Anyways, onto the main business at hand:
Having recently spent some time this summer re-immersing myself in contemporary culture in the UK, when I hit the streets upon my return to Spain, I was struck by some glaring differences I had previously not considered. This time around, my attention was really drawn to the differing approaches towards vintage and second hand clothing.
The UK is the proven home of fast-fashion, as the advertising agency JWT recently discovered by asking young people in the UK, America, Brazil, Canada and Australia which items they would never cut back on, no matter how tight their finances. Brits ranked “buying new clothes” higher than any other nation in the poll. Despite this apparent obsession with new clothing, young style conscious consumers also embrace vintage and second hand clothing as ammunition in the war against bland or outdated appearance.
This is evident in the wardrobes of the individuals regularly touted as today’s UK style icons, the most prominent examples being Kate Moss and Alexa Chung. How many times have UK newspapers and magazines sited that a mix of high-street, designer pieces and vintage finds is the ideal combination to create a unique and dazzling look? Vintage has become a by-word for unique, brave and innovative fashion statements.
However, the reverence and respect shown in the UK towards an amazing vintage dress, is less likely to be shared by their Spanish counterparts. As is evident through a comparative lack of charity/thrift stores and second hand emporiums, Spanish perceptions towards all things old, not just of the wearable kind, is markedly different.
Since the end of Franco’s fascist dictatorship in 1975, Spaniards have rushed to modernise their society and ‘catch up’ with the rest of the west. This has resulted in a struggle to distance themselves from an unsavoury past and a visual identity that had more or less been put on hold for decades. These days ‘old’ and ‘used’ are more often than not associated with ‘dirty’ and ‘tired’, to be discarded and replaced.
In Spain, standing out of the crowd and using clothing as a form of individual self expression until 1975 was not a desirable or advisable practise (and even potentially dangerous), so perhaps a subsequent actual lack of mid-20th century Spanish vintage also contributes to the dearth of present-day second hand. Today, Spanish youth are as quick as the next countries’ to use clothes and accessories to express how the perceive themselves and society, also, they will more commonly do so in clothing created by Spanish-based brands (Bershka, Pull & Bear, Zara, Mango, Desigual etc.). However, the products must be new and box-fresh. Used garments are what you leave out for the rubbish collection, or to be picked through by members of society who cannot afford new garments (but due to the low price points of Bershka, Pull & Bear et al, includes very few young Spanish natives).
Which is not to say vintage clothing shops, here in Barcelona for example, do not exist. There are some very fine ones. However, they stock, almost exclusively, US and other nations’ imported clothing. I would argue that they are frequented on the whole by the odd ‘alternative’ Spaniard looking to create a more international look, or by the many foreign students and tourists. It is no coincidence that the vintage and second hand clothing shops in Barcelona are all located in the Raval, an area close to the main tourist drag which is also home to the main university, art galleries and student-friendly rented accommodation.
In conclusion, I would most definitely encourage any shopping-hungry visitors to Barcelona to hunt down the vintage contingency on offer. However, do not expect to be met with a slice of trendy Spanish culture, either from the past, present, or foreseeable future.