwback items, including rare T-shirts, trainers and toys (hello, Friends and Simpsons merch).

The details: 437 E 9th Street (near Avenue A), 10009 (00 1 646 410 0310; mrthrowback.com).

L Train Vintage

Perfect for the frugal shopper, this is a thrifty thrifter’s paradise – provided you don’t mind digging around. You won’t find rare Ralph Lauren, but you will find an entire outfit for under $100. Various locations, but this one is the best.

The details: 629 Grand Street, W’burg (00 1 929 337 8074; ltrainvintagenyc.com).

10 ft Single by Stella Dallas

A charming shop, fairly priced, that feels like you’ve discovered a slice of authentic New York. If you’re into vintage band T-shirts, Nineties sportswear and quirky shoes, it’s for you.

The details: 285 North 6th Street, W’burg (00 1 718 486 9487).

Stockholm

Sweden might have a reputation for minimalism, but some of Stockholm’s best thrift stores are surprisingly maximalist. The Sodermalm area is the best place to head. NB: Many places are closed on Mondays.

Soldelheim Area Sweden, shopping in Sweden
Soldelheim Area Sweden, shopping in Sweden

Lisa Larsson

A favourite with local stylists, this store specialises in vintage dresses from the Sixties and Seventies, and has a fine selection of handbags and shoes to, er, boot.

The details: Bondegatan 48 (00 46 8 6436153; lisalarssonsecondhand.com).

Old Touch

This sumptuous store is rich in pickings as far back as the Twenties: think flapper dresses, cloche hats and Deco jewellery, as well as homewares such as napkins, glassware and candlesticks.

The details: Upplandsgatan 43 (00 46 8 349005; oldtouch.se).

Tokyo

The Japanese, being as obsessed with furugi (wearing vintage) as they are, this is another city so rich in pickings that you’ll only ever scratch the surface. It’s a huge, labyrinthine metropolis: head to Shimokitazawa (where you’ll find Flamingo, Hickory and New York Joe Exchange), Harajuku (Chicago, Second Street Clothing) and Koenji, which has a whole strip
dedicated to thrift.

Kinji

One of Tokyo’s more reasonably priced thrift stores, the Harajuku branch is stocked to please its fashion-conscious denizens: expect colourful sportswear, rare trainers, baseball jackets, biker jackets and vintage Disney tees.

The details: Harajuku (00 81 3 6406 0505; kinji.jp).

A young woman looks over some housewares at a shop in Shimokitazawa, shopping in Tokyo, Japan - Alamy
A young woman looks over some housewares at a shop in Shimokitazawa, shopping in Tokyo, Japan - Alamy

Spank!

If you’re nostalgic for the Eighties, this one’s for you. Even if the clothing is too neon and bright for your tastes, it’s worth visiting (especially with kids in tow) because it’s so unabashedly, joyously Japanese: kitsch, cute, fun. Excellent for Madonna T-shirts, tutus and furry rucksacks.

The details: 2F, 4-24-7 Kita-Koenji, Suginami-ku (spankworld.jp).

Portland

When it comes to caring about the planet, Portland’s hipster residents have long been ahead of the curve. The city has a thriving thrift scene, with prices generally reasonable. Nob Hill is the most fertile area.

Simple & Just

Its $10 sweatshirts are a steal, its mom jeans are elite and it has a lovely, relaxed feel to shop in. Like its name, this nonprofit store donates all proceeds to exploited women and children in the local area.

The details: 2325 NW Westover Road (00 1 971 386 2907; simpleandjust.org).

Smiling mature woman holding coffee and walking with shopping bags in the city - VioletaStoimenova
Smiling mature woman holding coffee and walking with shopping bags in the city - VioletaStoimenova

Seams To Fit

Launched in 1999 and a Certified B Corporation business since 2016, this carefully edited store sells everything from high-end Chloe blouses to mid-market plaid shirts by J Crew, with the US finds being the most reasonably priced.

The details: 2239 NW Raleigh Street (00 1 503 224 7884; seamstofit.com).

Fat Fancy

A super-friendly store specialising in plus-sized vintage for all. It has life-affirming notes in the dressing room and life-affirmingly colourful clothes on its rails.

The details: 3554 NE Sandy Blvd. (00 1 503 231 3603; fatfancyfashions.com).

Paris

It goes without saying that the fashion capital of the world has a strong thrift store game. Le Marais (in the 3e) has the highest concentration, but the 9e is up and coming, too. There’s also the famous Marche aux Puces (Fleamarket) in Clignancourt, with more than 2,500 stalls, held three days a week.

Celia Darling

A bijou store selling vintage from the Forties to the Eighties, including small items of furniture and a to-die-for selection of jewellery.

The details: 5 rue Henry Monnier, 75009 (00 33 1 56 92 19 12).

Didier Ludot

If you’re in central Paris, the short stroll from the Louvre is worth it to see this tiny treasure trove of rare vintage Dior, Givenchy and Hermes. The 45-year-old store is a favourite among designers looking for inspiration.

The details: 24 Galerie Montpensier, Jardin de Palais Royal, 75001 (00 33 1 40 15 01 04).

The window of the world famous vintage clothing store Didier Ludot located in the Royal Palace are of Paris, France. Shopping in Paris - Alamy
The window of the world famous vintage clothing store Didier Ludot located in the Royal Palace are of Paris, France. Shopping in Paris - Alamy

Mamie Blue

A favourite with costume designers, this three-floor emporium sells clothes from the Thirties onwards, and is particularly strong on dresses from the Forties and Fifties. It’s pleasingly haphazard and fun to rummage in.

The details: 69 rue Marguerite de Rochechouart, 75009 (00 33 1 42 81 10 42).

4 rules on how to thrift, a beginner’s guide

1. Don't overspend

Maybe it’s just me, but whenever I am in a foreign city, money takes on a different meaning. Normally mindful and parsimonious, I can find myself adopting a new, cavalier attitude whose central tenet is “largesse”.

This can be disastrous for my bank balance. It’s why I once bought a Chanel coat in Paris that I’d never have dreamed of purchasing, had I been on home turf. So my first tip: don’t buy it just because the sun is shining and the price tag is in a different currency, ergo, doesn’t count. Money is money, and thrift shopping is supposed to be thrifty. The clue is in the name.

Customer Sizing Up Shirt In Menswear Store, thrift shopping holidays - Tom Werner
Customer Sizing Up Shirt In Menswear Store, thrift shopping holidays - Tom Werner

2. Call ahead

The pandemic has decimated so many bricks and mortar retailers, and none are more vulnerable than small, independent thrift stores. In the course of researching this, it’s become apparent that all over Europe, many well-loved thrift stores have very sadly closed down, or migrated their businesses online as rent increases combined with lowered footfall ceased to make them tenable.

In the case of one in Copenhagen, not even a glowing review in Vogue had saved it. Even if their website or Instagram account is active, it’s still worth calling or emailing ahead to check their store is open, or that opening hours haven’t been reduced.

3. Ask around

The internet is wonderful, but so too is the hotel receptionist/waiter/barista. Not all second-hand shops have their own web presence. Local people will also be best placed to tell you which charity shops have the best haul.

4. Be diligent

Try things on if you can, check labels for cleaning instructions, check under arms for discoloration and worn seams and always sniff a garment, particularly a coat, to check for a musty smell.

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