Vintage Clothing Nottingham
Digger talks to Celia at Nottingham-based Celia's Vintage
Clothing. This business has been established for over thirty
years. Celia has seen trends come and go in the 'antiques and
retro world' but one trend that has consistently &
steadily been on the increase is that for quality vintage
clothing and accessories.
Today, this demand for authentic and
genuine vintage clothes and accessories is bigger than ever
and with Celia's brand of expertise and experience, Celia's
Vintage Clothing has a strong reputation and impressive
Digger: Can you please tell us a little bit about the
background to Celia's Vintage Clothing?
We started in 1980, which is now over thirty years ago. My
mother and I used to go round to antique fairs and we thought
"Well, we could have a go at this." So we dived in,
What had you been doing before?
I was a nurse for ten years and went to London and to
Australia. I got very disillusioned and that is it really.
So this went very well and we did bric-a-brac and furniture.
And mother bought a bit of linen, then we bought a collarless shirt and before we knew it we were doing clothing and linen.
So we moved into an antiques centre in Nottingham that had
opened the previous year. We had a tiny, weenie section in
there, selling clothing and linen. We did the fairs too.
Gradually, we got bigger and bigger and had a whole floor of
the antiques centre and then we moved into our own shop on
Derby Road. Then we moved back, because the antiques centre
closed and split into two and we had half the antiques centre
which was three floors plus a flat. At the same time, probably
1999, we started doing fancy dress. So we did that up until
this year and we decided that it was all getting too much -
rents went up and overheads went up and it was getting hard
work. So I made a decision. I've got brilliant staff, lovely
girls who work for me and we had great customers and they
loved it but the overheads were just spiralling. So we were
going to close, go on The Internet and do fairs, just my
brother and I. And the vintage customers particularly were
horrified and up in arms. "Celia's closing, have you
heard? Celia's closing." So it's just extraordinary how
things happen. A very nice little florists shop just five
doors up had closed - a pretty little Victorian shop and we
thought "Well, let's give it a go." It seemed a
shame to give up those thirty years, so, to cut a long story
short - we downsized and opened there about five weeks ago,
just doing vintage and no more hire.
And no fancy dress?
No fancy dress. And all those customers are disappointed too
because we've got a brilliant name with fancy dress. But there
There are quite a few big fancy dress players on The Internet
There are, and in fact in our shopping centre we've just heard
there's a huge shop opening in the Victoria centre doing fancy
dress so we breathed another sigh of relief and said
"Thank God we're not doing that." So we're really
feeling quite positive about it all.
Yes. And what a track record Celia, thirty years.
This is our 31st year and in fact a lady came in the other day
and she said "My husband bought his dinner suit from you
when he was eighteen and now he's fifty." Can you imagine
how old that made me feel?
(Laughs) Now he's retiring!
I get those moments too Celia. I was talking to someone the
other days about my first Two-Tone Tonic suits and then I
realised it was forty years ago that I bought them. It really
does seem like yesterday.
It's scary isn't it? Because you feel just the same in your
head but the body doesn't work quite as well as it used to.
No. So you must have seen lots of changes over that time.
Vintage and retro is very popular these days. Have you noticed
it increasing in popularity since you started?
Well, when I first started there was no such word as retro
really. And probably not even vintage actually, thinking back.
It was just antique clothing and I think people were really
into it or else they just thought it was rubbish.
One of my clients does retro phones and radios and furniture
and they buy them up in poor condition and restore and
refurbish them. G-Plan and all that sort of thing. And when
their customers go round with their parents they often get
older people saying "I used to have one of those. I threw
it away because it was rubbish." And now, of course,
people appreciate it for what it is. What a shame.
Absolutely. I think things have just evolved as I've gone on
and decades prior have just come in. I can remember turning
down seventies big-collared frilly shirts and thinking
"Nobody's ever going to buy that." And then, of
course, they did. Now they're wearing eighties and to the
youngsters eighties is what they call retro. So it's evolved,
but quite honestly I think when people say vintage or retro
that's not what we're talking about. To me it's Victorian,
twenties, thirties, forties, fifties. I'm not really very keen
on the eighties and the nineties.
No and I suppose that's human nature. I'm not saying that you
remember the twenties and thirties but when you were growing
up, like me, there were lots of references to that period and
that's what you're comfortable with, I suppose.
And it is a moving target, of course.
Yes, absolutely and I'm glad I'm not starting out on it now.
When I started you could find more and there was more of it
about but now it does get hard to find nice really old pieces.
I do tend to hand pick things and I'm not one of these people
who buy things by weight or in bales. I cherry-pick and
especially now we've got this smaller shop I can concentrate
on it and do what I love doing and find the lovely pieces.
