Fashion Reich: Vintage Shopping in Berlin

While New York Fashion Week will have everyone from magazine editors to bloggers on tenterhooks searching for the next big thing, the most style-savvy fashionistas will be taking notes and packing their bags to head to the European hub of vintage shopping. When it comes to vintage style, no one does it better than Berliners. The quirky chic inherent to the Berlin street style ranges from the plethora of vintage stores to treasures troves of utilitarian design classics from East Germany’s socialist past. And with so many designers set to reference fashions from the 80s and 90s in their collections, the wallet-friendly approach that Berlin offers to vintage style is more than worth the cost of a flight.

Berlin vintage is unique as it encapsulates an era quite unknown to the rest of the world. While mods, rockers, hippies, disco dancers and punks came and went, East Germans were living quite literally separated from the rest of the world. In the bubble of Berlin, a strange fashion time warp occurred, from which knitted shirts, oversized leather jackets, twee tea dresses and socialist-friendly fur emerged. Berliners still embrace this unique style, sourced a second time around from the hundreds of vintage stores in the city. If you have the time and inclination to rummage, you can pick up vintage gems for a steal. Garage, situated in Schöneberg (Berlin’s liveliest gay district) sells clothes by the kilo. While a fair amount of the t-shirts, jeans and jumpers can be classified as second hand rather than pure vintage, there are DDR dresses, military headgear, leather coats and furs in abundance.

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Humana, another spot for dedicated rummagers, is a second-hand store to rival all others. Here one can find Escada blazers for 50 euro, Peter Pan collared shirts embroidered with edelweiss and high waisted, wool pleat skirts, as well as a superb collection of 80s leather jackets. Humana has an impressive selection of men’s fare, and it’s the spiritual home of the illustrious knitted polo shirt (the sight of which upon one of Berlin’s angular Aryans would have The Sartorialist scrambling for his camera). In Prenzlauer Berg, Stiefelkombinat-Berlin sits unobtrusively on Eberswelder Straße, its exterior often flanked with old school East German leather hold-alls. Inside the shop, the cramped front room gives way to a series of alcoves constructed from clothes rails and metal stacks. Here we find the real stars of the show: The Shoes. Hundreds, no, thousands of pairs of shoes are on every conceivable surface. Lined up on the floor, stacked on shelves, even hanging in uniform rows that seem to grow up the walls. At the front of the store, amongst a plethora of sunglasses and scarves, an in house cobbler ensures that every pair of shoes to go on sale at Steifelkombinat, does so in pristine condition.

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Just a few minutes away is the incredible Lunettes Brillenagentur, a glossy, well-lit shop that stocks hundreds of sunglasses and eyeglass frames. The specs, ranging from original 1900s frames to modern classics (Hello Clubmasters) are available for purchase or, get this, hire.

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My favorite of all the vintage haunts in Berlin is found at the back of a picturesque mews in Mitte. Sterling Gold stocks hundreds of dresses, from cocktail to black tie, most of which come from the 1940s to the 1980s. The selection is vast, the dresses sublime, and the incredibly accommodating staff will even tailor your chosen dress to fit you just right. It’s no wonder that Berliners are so effortlessly chic. It is their inherent sense of style that sets them apart — their refusal to submit wholeheartedly to fashion’s fickle whims. As Yves Saint Laurent said, “Fashions fade. Style is eternal.” And in Berlin, don’t they know it.

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