Brick Lane is one of my most beloved London haunts. I made my first visit on a trip organized by my then-college, UCA Rochester, to collect visual inspiration for projects. In the years since, however, the area has grown on me for its vibrant thrifting culture. Thrifting has many appeals, from the way it extends the lifespan of used clothes, to exposing you to a wealth of subcultures and aesthetics, to the sheer thrill of finding something you’ve never seen before.
When I can help it, I make trips to Brick Lane around twice a month. It’s a sort of ritual now, a way for me to get away from things; And it doesn’t hurt to bring a souvenir or two back with me. This trip, I made a find in the excellent Brick Lane Vintage. While it’s a little hard to find them online (what with the name being a tad generic,) it’s well worth seeking them out, as they offer a great blend of stock. And even better, they have a basement floor. I couldn’t tell you why, but there’s a certain lustre to the basement floors of Brick Lane’s thrift shops. It feels like you’re seeing something secret; tucked away from prying eyes. If you ever visit Brick Lane, the store is down the way from the Truman Brewery, and pretty hard to miss.
The memento of this trip is a pair of dark coloured work boots, branded as ‘Docksteps.’ Though they were a little scuffed and missing some colour on the toes, they were in excellent condition, and only £20.
It can be risky to buy used clothing from a brand you haven’t heard of, as used clothes are already an unknown quantity to some degree. However, when it comes to work boots, there were some marks of quality I knew to look out for. The easiest to spot is a Goodyear welt. A Goodyear welt is a means of attaching a sole to a shoe by stitching the two together with a band running across the edge of the sole. As seen above, it’s easy to recognise from the stitching being exposed. Attaching a sole via welt instead of the more common and cheap method of using glue gives a shoe added longevity. Whereas a glued sole shoe is more or less at the end of its life once the sole separates, a Goodyear welted shoe can be brought to a cobbler to have the soles replaced, meaning a welted shoe can last for years with proper care.
As I started learning about and practising proper boot care, I was amazed by how much a pair of boots can be rejuvenated with a session of brushing and treating. When brushed, a quality pair of leather boots will release its natural oils, which staves off dehydration and mends minor damage. You can watch scratches and scuffs disappear as you brush the surface of the boot. In this case, the loss of colour around the bottom of the boot was a little too severe to reverse just with brushing, so I gave it a coating of boot oil as well. I use Red Wing All Natural Boot Oil, because that’s the one I happened to buy, but shoe enthusiasts will recommend various oils and salves depending on which you ask.
I’ve ended up buying plenty of clothes from Brick Lane over the years, but my metric for figuring out which were good purchases is whether I remember where exactly I bought them from. For example, as I write this article, I’m wearing a pink-green plaid shirt that I bought from Atika, back when it was instead called Blitz, which has ended up becoming one of my favourite shirts. It’s just as much about how strongly memories adhere to the clothes as it is their quality. With any luck, these boots will end up having the same quality, but only time will tell.
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