For those among us who love shopping, it isn’t just about picking up something you like and taking it home with you. It’s about feeling different fabrics on your skin, their drape, the texture of their weave, their intricate beading and embroidery, the way they flow with your movement. It’s about the smell of new shoes fresh out of the box, artisan perfumes, and freshly poured tea. It’s about the uplifting conversations you’ll have which go beyond polite chit-chat. That’s why, for me, the boutique experience can’t be beaten. I never just leave with a piece of vintage fashion that has stolen my heart. Amongst other things, I also leave with some free expert style advice and a positive mindset owing to the fact that I’ve just spent the last hour trying on clothes that actually fit me properly and nattering away to someone who is just as mad about vintage fashion as I am.
Sure, I could answer 16 of the most bizarre questions about the shape of my body and be left with an estimate of what size I should buy which is 75% accurate when there’s a lunar eclipse visible from Mars and a piece of authentic vintage clothing has been sacrificed in the proper way (there is no proper way, don’t do it). I could pay a ridiculous amount for shipping and eventually returns and swaps when the items I ordered either don’t fit properly or look nothing like the pictures. The personal shopping experience quite literally can’t be replicated online or in high street stores, and there’s something so special about being made to feel like a million dollars.
Now, more than ever, those little tastes of normality have been a saving grace. I’ve found it does wonders for my mental health to get out and talk to actual people who not only share my interest in vintage fashion, but actually seem like they could discuss it for hours without getting bored. Shopping at the same place means that, over time, you get to know these people, you become invested in their lives and them in yours. There’s something really special about the way that the people in boutique stores will remember something you told them about a life event, or even about a cut that you just don’t like on your body. Their business is their baby, and you can feel that they genuinely care about you and what you do and don’t like - in clothing and in general. Like many people, I struggle with my body image and I’m very particular about what styles I will wear. When shopping alone in a high street retailer, there’s nobody for me to turn to and ask ‘how does this look?’. Sometimes my own negative self-image gets in the way of how I actually look, and that’s where having someone around who can give me genuine style advice comes in handy. I went into a boutique for the first time expecting a hard sell, I thought that they must all be working on some sort of commission and they’re going to tell me that even the mankini looks great on me and pressure me to buy it. I couldn’t have been further from the truth: on more than one occasion I’ve had style advisers steer me away from a dress, even when it’s been their highest ticketed item, because it just didn’t suit me. This is the sort of honesty that makes me trust in their word and want to give them my custom over an online retailer.
I’ve found that most boutique staff tend to be hand selected from a large group of hopefuls, and as such, they are usually very highly educated about what they sell. Whether they’re hoping for a career in the fashion industry further down the line or they just want to climb the ladder, boutique staff always seem to have a wealth of knowledge that they are eager to share. In my time as a customer at Voluptuous Vintage (before I finally mustered up the courage to apply for a position), the dolls helped me properly discover and fall in love with 40s vintage fashion. I came to the shop with a small budget and only a little knowledge and the first dress I bought from Voluptuous Vintage, the Rowena, is still a firm favourite for me. I still find it scary how everybody who tries this dress on looks and feels amazing!
The Rowena dress in Emerald Green
Another one of those fab little things that you just wouldn’t see in a high street store is that pets are not just welcome in VV – they’re actively encouraged. When I arrive at the shop, I’m usually greeted by the local three-legged cat who regularly pops into the shop to say hello and has definitely stolen my heart. Apart from videos of kittens, there is currently no way for the internet to magic a cat into my lap, and so, internet shopping takes another hit. I also don’t have to worry about using the couple of hours I have free to take the dogs for a walk or shop for a special occasion outfit. I love that I can combine the two and walk the dogs to the shop and then try on dresses to my heart’s content whilst my pooches are being doted on by the dolls! I know for most of us our pets are like family, so it’s great when shops welcome them and go the extra mile with a selection of tasty treats on hand so our doggies don’t feel left out of the festivities.
I’m sure we’ve all created a wish list on the websites of popular online clothes retailers. I’m definitely guilty of filling up my basket with tons of weird and wonderful outfits I wouldn’t usually go for. I’m also guilty of then exiting the screen and carrying on with my life because I just don’t know how those clothes will look and feel unless I actually try them on. Maybe I’m just a bit weird, but then again, maybe not. This is something I want to do before I buy in a store because otherwise those clothes will travel the globe unnecessarily and that just doesn’t feel right to someone like me who is trying to shop more responsibly and move away from fast fashion. Shopping in a boutique has given me the chance to fully appreciate a piece of clothing before committing to buying. For those items I know I REALLY must have (currently it’s the Luna dress, in case my boyfriend is reading this), but are a bit out of my budget I can ask the dolls to put them on my wish list so that I can either come back to them later or my loved ones can purchase birthday or Christmas gifts they know I’ll adore from my list!
Vintage fashion, whether it’s authentic or reproduction, can be expensive. We all know that you pay for the quality of the garment, but who doesn’t love a sale? Boutiques regularly host in store only sales, the biggest for VV being the Michaelmas Fayre in September. It’s a big celebration in which the whole village gets involved and is not to be missed. There is always such a crazy selection of vintage goodies at fabulously reduced prices which aren’t available online. Sometimes the items on sale are one-offs and aren’t even available online. I’m a bit of a magpie, so the Michaelmas Fayre is definitely my happy place. I also find it a perfect excuse to don all my finery and go full-vintage… not that any of us need much of an excuse!
Online shopping definitely has its place; it is convenient if nothing else and sometimes we just need essentials. However, some things just can’t be done properly on the internet, alterations being one of them. If I am shopping online or instore and something doesn’t or won’t fit me just how I want it, I usually just put it back. But shopping instore, especially with a small business like voluptuous Vintage, brings lots of special little advantages. One big perk for me has been an alterations service, meaning that, should I gain or lose a little weight, I don’t have to say goodbye to my favourite vintage fashion. If something isn’t quite right but I want to invest in a certain piece I can ask there an then to have it altered. At only 5’2”, I usually need the skirt of an otherwise perfect dress taken up a little. What’s more, the dolls also offer a service where they add pockets to your favourite dress. This has been revolutionary, being the scatterbrain that I am, it means I can stuff things I might otherwise forget into my pockets – ones that actually fit life-sized items in them! It also helps with the classic dress swish video.
So, there it is, all the reasons why I still prefer in-store shopping to shopping online. Shopping for clothes should be an experience in and of itself and boutiques go the whole 9 yards of fabric and then some to ensure that it is special for every customer that comes through their doors.
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- Tags: 40s style, alverstoke, Curvy Girls, dresses, Dresses with pockets, everybody welcome, gosport, hampshire, Midsize Fashion, Pin Up, Plussize Fashion, portsmouth, Pretty Retro, shop local, small business, vintage, vintage style