Hunt for designer handbags in London’s thrift shops

Mary Portas, in her TV show Queen of Charity Shops, advised us canny shoppers that you might discover a designer handbag in a London charity shop, as long as you headed for the right postcodes.  With this top tip being shared 8 years ago, I wondered if these bags were being snapped up by the growing number of vintage shop owners.

I got to thinking, is it possible to find a preloved designer handbag in a London thrift store, or as we like to call them in the UK, vintage clothing shop?  I headed to East End’s Brick Lane to begin my search – just for the basic reason of geography – there are over 5 vintage or second hand shops within 15 minutes’ walk of each other.

I enrolled my teenage niece who can’t get enough of all things vintage, and went on the hunt for a potential hidden source of vintage designer handbags. We started our search in Hunky Dory and finished up at Blitz via Absolute Vintage also on Hanbury Street, Rokit and The Vintage Store.

Whilst small, one could say Hunky Dory is perfectly formed.  You can tell the guys behind this store take a lot of care on selecting their clothing range.  The handbags on the back wall won’t blow you away for designer names, however, you can tell the bags have been chosen for a reason.  You can also find Hunky Dory on etsy or if you are south of the river, like me, in Brixton Village.

Absolute Vintage is in the process of moving home from one side of Hanbury Street to the other – in fact directly opposite.  This is the only store that had a display of designer handbags, locked in a glass case in the middle of the store.  Think black and think Chanel. However, if you are keeping to a budget but fancy something retro, how about an 1970s travel tote?

Absolute Vintage flight tote bags
1970s original tote bag @Absolute Vintage

Whilst AV are moving locations, you can view some of their stock around the corner at their fellow vintage shop, Blondie, on Commercial Street.  The locked display case of their most cherished bags is still available.

Vintage clothing, we did learn, is a broad term used by some of the shops on Brick Lane. Vintags seems to cover items from varying ages (are the styles from 1980s really vintage?)  Rokit is all about the retro vibe and wouldn’t be your destination for a designer handbag.  But if you fancy some recycling in vintage prints and fabrics, this could the place for you.

retro tote bag @ Rokit.jpeg
Recycling of fabrics from tops and trousers for a retro tote bag, found @ Rokit, Brick Lane

The Vintage Store didn’t seem to have much in the way of bags on the day I visited but with such shops, it is the luck of the draw.  The stock supply is erratic and who knows on a return visit I might be spoilt for choice.  However, if you do like a bit of retro to your sports or casual wear, do pop in.

Finally, Blitz, the largest store by far, spread over two floors; I thought this might be the gem I was looking for.  Unfortunately, the bags I don’t think are a product range of interest for the guys that run this shop.  Sharing the display with the footwear, you will need to have dig around all four corners of the basement.  I did get the impression this is where Coach handbags go to die.

Coach bag thrift shopping
Bags and shoes, downstairs at Blitz on Brick Lane

My conclusion based on my shopping experience along Brick Lane is that very few of the shops will have designer handbags.  Whatever you find, do expect to breath some life into the bags as they will require a bit of TLC.  You may want to end up sending your purchase away to somewhere like The Handbag Clinic for a bit of restoration (think around a budget of £200 for a full exterior leather make over including handles).

Or you may find that just shopping online at one of the many second hand designer shops such as Vestiaire Collective or Rewind Vintage is the easier way to shop.  Either way, happy hunting!

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