I recently received an e-mail from a lovely lady who was wondering about secondhand designer clothing in Tokyo; recycle/ “affordable couture”/ branded vintage/ whateveryoucallit. After I had a bit of a ramble in e-mail form, I thought it might be interesting for other readers who also love a good bargain as much as we do here at Tokyo Telephone Towers.
The vintage clothing scene in Tokyo is just as diverse as you’d hope – everything from 1950s biker jackets to Russian folk dresses and millions of Louis Vuitton handbags (millions, honestly) and pretty much everything in between. As with much of Japanese fashion, it does at the moment seem to be a young person’s game; where we are in Koenji you can’t walk down the road without seeing someone wearing vintage clothing, or coming out of a dedicated secondhand apparel shop. I think it’s something that our (ie, me and Samuel) parents generation don’t seem to always be wholly enthusiastic about – not hard to see why when amid the current resurgence of 1990s trends I can’t get the image of the amazingly awful lime green clogs I had when I was a wee ‘un out of my head (some things are best left buried!).
The vast majority of clothing is also Western in origin, with check shirts and military jewellery making up much of the menswear, while for women it could be an 80s prom dress, a maxi skirt or an embroidered jacket that makes into today’s outfit of choice. Our love of vintage clothing in Japan is (hopefully!) rather well known, as there’s just something about this repurposing of Western clothing that makes the Japanese take on it both refreshing and appealing. What’s missing of course is the vintage clothing that’s Japanese in origin – I personally am totally willing to kick-start a remade kimono revolution! The reasons for the lack of actual Japanese clothing are anyone’s guess: it’s not ‘in’ just yet; it’s too much like formal wear; it’s culturally sensitive (traditional Japanese imagery is often linked to extreme far-right groups); it’s the next big thing?
Where Japanese clothing and the vintage scene do collide is the secondhand brand market. I’m an indescribably huge fan of rummaging in these ‘recycle’ shops for a designer bargain or two, and my favourite Japanese brands are rather well represented; vast swathes of Comme des Garcons in particular are to be found, as well as Issey Miyake, Julius, Share Spirit, Tsumori Chisato, and the saint himself, Yohji Yamamoto. And of course aforementioned huge numbers of Louis Vuitton bags. Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be much of a gender split on this issue, as there’s a comparative quantity of womenswear as well as menswear, and the standard customer base reflects this. It is the great equaliser after all: I’ve seen cool young guys, older women and almost everyone else too.
A few tips now for secondhand shopping that may come in handy… It’s worth learning which stores seems to specialise in certain brands, as this can often save quite a bit of time if you’re after something or someone in particular. As with all vintage clothing in Japan, it doesn’t have that terrible musty smell, but if it does get out of there quick! Comme des Garcons seem to be rather well represented in such shops for some reason – maybe the hardcore CdG fans can’t bear to be seen in last season’s styles? (More for me, hurrah!). Finally, it’s well worth noting that when picking a ‘nearly new’ bargain, adventure is almost always rewarded. I’ve seen Chanel bags in tiny vintage shops on the outskirts of towns, I’ve seen original stunning Issey Miyake catwalk couture in the most unlikely places. Be brave and be bold, bargain hunters!
A few of our favourite chain shops for secondhand high brand clothing in Tokyo:
Kind – great for samples, one-offs and sometimes even totally unworn clothing.
ModeOff – it’s time consuming to rummage, but we’ve found some spectacular winners here!
Space – plenty of menswear and some interesting silver jewelery too.
And of course almost all the vintage shops we’ve featured so far are more than likely to offer up a few hidden gems. For even more of a bargain, be sure to pick up a point card if you plan on becoming a regular customer. I should also say that individual items of clothing are rated on the shop’s own scale – I’ve found them to be quite harsh, as something I would class as ‘as new’ condition would be downgraded to maybe just 3 out of 5, great for those who worry about older things falling apart.
Good luck, and let us know what you discover!