Is combing through rack after rack of old clothes surrounded by a hundred people not everyone’s vision of a relaxing weekend afternoon? It clearly was for most of the shoppers at the Pimp My Vintage market I attended at The Social Hub Florence on one of my final study-abroad Sundays in town. Packs of eager vintage lovers swarmed the dimly lit stands. ‘70s disco and indie hits set the tone, but the cozy sweaters, worn leather jackets, statement skirts, sought-after denim and antique jewelry were what really made the mood: swanky, yet inviting, like your trendy grandma’s walk-in closet.
“The future is vintage,” says Marco Lenzi, the founder of Pimp My Vintage, an itinerant market that has hosted pop-ups for Florence’s secondhand savants since 2017, experimenting with clever seasonal or stylistic themes at each new event (think “Endless Summer”, Christmas merriment and swing dancing-themed editions). A founding principle of the organization, which is preparing for its next fair on May 28 at Molo Firenze, along lungarno Colombo, is that vintage shopping should bring people together.
This community-based philosophy often starts with the venues themselves. Lenzi is always on the hunt for new and unconventional spaces to host his markets, like private houses, B&Bs, clubs, festivals, restaurants, sumptuous hotel lobbies or hidden rooms, streets and piazze, and more.
“The social aspect of bringing people together has always been a major focus,” Marco says, referring to both the passionate vintage curators and the people that attend. He values the chance to spotlight shop owners and vendors, while giving vintage fiends an experience that will stimulate their curiosity and satisfy their fashion fix in a sustainable way.
Pimp My Vintage’s community ethos surely gives it an edge in the local scene. For a secondhand shopping lover like me, the search for the best vintage experience in Florence, which I threw myself into for four months, was much like the hunt for the LBD you can style for any occasion or the perfect pair of distressed Levi’s. Some shops were a bit too big or too small. Others were out of my price range, or the style just wasn’t my taste. I spent most of my semester searching for the shop or experience that was just right, and found it at Pimp My Vintage.
The local scene
People’s preferences vary and Pimp My Vintage’s pop-up style is just one part of the local landscape, which offers a mostly balanced mix of designer boutiques, highly curated or “concept” shops, and free-for-all markets. With a bit of digging, any vintage lover will find their perfect fit.
Familiar labels like Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Fendi and Versace line the racks at top-tier designer vintage boutiques, like Desii Vintage. The velvet, embroidered and beaded dresses that look as if they belong in a museum are carefully hung in the display section to flaunt the owner’s prestige. Next to those are firmly pressed taffeta dresses in bright colors from the 1950s alongside funky floral shirts from the 1960s. Just looking at the historical pieces is inspiring, even if you don’t end up adding them to your personal collection.
The highly curated vintage shops, meanwhile, may not always have the high profile names, but what they do have is a shop owner who’s done the “dirty work” for the fashion lover, which is usually reflected in the price tags. Curated shops often have themed collections for highly sought-after “aesthetics,” which are always fun to poke around in. The “cottage core” section features white and cream ruffled blouses, crocheted sweaters, various fruit and floral-themed patterns and flowy silhouettes, while an “academia”-themed area vaunts plaid trousers, cable-knit sweaters, loafers and trench coats. Finding one-of-a-kind pieces at these vintage shops happens almost effortlessly because they are specific with their collection and offered styles.
Markets are the most work for the shopper, so they commonly have better deals, even for name-brand garments and items. Digging elbow-deep in mountains of clothes and scouring through racks of hangers and hangers while squished between two people you have never seen before to unearth one diamond in the rough is what makes the experience different from a well-ordered shop. At markets like Pimp My Vintage, which still requires some level of “being in the loop” to attend, despite its longevity and popularity, there’s an unspoken camaraderie among the shoppers. At the same time, it’s every person for themselves. Face-offs for the best garments aren’t unheard of, which sprinkles some competitive spirit in the air.
It’s all friendly, anyway. When asked about the mission of Pimp My Vintage, Lenzi explains that he wanted to create events “where people could have a different and special experience, finding unique objects and garments, but also and above all experimenting with a new dimension: interaction with people, discovering new spaces and experiencing life.”
The Pimp appeal
Marco may be the face of the operation, but he’s far from a one-man act. He assembles many individual vintage shop owners to host one huge pop-up trunk show together. These aren’t just hobbyists emptying their closets, either; the selection is terrific and high quality, with the thrifty feel of a flea market.
It’s a space for vintage lovers to be exposed to 15 or more shops at a time; a supportive model for small business owners that brings them to clientele they might not otherwise reach. “Pimp My Vintage coordinates the event and all of us have a designated space to display our collection and interact with shoppers,” says Velia Tinnirello, owner of Maison Velia. Flanking her at the fall market I attended were Maria Cool, Still Nuovo, Matta Vintage and more, whose owners all make regular appearances at Pimp My Vintage pop-ups, giving them more opportunities to share their passion.
Peeking over one of the clothing racks after I chat with Velia, I spot two girls admiring a garment. They appear to be best friends, possibly bonded over their mutual love for fashion. The taller one, wondering if she should purchase the bright pink blazer, asks for her friend’s opinion.
“Just go for it! That is so your style, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” the friend replies.
And that may be what it’s all about, as Marco reminds me: “Vintage is always in fashion,” he says. “Above all, it means returning to timeless beauty, to the quality of the materials, to the handmade, and to a garment that is born to last.”