Belgium: It’s better known for its rich chocolate, its authentic beer and its neutrality in world wars (the only thing anyone can still remember from GCSE history) than for its place on the podium of the world’s most iconic fashion havens. Hopefully I’m about to change all your perceptions on that small country next to France that doesn’t really do much. Whether it’s high fashion or high chance of your nan having worn it in the 50’s you’re after, Brussels caters for your every fashion fancy.
On a recent visit to the capital I was pleasantly overcome with frantic tourist-shopper-and-fashion-writer emotion when I asked at the tourist information centre if I could be pointed in the direction of any second hand stores and I was presented with a purpose-made map of 20 in the city. Here’s my pick of the top 3 go-to haunts for tastes at both ends of the vintage spectrum.
As a real working city, not catering specifically for tourists, Brussels avoids all the airy fairy gimmicks of the ever-gravitating-towards-mainstream second hand culture. Here you can find genuine second hand goods without the hiked up prices after someone has added a ‘shabby chic’ clothing tag and labelled the decaying, oversized jumper ‘vintage’ because of the moth holes in its sleeves.
This place is out of this world; sprawled around a picturesque square in the Palais de Justice district, overrun by a group of intimidating men desperate for any euro you will fling their way. Amongst the one-armed Barbies and the 1970’s microwaves lies a treasure trove for the money-savvy yet style-conscious shopper. Fur coats, snakeskin bags, and rusting earrings are the dish of the day here. Be wary of pickpockets and maintain your distance between yourself and the sellers as they do tend to pry. Here I picked up a sterling silver cross necklace which I’d been after for months for €8.
Top Tips: Be willing to barter. Know your precious metal hallmarks if you’re looking for jewellery; knowing a little French may help you here too.
Details: Open every day between 07.00-14.00 @ Vossenplein square near the Palais de Justice.
I met Bernard himself when I stumbled across his enchanting shoe grotto also near the Palais de Justice. A petit, chiselled man who channels Marc Jacobs and looked like a designer himself came to unlock the door for me as I hysterically shook the handle in a desperate bid to enter the country-renowned store which appeared to be closed (clearly midday is seen as a little on the early side for Belgians). The windows were decked with magazine clippings from the likes of ELLE which featured articles on Bernard and his modest store. Monsieur Gavilan specialises in shoes and accessories, and if it’s authentic cowboy boots you’re after I believe I counted over 100 pairs in his matchbox-sized kingdom. A helpful vendor, Bernard’s English is proficient enough to tell you that all handbags have 30% off, and that alone was enough to satisfy me.
Top Tips: Make sure the price you’re reading is the current price; many of the second hand stores in Brussels had sales on top of the already favourably-priced items.
Details: Open Mon-Thurs 10.00-18.00/ Fri-Sun 10.00-18.30 @ Rue Blaes 146.
Described as having ‘careful contemporary selection guaranteed’, I was interested to see what Isabelle had to offer a tourist student like me with very tight purse strings. I was immediately overwhelmed on entering the store, so much so my boyfriend could tell on my face he had to get me out of there before either a cardiac arrest occurred, or I spent all our remaining money and we couldn’t get back to the airport. With a clear penchant for French designers, Isabelle Bajart’s rails were adorned with garments from Yves Saint Laurent, Céline and Sonia Rykiel. The world’s most mesmerising YSL jacket resides here at Isabelle’s store (that is the first time I’ve ever described a jacket as mesmerising); a lurid purple blazer with accompanying shoulder pads, emblazoned with garish, military-style gold buttons. A combination I’d usually scowl at, it somehow felt so right here. It was only after perusing the racks for 30 minutes that the sales assistant enlightened me that there was an extra 50% off all marked garments, meaning said worshipped jacket, along with a camel Burberry trench and a plaid Céline box pleated skirt, could all be mine for around €35 each. Unfortunately for me all potential purchases were only available in large sizes. Despite the 42 inch chest I tried the jacket for size, repeatedly telling myself I could wear it with layers much to the amusement of the entire store. Yeah right, I sadly left empty handed.
Top Tip: The perfect haunt if you are seeking timeless designer pieces, not so much if you’re just wanting to fulfil the casually-scruffy ‘public school’ look.
Details: Open Mon-Tue 12.00-19.00/ Wed-Sat 11.00-19.00 @ Kartuizersstraat 25.