Thrifting Tales – Chanel Bags & Shoulder Pads

This week Laura Roberts takes us through her thrifting journey! 

When I was little my Mum used to take me around her favourite shops each week in the village that we lived in. We’d divide and conquer; she’d take knitwear, I’d take dresses and then we’d meet in the middle to tackle coats and accessories. Shopping in charity and thrift stores became a bonding experience for us both; each loving the thrill of bagging a bargain or the thought of uncovering a hidden treasure. Even now, as an adult, whenever I’m back home, my Mum will take me to her latest discovery and we’ll happily sift through the racks whilst putting the world to rights. I always buy something and then when I’m back in Dubai, I’ll wear it and think of her and our time together.

Over the years and whenever I visit somewhere new, I like to check out the vintage and thrift scene in that area. Give me a flea market over an afternoon on the high-street any day! I’ve found some amazing one-off pieces in the most unexpected places too, most of which are still hanging in my wardrobe today; a cropped studded velvet evening jacket, my heart print sundress and a 60s vinyl mini skirt - just a few of my favourite highlights.

The first time I scored a designer thrift was whilst at university. Next to my favourite 3am takeaway dwelled a tiny little Oxfam Vintage store, selling an assortment of mad (Victoriana costumes from the latest drama production) and also wearable (faded Levi’s and logo tees) items. I was sold from the minute I arrived, snapping up lurex knits, oversized sunglasses and vintage tea dresses from the 80s and 90s. My student loan was well spent.

It was in my second year that I spotted it; a lonely little crossbody bag sitting amongst some scarves and jewellery. I recognised the print and sure enough the label inside told me it was Carolina Herrera. And the price? £10. That’s about 50 AED… for a designer bag. If I wasn’t hooked before, finding this piece certainly set me on my way.

At 21, I went to New York for the first time and promptly hit every thrift and vintage shop on the block. I’ll admit, my minor (major) obsession with SATC at the time may have played a part in my determination to visit every store that made a cameo on the show. I came home with some incredible American vintage labels and thrifty finds, all pretty distinctive - I mean, who doesn’t like to stand out in a crowd, right?!

For my 30th, I returned to the Big Apple, this time at Christmas (yes, I can confirm it’s magical) to hunt for my biggest vintage buy to date; a Chanel 2.55 bag. The idea of buying new was never an option for me; I like things that have a history or a story behind them and when you are parting with that amount of money, you want more than an impersonal in-store experience and a factory fresh piece. So, one rainy Manhattan morning, I went searching, and much to my husband’s express relief, didn’t take long to settle on THE ONE. Black, buttery soft leather with elegant gold chain detailing from 1988 - it was perfect.

I know this is my once in a lifetime purchase. Short of selling a kidney I couldn’t afford it anyway and that suits me just fine. I’m all about shopping sensibly, buying pieces that will last, or can be reworked in different ways. Even if things have a lifecycle in your wardrobe, it could still bring joy to someone else. Last year for example I picked up a Barbour quilted jacket at a flea market for 40 AED. It still makes me smile thinking about it - what a find! It’s true that one man’s trash is another’s treasure, although just to be clear… I’m fairly certain that I’ll be buried with my Chanel. Just saying ;)

Which brings me to now. At 33, I’m a bigger advocate than ever of thrift shopping. The perception that used to hang around the idea of buying second-hand is giving way to bigger concerns about our overconsumption. We’re all guilty of buying more than we need, especially in this Instagram-obsessed age where for some reason, it is no longer acceptable to be pictured in the same outfit twice.

This year has changed things though. Our mindset is shifting. Fast fashion was never sustainable, but the difference now is that we actually care what that means. Stores like Thrift For Good and Retold are helping to bring preloved into the mainstream as a desirable fashion choice. It’s shopping with a conscience; the next ‘big trend’ for 2021 and beyond.

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