Paris: Vintage clothing shops for discerning Cheapos

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Dam, Dim, Dom, the author's new favorite vintage clothing shop in Paris. Photos by Theadora Brack
Dam, Dim, Dom, the author's new favorite vintage clothing shop in Paris. Photos by Theadora Brack

By Theadora Brack in Paris—

This week, let’s go-go vintage clothing shopping! Throughout Paris, you’ll find “friperies” (second-hand clothing shops) and “depôts-ventes” (consignment shops). Possessing a mad penchant for collecting the garb of yesteryear but on a budget, I’ve three favorite hunting grounds: Abbesses, the Marais, and the Porte de Vanves flea market.

But first, let’s look to Oscar Wilde for a little inspiration. After all, our favorite writer and clotheshorse was also the editor of The Woman’s World magazine way back in the original New Romantic 1880s. Wearing a puffy shirt and breeches (he dismissed trousers as “boring tubes”), along with a smoking jacket and one green carnation, he quipped, “It is only the shallow people who do not judge by appearances.”

Touché, Monsieur Wilde! (Who happens to be permanently in residence at Pere Lachaise cemetery, by the way.)

Nadine at Dam, Dim, Dom

1. Abbesses
Metro: Abbesses, 18th arrondissement

Nadine’s Dam Dim Dom at 18 Rue Damrémont is my new favorite vintage shop. Maybe it’s her well-organized collection of clothing, or perhaps it’s the film memorabilia on the walls (watch out for Godard, Anna Karina and Bridget Bardot). Or perhaps, just perhaps, it was her swell words when I asked to try on a black trench coat, “It will look especially lovely on you, because you’re so slim.” Now that’s costumer service!

Looking for something specific? Ask Nadine. She carries affordable labels, along with high-ticket designer brands. At the moment, I’ve got my eye on a Jean-Charles de Castelbajac scarf, and I’ll buy it as soon as my ship comes in—as my grandmother Helen Wentz would say. Castelbajac also designed the current Eiffel Tower uniforms, strikingly stylish in olive green with bright orange piping!

Hooked and need another fix? Make a beeline to Le Caverne à Fripes at 25 rue Houdon. Here the inventory is eclectic and may seem chaotic, but don’t let looks fool you. The collection is quite organized. After a few minutes, you’ll recognize the system: shirts to the left and skirts on the right, while party dresses hang in the back and slacks are stacked in the middle.

At first the shop gives the impression that the owner is nowhere to be found, but look again—almost buried in amongst the clothing and camouflaged in vintage togs himself you’ll find proprietor Patrick Lambert either chatting with neighbors or reading a novel as Broadway music plays on in the background.

If you’re on a quest for a specific treasure, don’t hesitate to ask Monsier Lambert. He once helped me pick out the perfect vinyl green belt (very shiny and studded, circa 1960s) to accessorize a black maxi dress (made in France, circa 1970s). Cost? €15 for the pair. (And later, the envious looks at the party? Priceless.)

2. Marais
Metro: Saint-Paul, 4th arrondissement

My friend Caroline Simonds, founder of “Le Rire Medecin” (a troupe of hospital clowns), introduced me to both Boutique King of Frip at 14 rue Vieille du Temple and Vintage Désir on 32 rue des Rosiers during my quest for a striped shirt for my dad. Described by Papa Hemingway as “very stiff and built for hard wear but softened by washings,” both shops have beaucoup de Breton stripes.

Cheapos, Caroline also highly recommends the smoked turkey or pastrami sandwiches at Florence Finkelstein on nearby 24 rue des Ecouffes!

Martine's booth at the Porte de Vanves flea market.

3. Porte de Vanves Flea Market
Metro: Porte de Vanves, 14th arrondissement

Gather around, Cheapos! Here’s where I find most of my retro treasures, each typically costing €5 – €20. Throughout the flea market, you’ll find tables, racks and boxes of vintage clothes, along with accessories like costume jewelry, bags and belts, hats, sunglasses and shoes. Looking for old copies of fashion magazines like Elle and Marie Claire? They’re in abundance, too.

Always one to boast, my recent flea market finds included two pairs of Ted Lapidus hexagonal sunglasses for €2 a pop! I’ve also found three pairs of ski pants from the 1960s in vibrant, mouthwatering Pucci-licious colors like yellow, tangerine, and turquoise blue by Fus Europ. All with their original hand-written price tags still hanging from the hip, and none cost more than €1. I know!

Tips: Looking for a specific item? Pop by Martine’s booth. She’s been with the flea market for decades, and vintage clothing is her number one passion. Her booth is located on avenue Georges Lafenestre, across the street Piscine Didot. Keep your eyes peeled for her mannequins. (Read more about Martine and my other favorite dealers at the flea market.)

The flea market opens around 8:00 a.m. and the dealers are packing up to leave before noon. So arrive early, carry cash and bring a sturdy bag for your finds. By the way, just after you leave the Métro station, you’ll find an ATM machine, a patisserie and a café with a WC. (Read more tips for flea market success.)

Good Bill hunting, Cheapos!

About the author

Theadora Brack

About the author: Theadora Brack is a writer working in Paris. Her fiction has appeared in more than 30 literary publications, including 3AM International, The Smoking Poet, Beloit Fiction Journal, Mid-American Review, and the Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal.

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