There is a wealth of places to go shopping for a new outfit in London but where do you go for something a little different, something a little less ‘high street’. Well, we have gathered a selection of the finest boutiques to fulfill your every fashion needs; here’s a collection of our favourite London fashion shops for women.
Vivien of Holloway
Vivien of Holloway will delight you with its invigorating, dazzling and lush collection of 1940s and 1950s clothes. Vivien first began selling her own Classic Hollywood-inspired creations in the early 1980s at the much-loved but now sadly defunct Kensington Market, before moving to Camden and eventually to her current premises on Holloway Road five years ago. Everything is her own work: authentic vintage designs in different shapes and sizes. Frequented by stylish, confident women (often accompanied by glossy and debonair men), this shop is popular with latter-day Betty Grables and red-headed She Devils. On any given day you’ll find sarongs, halternecks, mouthwatering tea dresses, petticoats, 1940s-style Rosie the Riveter pinafore trousers, smart slacks for lounging languidly in, pinafore trousers and bolero jackets. Even what your gran would have called ‘smart separates’ (i.e. silky blouses and tailored hotpants). Accessories include snoods (for that all-important Shady Lady look), corsages and belts to create hourglass waists. Vouchers are available and you’ll be pleasantly surprised that the prices here are quite moderate for such astonishingly charming designs. Take note of their sizing guide though – it’s calibrated for an earlier era and does not match up with today’s high street sizes.
Stepping into Leila from the frenetic hive of Islington’s Upper Street suddenly infuses you with an altogether different feeling – kind of a magical baby-doll ambience. Leila is justly revered by those in the know for its stunning vintage accessories (jewellery, candles and ornate perfume decanters), ultra-feminine and bespoke tunic dresses, bolero jackets, pencil skirts and casuals in the form of jeans and cardigans. The clothes here are stylish in a classic Biba-meets-Audrey Hepburn sort of way – chic but not stiff, girly but not flouncy. Moreover, while the gorgeous threads may well melt your heart, they won’t have the same effect on the notes in your wallet, a recommendation worth its salt in any sense, but even more so in these straitened times. If you are devotee of the bohemian style, Leila will leave you spoilt for choice with the sheer number of irresistible items on offer. What’s more, the laid-back vibe of the shop extends out of the back door and into the garden space, where you will find a table and chairs, providing a handsome and relaxed atmosphere for those poor boyfriends and husbands who will undoubtedly be waiting for their other halves for quite some time.
Pumping anthems on the sound system? Gigantic metal sentries straight out of Metropolis flanking the entrance? Fluorescent clubwear a-go-go? Why, it must be Cyberdog! A brilliant creation situated in the heart of Camden Market, where punk and goth collide, this futuristic label has been dressing the cyber and fetish crowds since the 1990s and is still doing a roaring trade today. As if shopping here isn’t exotic and exciting enough, they recently introduced dancers into the store. You’ll find these tireless performers strutting their stuff to house and trance on the billing counter. So while you busily browse, they’re busy busting impossible-looking shapes in the background. The store is illuminated by UV lamps which highlight the striking fluorescent hues of the designs – playsuits, dresses and even ‘UV splatwear’. Accessories include everything from lip tattoos to headphones, cat’s eye contact lenses and kitsch jewellery. Forget about the ordinary – Cyberdog is neither for the faint of heart nor for shrinking violets. Though it’s not just for cyberpunks either. If you’re in need of party wear – or simply feeling the need for party wear – why not treat yourself to a fluorescent pink miniskirt? No finer outfit for an ‘80s fancy dress party!
Laylie, 216 Camden High Street
Nestled in the heart of trendy and bustling Camden, this boutique offers up an astonishing and decidedly eclectic mix of women’s apparel: everything from casual to dressy and upmarket. But while the store may look somewhat unassuming and anomalous amid the alternative bustle of Camden High Street, don’t be misled – it is bursting with bright and sexy bargains. Laylie is well stocked with clothes that have been manufactured through inspiration from top Italian and Oriental designs, yet none of them carry the excessively high prices you might expect for such a range. A veritable treasure trove of idiosyncratic, colourful and considered designs, Laylie offers the discerning female shopper everything from loose, casual, summery tops to maxi-dresses, plus glamorous and romantic frocks to suit every mood and occasion. Bags and other accessories are available and prices generally start at £10, so don’t hold back.
Jade, 22 Hampstead High Street
Located in wealthy and rarefied Hampstead, this elegant shop drew me in by virtue of its well thought-out window display. When I saw a trendy, fur-collared jacket in said window, I just knew there and then I had to have it. I did buy it and it turned out to be more than a wise investment: I have been given endless compliments on it wherever and whenever I’ve worn it since. Jade is a stylish and excellent little shop, but it may give some passing potential customers the wrong impression in some respects, looking, as it does, very of its neighbourhood. But don’t be deceived – the designs look extremely bespoke and posh (and are), but, surprise! – the prices are actually comparable to those on the high street. The pleasant surprises don’t stop there, however. For example, although I took many of the clothes on sale here to be somewhat unassuming when on the hanger, they somehow transform and complement your body shape when worn – a little bit of sartorial magic goes a long way. My favourite section in particular is in the basement of the boutique, where you’ll find row upon row of little black dresses.
Voted the best vintage shop in London, Absolute Vintage, located just by Spitalfields Market, is a haven for those in search of timeless pieces but without bottomless wallets. You won’t find the excessively hiked-up prices charged by other second-hand retailers keen to exploit the increasingly mainstream appeal of clothing from decades past here.
Each and every detail of the shop is a visual feast, from their famously vast array of shoes (stilettos, court shoes, wedges, winklepickers, loafers and ‘80s basketball boots to name but a few) and leather bags, to gorgeous dresses (a bright blue sequinned one caught my eye), second-skin Capri pants and a beaded white tote bag I spotted in the window, looking like a refugee from a long-dead flapper’s evening wardrobe.
Accessories include scarves, Jackie O sunglasses and hats, and there’s no shortage of enticing apparel for the boys either, with everything from shell suits (really!) to somewhat more stylish Frank Sinatra-inspired items. Recommended time for browsing is about three hours (I haven’t known anyone willingly leave in under an hour). Prices start at £15, but if you approach the till with an armful, it’s worth attempting to haggle – an old trick of the trade.
It’s hard to believe now, but West London was once the capital’s hippest quarter. Now that the cool cats have all but fled for the east, Ladbroke Grove and Portobello Market are the sole bearers of that diminishing flame – and the stretch of vintage stalls at the bottom end of Portobello Road sparkle like sequins in the sun. Located beneath the concrete icon that is the Westway, these stalls sell classic pieces from the 1920s to the 1980s, plus modern fashions, too. It’s a haven for vintage lovers of all stripes. There’s spiky stilettos, silk blouses, and petticoats for those trying to perfect the classic 1940s pin-up, Sta-prest and loafers for ska-loving dandies, denim ahoy for Classic Rock aficionados and everything in between for everyone who’s searching for fun, out-of-the-ordinary and quirky designs! There’s also stalls of accessories including cufflinks and lighters, mirrors and compacts, vintage homewares and records – even a few gramophones. Surely one of London’s vintage havens, the best day to visit is Friday, when it’s (slightly) less crowded. Keep your eyes peeled – there’s a lot to take in, whether it be Burberry Macs, wax discs, Edwardian portraits, disco jumpsuits, Victorian shirtdresses or even Boer War-style military jackets.