Like the other day, I found some amazing utility trousers -
three pairs and a waistcoat with their original labels and
unworn. So those are the kind of quality things I want to do
which don't necessarily perhaps appeal to students. Students
are more into the Aran jumpers and tartan skirts and things.
So you've got back to basics.
I've gone back to what I've always loved and what people have
always known me for.
They know I'm fussy and I only buy nice things and present
Is there a vintage thing going on in Nottingham with the lace?
Not really, David. People often say that but I think a lot of
it was machine made and in fact the little lace museums and
lace shops have all closed down - all the lace factories have
Yes, the same here in Northampton with all the shoe and boot
factories. You wouldn't know that this was once the world
centre of the footwear industry.
No, it's the same thing, isn't it? Everything's gone and made
abroad cheaply I suppose now.
I think we're got one or two hanging on here manufacturing on
a very small scale.
Celia: Yes. I think when there was the Royal wedding that made
lace more popular again.
Who are your customers, where are they coming from and what
sort of feedback and comments are you getting from clients? It
sounds as though they were so supportive they actually stopped
you from closing down!
(Both laugh) They did, they did.
That can't be bad.
It can't. Well, a huge variety. Re-enactors and obviously the
forties is a big thing and we've got a lot of customers who
love the forties.
It seems to be the biggest decade in terms of popularity,
It does, yes. Museums - I've got somebody coming at the end of
the month and they're doing a utility exhibition next year so
he's looking for utility items.
TV and Film?
A little bit, because they tend to want such specific things
or then they have them made. Our local playhouse has been a
good customer over the years although not so much recently
with the recession. Students, collectors, people who just want
to have a nice coat that's different and not everybody's going
to have the same thing. So quite a broad spectrum. Oh, we have
a Japanese dealer who comes about every three months because
Japan likes the English labels - the Churches, the Burberry's
and so on. He comes specially and they base themselves in
London and then travel around to the particular people they
want to see.
I used to work for the Japanese for twelve years actually.
They're very polite aren't they?
They are very polite but not that friendly - a bit reserved. I
was lucky enough to go over to Japan on a business trip and
they are very well behaved - pedestrians wait when they
should, cars stop when they should, there's no litter or
graffiti. The only time I felt at all under threat in the city
was in a district
where all the westerners were.
That says it all doesn't it?
Digger: Vintage is environmentally-friendly and good value as
well as proven to be well-made...
...It's hard-wearing, long-lasting and a good investment. Why
buy new when they can buy retro?
Like the trousers I just mentioned or a pair of shoes that
will be beautifully-made. The tweed jackets - you can't wear
them out if you tried, so yes it is recycling in a good way.
And very good value.
Yes, we've got a Harris tweed 3-piece suit in at the moment
and it's £350. Someone came in the other day and said you'd
pay thousands to have that made and there's so few places that
make Harris tweed now. So yes, although things can seem
expensive I think people have got to understand vintage. A lot
of people might come in who don't understand it and think
"It's just second-hand." But people have to
understand vintage and they're the ones that really appreciate
I suppose the numerous antiques programmes and nostalgic
programmes do a
lot to promote vintage too so that people are becoming more
familiar with vintage. People like Katherine Higgins who is a
big proponent of vintage.
Is she the one that is sometimes on Antiques Roadshow?
Yes, with lots of bright makeup and usually wearing fifties or
Yes, I know her.
items tend to be the most sought after and the biggest sellers
That's a tricky one, because there tends to be such a huge
range of stock - as I've said from the 1940s, from the 1950s
we have the pretty cotton dresses with the full skirts and the
suits. Men's things are always more difficult to find because
men's clothes get worn out and shabby.
Is there an issue with people's size these days compared to
back in the day?
Yes, I think people were smaller in those days. The shoes are
small and things like tailcoats are small. We have a big
demand for top hats and it's really difficult finding top hats
in a good size. You can have a beautiful top hat but if it's
only 6 7/8ths then it's not worth a penny but if it's a big
size then you're talking about big money.
They'll never fit me - I've got a huge head.
We had one the other day which was 7 3/8ths and that's big for
a vintage top hat. So they're popular. Pretty blouses - all
sorts of things.
I imagine no two days are the same?
No, that's the beauty of it. It's lovely and you never know
who's going to come in or what's going to be brought into you.
That's one advantage of having your own shop. People know
you're there and it gives you a focus... and they realise you know what you're on about.
it's just somebody on the end of a phone or in a paper that's
not the case - they
feel more secure talking to you. So we buy from the public or
do things sale and return.
Are you still doing the fairs?
No. What I'm going to do now, because we've got a very nice
website, we're hoping to build the website up. These days,
with things being more difficult, you've got to have a few
strings to your bow so our aim is the shop, the website and we
do put a few things on eBay.
The dreaded eBay!
I know, I hate it but I just sold some old counters from our
shop and we got a good price for them.
