What Bay Garnett doesn’t know about vintage isn’t worth knowing. During her 25-year career as a stylist, both at Vogue and as editor of cult Nineties fanzine Cheap Date, Garnett has worked with all the greats, from Kate Moss to Chloë Sevigny to Anita Pallenberg. As the first stylist to include vintage pieces in luxury fashion shoots, there couldn’t be a better person to ask for tips on how to combine old items with new. Nor could there be a better time to ask her, since this month marks the fifth year of Secondhand September, the Oxfam initiative set up to encourage people to buy only thrift store or vintage clothes for 30 days.

For Garnett, it’s a habit of a lifetime. “I wasn’t very good at school, and never found my ‘thing’ there. Charity shops were the first places I felt alive and engaged. Without wishing to sound grandiose, the clothes made me think of stories: they completely consumed me. And I stuck with it, because it’s what I love to do.”

Her latest storytelling venture is a collaboration with Penelope Chilvers, a designer whose sustainable ethos (her boots have genuine longevity, as anyone who owns a pair will attest) chimes with Garnett’s own. After seeing a pair of Seventies suede boots in a charity shop on London’s King’s Road, Garnett had the idea to launch a shoe collection based on retro styles. So she wrote a letter to Chilvers, explaining her idea. “Penelope got it immediately. She was unequivocally open and generous.” And so The Kings Road Collection was born, a tribute to the biker boots, cowboy boots and clogs you might have found in cult boutiques such as Biba and Granny Takes A Trip throughout the Seventies.

The Kings Road has long been a favourite stomping ground of Garnett’s. “I used to go thrift shopping with Anita Pallenberg, and I remember her finding this brilliant bag that had been stud gunned [embellished with decorative metal studs],” she says, explaining the inspiration behind the collection’s studded boots. “Then in the Eighties, I bought my first pair of cowboy boots from [Kings Road footwear mecca] R Soles.”

Needless to say, she still has them, for while Garnett isn’t a hoarder as such, her wardrobe is too full of precious finds to be disposable. Such as the banana-print top she memorably dressed Kate Moss in for a fashion shoot in the May 2003 edition of Vogue. “Would you like to see it?” she says, disappearing from my Zoom screen, then returning moments later (it’s fair to assume her closet is better organised than the average person’s). “I bought it in 2000 from a vintage shop in Paris. It’s not a designer label, but it’s a good one. I can’t believe that shoot was 20 years ago.”

A west London resident, unsurprisingly, she namechecks Portobello Market as being one of her favourite places to shop. “The market sellers really know their stuff, and source really great things. Friday morning is the best time to go.” She also recommends the Oxfams and British Red Cross charity shops in Chelsea (“great for menswear, especially designer suits”), and was impressed by the charity shop scene in Wales, where she’s recently returned from a holiday. Whichever part of the country you are thrifting in, the key, she says, is to pop in regularly, since rails are updated all the time.

As for those who are squeamish about buying second hand clothes, Garnett suggests treating the exercise as a challenge. “See it almost as a form of activism, as stepping away from normal consumerism. In terms of practical tips, think about what you want before you go. For example, you might want a shirt by The Row, but it’s £600. You can get a similar one on the men’s rail of a good charity shop, maybe by Brooks Brothers. And always go around twice. I always miss something the first time. Treat it like an archaeological dig, or as though you’re going to a place of curiosity.”

Anyone looking to buy Garnett’s own cast-offs should head to the charity shops scattered around Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove, where she gives to her local Oxfams and Octavias. “Although I recently gave them a big haul that I regret,” she says sheepishly, explaining that she provoked the ire of her 15-year-old daughter. “She said ‘I can’t believe you gave all that away’. I need to be more like Stella Tennant. I remember vividly being at her house in Scotland, and how she had a whole room full of clothes amassed from her modelling career. She kept it all for her three girls. They used to appear in pristine Helmut Lang from the Nineties. Of course, her wardrobe was much more ‘keepable’ than mine. Stella was so stylish.”

Tennant’s shock death in 2020, aged 50, will have made her clothes immeasurably more precious to her daughters, since they hold so many memories “That’s what strikes me about wardrobes – that passing and keeping things for people,” says Garnett thoughtfully. It’s a subject that comes up frequently on her podcast, This Old Thing?, which she started over lockdown: past guests include actresses Rachel Weiss, Christina Ricci and Chloë Sevigny, as well as costume designer Sandy Powell. “Everyone always has a really interesting story about their old clothes. Clothes are so much a part of us.”

Garnett’s own wardrobe is “rich with things, but a real mishmash. You’ll find gold Seventies lamé side by side with leopard and denim. In spirit, it’s a bit rock and roll, but it’s also preppy: a lot of old YSL men’s shirts from the Eighties, a lot of cashmere. I love sweaters. My wardrobe is completely functional. What I don’t have is stuff in paper bags. I’m not a collector. Everything is for wearing.”

Vintage lover as she is, she’s not such a saint as to never buy new, though she tends to avoid shopping on the high street. “Not in a judgmental way – it just wouldn’t occur to me. I did buy one oversized black Zara sweater last year, but I wore it all winter. I would never buy something and throw it away. But mainly, if it’s new it’s probably quite expensive – something to have forever. I’ve got Celine rollnecks from the Phoebe [Philo] era which I still wear, and a really good blazer from Gucci. It’s five years old, but I have clothes from 30 years ago, too.”

Even – perhaps especially – if you are an avowed high street shopper, Garnett points out how mixing vintage finds into your existing look is a quick and easy way of adding a point of interest.

“The days of being led by catwalk trends are over. Sure, they’re inspiring, but it’s about individuality and making things work for you. Instagram has been brilliant for inspiring people, although it’s come at a great cost for fashion magazines. Everybody knows what Jane Birkin looks like, whereas before it used to be more arcane. All those style references, you had to dig around for them.”

Her own Instagram feed is full of inspiration: a photo from July shows her aboard the make-up artist Charlotte Tilbury’s yacht, the caption detailing her vintage YSL bag, Missoni dress and red suede belt. As for how to add vintage into your own look, she says, “If you find a great old beaten-up belt in a charity shop, do a Seventies waisted thing with a rollneck sweater you already own. Or if you find a lurex top, it might look great with your favourite pair of jeans. It’s all about the flourishes. Put them with your everyday looks – they’re not something separate. Treat them as a new thing, because once you’ve taken them out of the context of the charity shop, they become new – at least to you.” During Secondhand September, never has the old adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” rung more true.

Bay Garnett x Penelope Chilvers is available to pre-order online here. Garnett’s new book, Style and Substance, is published on November 9th.

Do you take pleasure in buying second hand? Join the conversation in the comments section below 


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