Keeping up with fashion trends isn’t easy when you’re on a budget. Neither is dressing nice when you’re living out of a suitcase, which means that traveling on a budget can be your biggest challenge in keeping up with fashion. But don’t worry—it isn’t impossible. When you do figure out how to dress confidently without breaking your wallet, the feeling is completely gratifying. In a city as cosmopolitan as Madrid, these affordable fashion finds are hidden only steps away from the nearest metro.
In a small, quiet corner of the vibrant Malasaña neighborhood in Madrid, there’s a place called Calle Velarde, where word has it that all of the city’s best vintage thrift stores are lined up. They are only two blocks from the Bilbao metro station. Just at the end of the street is the Plaza del Dos de Mayo, the historic epicenter of Spain’s uprising against the French in the War of Independence; the street is named for a Spanish officer who led the revolt. These boutiques have their own kind of rebellious clothes, some with their own eccentric themes, some thriving despite being open only for a few years, and every one of them run by a shopkeeper that in many ways seems to match the look of their individual store. Together, all of them make up a range of affordable fashion which is reflected in their vibrant colors crowding the narrow, graffitied street, which is a little hard to find but all the more worth it.
“My store brings in all sorts of people. Older, younger, from all over.” –Arantxa Martínez de Lucas, owner of Williamsburg
One of the newer shops on Calle Velarde is Williamsburg. Just last year, Sarah Jessica Parker came here to buy a little black dress for the 2016 HBO España awards ceremony. The store is run by a stylish, curly-haired middle-aged woman, from Spain’s northern Basque region, named Arantxa Martínez de Lucas. The store’s name pays homage to New York City’s Williamsburg neighborhood, also known for its collection of vintage shops. Her store is filled with ‘50s swing dresses of all sorts of colors and patterns and an overwhelming amount of patent leather heels, contrasted with today’s denim jackets and cut-off shorts on the very same racks. Most things in the store cost around €15 ($17.46), with the most expensive items like Levi’s denim or floor-length gowns being around €25 ($29.10) to €45 ($52.39).
“My store brings in all sorts of people,” said Martínez de Lucas, who is also an actress and quite stylish. She wears an elegant midi dress decorated with maroon and brown palm leaves, accented with a gold filigree belt cinched around her waist. Her beautiful outfit isn’t any special occasion—the store’s Instagram, @williamsburgvintageclothes, features her in extravagant ensembles daily, modeling quirky outfits from their inventory. “Older, younger, from all over.”
There’s a wide range of shoppers in the store to prove her point. Older women trying on silk gowns, women in their early 20s perusing the cute polka-dot sun dresses, a diverse crowd around the mounds of sequined bags and statement-piece jewelry. Everyone in the store is looking to put a mid-century spin on their wardrobe, pieces that in this store seem an updated, trendy revival rather than a second-hand, grandma drab.
Perhaps the most distinctive vintage shop on the block is La Mona Checa, whose name means literally “the female Czech monkey”. The inside is themed like a circus (hence the “mona”), with a red-and-white striped Ringling Brothers style vintage silk tent hanging from the ceiling. In the center of it is an antique chandelier, which illuminates a huge collection of very on-trend vintage clothes, both women’s and a whole room for men’s. Whole racks are dedicated to high-waist denim shorts and mom jeans for under €25 ($29.13) patterned unisex button-up shirts usually for €15 ($17.48), all cuts and colors of dresses, cases of jewelry, tables of vintage style sunglasses, and more.
Tending the shop that day is the very cool Alejandra Sánchez, who was just about to go on a cigarette break when I walk in. Her platinum blonde hair is pulled back in a low messy bun, she wears little makeup aside from two streaks of purple eyeliner and a plain black dress. I talk to Alejandra in Spanish for a while before we realize that we both speak English.
“I was really lucky to find this job. It’s really hard for young people in Madrid,” said Sánchez, a 22-year-old Madrid native who is currently studying journalism and public relations with a specialization in fashion at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. “Everyone wants experience but no one lets you have the opportunity to get it. Most of my friends work in supermarkets or restaurants, and other clothing stores like Zara only offer a two-month contract.”
Sánchez enjoys studying journalism because of the ways it can overlap with her interest in fashion.
“[Fashion] is a way of expressing yourself, how you feel that day, you can explain it with clothes,” said Sánchez. “It’s a way of being.”
“[Fashion] is a way of being.” –Alejandra Sánchez, employee at La Mona Checa
Fashion is also something with which she feels she can improvise. “What I wear depends on the day I wake up. I love dressing in dark colors, mixing different styles,” said Sánchez. “And you don’t have to wear something for what it’s made. I love to repurpose clothes, customize with bleach, learn to sew. My best friend’s a fashion designer.”
Sánchez may have been the only shopkeeper that day that spoke fluent English, but I had a feeling many of them felt the same way she did about fashion. The clothes people wear give them the ability to express themselves, especially pieces as rich with story as vintage clothes. Through the history surrounding them and the locals running them, these stores told a story unique to the people of Madrid, or a small, unexpected corner of it.
Williamsburg; Calle Velarde, 4, 28004 Madrid; +34 647 51 39 11; 11AM – 9PM; williamsburgcloset.com; @williamsburgvintageclothes