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The first time I stepped foot inside a Forever 21, I thought it must be a lie. I mean, it is, kind of. No store could possibly be this cool and this cheap and and this precisely tailored to my exact tastes, and by “my exact tastes,” I mean that it fell in line with the trends that penetrate every centimeter of mainstream American culture at any given moment and that the entirety of capitalism depends on.
But that was teenage me, and adult me hadn’t experienced the same sense of being so purely understood by a shopping destination until six months ago, when I first went to Brick Lane.
Sandwiched between the East London neighborhoods of Shoreditch and Bethnal Green, Brick Lane historically has been a place for new immigrants to settle: French Huguenots in the 17th century, Irish in the 19th century, Ashkenazi Jews in the 20th century, and most recently, Bangladeshis. It’s the latter group that has contributed to the fact that Brick Lane is one of London’s curry house capitals and happens to smell of incredibly delicious food while you shop.
Brick Lane today is also bougie as shit, as evidenced by the fact that it now includes a restaurant devoted entirely to quirky American cereal. (Can you guess what it’s called? Correct! It is called Cereal Killer.)
But more than anything, the current iteration of Brick Lane is known for vintage stores, vintage stores far superior to the ones in America.
Why are they so good? A few reasons. Firstly, they’re cheaper. Secondly, the clothes are often vintage pieces that have been reworked in order to look modern — so prints from, say, the ‘80s, aren’t paired with enormous poofy sleeves.
Thirdly and most importantly, they’re hyper-organized by item and carry nothing outside the clearly defined key pieces of a certain season. All of which is to say that there is far less crap in British vintage stores than in American ones.
Right now, for example, there are neat, distinct sections for denim overalls, high-waisted trousers, driving caps (an unfortunate favorite right now because evidently newsboy caps are over), cropped sweatshirts, wax Barbours, shearling denim jackets, gold hoop earrings, silk patterned button-downs, and kimonos. And very little else.
Now, this is great if your style swings far to the east of the London-Los Angeles style pendulum, a pendulum I have just made up. Fortunately, in my case, it does.
- Rather clown-like red sunglasses (£7)
- Rather clown-like pink sunglasses (£8)
- Rather clown-like white sunglasses directly inspired by Harry Styles (£9)
- A knockoff Barbour wax jacket (£45)
- A brown corduroy shearling jacket (£35)
- A corduroy min iskirt (£6)
- A plaid mini skirt (£5)
- A plaid jumper (£24)
- Plaid Lauren by Ralph Lauren trousers (£16)
- An obnoxiously red beret (£9)
- An equally obnoxious red velvet scrunchie (£6)
- A probably-even-more-obnoxious velvet button-down shirt with a white collar that Kris Jenner would probably be into, see above (£24)
If there is a store in the United States that sells the above items at comparable prices (remind yourself that currently the pound is just 25 percent stronger than the dollar), I do not know of it. But if someone could invent one real quick, that would be great, because flying to London is for the sole purpose of buying £8 sunglasses is getting expensive.