I joined eBay back in 1998 and it does tend to devalue a lot of
expects something for nothing on eBay.
That's true. But there's nothing like a shop where they can
come and see it. I wouldn't want to buy vintage clothes on
eBay, because one person's description isn't the same as
another's and they may say good condition and it's dirty and
smelly. So I don't think you can beat having a proper shop.
And the other thing I'm doing is the big antique fair at
Newark where I did
my first fair for many years and I stood there. I'm hoping
to build-up a clientele there where I can say we've got a shop
And obviously you can network with other people there too.
Yes you can. But that's one thing with the shop - you get a
bit insular and don't know what's going on in the big wide
Do you do Twinwood Festival?
No, I am a bit Nottingham-centric and that's why, now I've got
the smaller shop, I'm hoping to travel a bit more. I've heard
Digger: It's at Bedford so it's not a million miles away. A
three-day event with vintage hats, clothes, dancing shoes,
I don't want to stand or get into doing fairs in a big way
because having the shop is enough, really.
It's a weekend event and it was in September. A lot of the
people you'd recognise were there. Mainly it's forties and
then fifties rock and roll and the great thing is that people
dress up. It's fantastic.
They do have a whale of a time, don't they? All of my forties
customers have such fun.
It's a way of life not just an interest.
It's ironic that one of the darkest times in our history is
also one of the ones that we hark back to so much.
That's true. I hadn't thought about that. It's nostalgia for
us, isn't it?
Yes, we only remember the good stuff - we don't remember the
dropping of the bombs. We remember the music, the fashions and
the good spirit.
I always think that our parents' generation were a special
generation that went through that war and when they've all
gone it will be a sad time because they were special, coping
with it all and keeping cheerful.
Hopefully that Britishness is still there.
I hope so.
Digger: What impact has The Internet on what you do? A huge
one, I suppose?
I don't think so with the vintage. With vintage I
don't think it has because there's only going to be one lovely 1940s
nipped-in jacket in such-and-such a colour so I wouldn't say
that The Internet has
been a big thing for us.
That's unusual because most people I speak to, and obviously
I'm speaking to various retro-related business, would say things have
changed because they've now got a big international audience.
Yes, I suppose from that point of view. I was thinking more in
terms of the competition. Yes, with our website we had a lady who saw
us when she was in Australia and came over here to buy a dress because she'd
seen it on the website.
Digger: The man in Japan probably found you through The Net as well.
Probably yes. That's why it is such a good thing having a
website, because you are only going to have so many people walking into
the shop whereas anyone can look at the website.
Where do you see the future for Celia's Vintage Clothing and
where would you like to be with it?
I hope that we can keep this lovely shop going, have more
customers and build up this lovely stock, do the website and
get that better and (laughs) me get better at photographs and
things. I haven't got huge ambitions as I'm coming to the end
of my working life, but I can see myself doing this for a good
few years but enjoying it now.
That is a big ambition I would say. Some people would say
'living the dream' now that you've got back to basics and are
enjoying yourself once more.
I never thought when I started "I'll have a shop and sell
vintage clothing and fancy dress." The whole thing evolved
from the circumstances, even down to getting this last little shop.
At the time it was really good but it came to a natural end so
now I'm quite happy again. But this is much less stressful
running a little shop.
A client of mine who sells jukeboxes downsized and he's really happy.
He's getting just enough business and he's back maintaining
the jukeboxes which he's not done for a long time. He'd
ended up being the frontman rather than the guy who fixes
stuff which is where he started. He's making a living in a
recession and you can't complain about that.
No you can't. I suppose that's another good thing with my business.
As I've been around for so long - I wouldn't like to be
starting now, I think that would be very hard. Hopefully I'm
well established now and can keep going a bit longer.
Celia, it's been great and thank you for that. A fascinating and fun
story and nice to hear that your passion for vintage has
worked out for you.
Women's Vintage, Victorian - 1920s, 1930s - 1940s,
1950s - 1960s, 1970s - 1980s, Lingerie, Stockings Men's
Vintage, Accessories, Childrenswear, Haberdashery,
Clothing was established in 1980, from small
beginnings in Nottingham's antique centre on Derby
Road, selling collarless shirts, Victorian underwear,
Our customer base is large and varied, from students to
collectors, museums to dress designers, re-enactors to
theatres Many of our customers are fiercely loyal
and return to us time and again for that reliable
service and unique one off item.
Celia's Fancy Dress started in 1999, with 2 floors of
high quality costumes to hire. We also sell a
large range of new accessories.
Our strength is in the quality of both departments.
Everything is hand picked, clean, and well presented.
Our knowledgeable staff offer a first rate old fashioned
service, and we bend over backwards to help and advise.
Telephone: 0115 9473036
Celia's Vintage Clothing