Thursday, 17 September 2015

Ode to Beyond Retro

I first went to Beyond Retro when I was 14 – new to exploring the vintage offerings of London, and still feeling like the trek to Brick Lane and beyond was some kind of special escapade. I went with my mum. It was a chilly, grey day, as far as I remember, and we pounded down Cheshire Street wondering just where this trove of clothes could be found. Then ahead, finally, we glimpsed that yellow sign with its anchor logo, signaling the vaguely nondescript looking entrance leading to a very bright Wonderland beyond.

I still have one of the acquisitions picked up that day – a gorgeous little mint-green tunic with gold buckles up the front. I’ve worn it on this blog numerous times. It featured in various early shoots with Flo and was once employed to recreate the colours of a Roget’s Thesaurus in outfit form. I also bought a grey shirt with white ruffles up to the neck, which is sadly now too small and has been relegated to the dressing up box. Over the years plenty of other purchases have filtered through my wardrobe. Some stayed. Others didn't.

I was reminded of that initial fresh, flush thrill though when I visited one of the Swedish branches of Beyond Retro – marveling all over again at all the different shapes and hushed stories hung up on rails. The quality was incredible, with a real smorgasbord of good fabrics and shades: tangerines, pinks, baby blues, lime greens, zinging scarlets. I recalled just how exciting it was some six years ago to spend an hour just browsing through beautiful things, eventually choosing one or two items to claim as mine. This time around though it was just one: a marvelous bright orange shift dress with a zip, deep pockets and embroidered detail.

It’s hard not to fall back on a limited number of ways to refer to huge vintage shops though (also including places like Armstrongs, Blitz and Rokit) - easy to call them treasure troves or Aladdin’s caves, and leave it at that. They’re apt descriptions though, with more of a sparkle of truth to their labels. There is definitely a sense of discovering some large hoard or stash – one that’s yours to sift, search and sort through. I’m a seeker and gatherer. I like to feel some small sense of achievement in sniffing out the garment that absolutely works just for me, on my body, with my taste and aesthetic. It’s a simple pleasure, but an oh-so-satisfying one.

It’s also about pleasure in the unexpected. I rarely enter a vintage shop in search of something specific. Instead it's about the frisson of not knowing what could be accompanying you as you leave. Sequins? A jumpsuit? A gorgeous floral dress? Who knows... anything is possible, depending on what’s stumbled across. For example, I had absolutely no idea that I’d be exiting Armstrongs with THE most glorious full-length seventies maxi with a red and green striped skirt, and a translucent black top. (I can’t wait to shoot it for the blog).

That general principle makes this particular skirt a little unusual though. It’s from Beyond Retro’s own label, which I love because it’s very sustainable – everything being repurposed from pre-existing clothes and fabrics. The clothes are produced in a factory in Western India that Beyond Retro actually owns, meaning they know exactly how their workers are treated and what they’re being paid (read more about all of it here). God, just imagine if more brands did that!  

I was very kindly given this green panelled beauty after expressing my absolute adoration of the design. So unlike every other item I own from Beyond Retro, this one was entirely premeditated – having been eyed up (and tweeted about) in advance. I knew exactly what I was lusting after. I’ve worn it endlessly over the last few months. It goes with cropped jumpers and tied shirts and black button-up tops and suede jackets. It also reminds me of a skirt from Topshop I had aged 15 that I wore to my first LFW (one that sadly had to be sold on when I grew hips). I wore it at a point when my love of vintage was fully fledged – probably about a year after first discovering Beyond Retro. It’s all circular, really. And I always have loved suede..

Big thanks to Beyond Retro for the skirt. It's glorious. Here it's worn with a cashmere top from a charity shop, some vintage boots, a Bill Skinner bracelet, and a necklace that belongs to my mum. 


AVY said...

My mother's closet is all the vintage store I really need, but I know what you mean. The skirt is very cute.

/ Avy

Rick Forrestal said...


Natalie Suarez said...

that skirt is amazing! LOVE

Natalie Off Duty

mamasgotkids said...

Cute skirt (and love the boots!) Yes! to the 'I wish more brands did that'. I've been scouring the internet for sustainable/ethical clothing companies for myself and my family. I watched the documentary called True Cost showing just how wrong fast fashion is and how it affects those who make our clothes. I will never shop the high street again. I just wish more people would join in so things would change!

Kailey said...

I love, love, love how you write about clothing! And books, and your family - and, well, everything I guess haha!

That skirt is an absolute dream on you, a shining example of the 70s look I've been seeing (and loving) so much of lately, and it is so glorious paired with those boots! <3

Ivana Split said...

never knowing what could true! that is what I love about vintage stores and second hand shops too.
That suede skirt is fabulous...and you look stunning. Your legs look a mile long.

Lola Byatt said...

What a journey I have had with this posts: trying to find a copy of roget's thesaurus online, left feeling a bit gutted that the burberry trench on armstrong's site is only avail in 12 and getting to read about your poetry competition!

I grew up on sunday morning trips to the car boot sals. My clothes were hand me downs or found in charity shops. As a child I did always want to shop where all my friends shopped and did want clothes that just allowed me to blend in but now as an adult, I really love my mum's choices (then and now). She wasn't doing it for reasons such as sustainability or being against the poor working conditions these factories fact I remember being quite puzzled about why my some of the clothes we would buy would come with a "made in India" sign. I actually remember rationalising that the top had a style that was quite common with India and thinking how great it was that there must be a designer in India getting to sell their clothes in UK (or all over). But growing up, I learnt about these horrors and it did make me think about my spending more. It was the Rana Plaza tragedy that really helped put things into focus, I couldn't bear the thought of the suffering many have to endure to make our cheap clothes. I started thinking about what shops/places that sells good clothes, give their workers good working conditions and pay them well. My very naive assumption was the fancy end of the high street: Maje, Sandro, Whistles "surely these places with their fancy interior designs and their attentive sales people" but the clothes are still made in places like Indonesia. Perhaps the fabrics are made in UK or maybe there is a smaller production of products so the factories are smaller and people are paid better. I just didn't know where to shop. So, I stopped all together. It also gave me a moment to realise that I was shopping way too much, I had become a magpie, if it was shiny new, I wasn't interested. For me, it was the novelty of the item and I soon got bored of it and was out there, hunting for my new fix- this may stem for my yearning to buy new things and my mum's desire to shop only second hand...either way, I wans't really appreciating my purchase. I have the occasional browse on ebay and when I am lucky enough to be in a charity shop, I'll pop in (there aren't many places near me) but my new place to look is my wardrobe because there are plenty of ways to make something old, new.


I remember getting pieces from Beyond Retro, even have a few pieces now. I also loved shopping at Rokit Vintage, and think my love for vintage and shopping secondhand likely comes from my mum, since she is a very frugal woman, but always found exquisite pieces that were also stylish. Your skirt is simply fantastic, sort of magical worn with the cobalt blue cashmere top.

Melanie said...

I love that skirt! I used to have one in shades of grey with front snaps. I think it had a sewn on belt as well with a square buckle, but the same vibe. It was very short. I was young(er). Yes, the thrill. And the heart-stopping moment when you find the price tag and flip it over...your dreams can soar or die in a split second.

Vix said...

That skirt is wonderful. How fantastic that they are made ethically in India, I had no idea! I've been to Beyond Retro a couple of times and was quite impressed with some of the prices. I like them even more now. xxx

8 Bag said...

Perfect match - skirt + boots :) Just awesome ;) Nothing more, nothing less.

Helen Le Caplain said...

That skirt was obviously meant for you - it looks fab paired with those boots. Just gorgeous!