Natalie Woolman dives into this vintage treasure trove to discover why Armstrongs has been the king of kitsch in Edinburgh since 1840.
It is the attic you always wished your Gran had. The place 70s swimwear, red tailcoats and pillbox hats go to be saved, nurtured and re-sold. This is Armstrongs; Edinburgh’s oldest and finest vintage emporium. Nestling at the bottom of Victoria Street in the Grassmarket, everyone
from Kate Moss to clutches of American tourists have been lured into this clothes paradise. ‘We get students when they’re around, country gents, passers-by, loads of tourists and a lot of people who want a kilt to wear around the hills,’says deputy manager Jane Barrow.
Although the clothes are clearly organised by era and type, the store maintains its magic attic feel through its exquisite décor: a life-size acrobat flies down from the ceiling, a Buddha watches over the cashmere and a golden mummy hovers beside the stairs. The whole place feels like an eclectic time capsule ripe for the taking. The clothes themselves are clearly a handpicked selection, but when I ask how Armstrongs sources its fashion Barrow is tightlipped. ‘That’s our secret’ she says, refusing to answer even the most elusive question on the topic. However, she does tell me that cashmere, denim and accessories are their bestsellers. You can get your mitts on a chiffon scarf for as little as £2 and cashmere for around £25 so it’s no surprise that things are flying out the door.
Armstrongs opened as a second-hand clothes shop in 1840. ‘It was originally for people on the poorer side of things but, over the years, it has become more acceptable to buy second hand and it’s just got bigger and bigger.’ Nowadays, party costumes jostle for space with the genuine vintage, blurring the lines between serious and spoof and making each square foot its own fancy dress cocktail. There is no doubt in Barrow’s mind that Armstrongs should be a stop for discerning visitors to the capital. ‘They are bound to find loads of stuff that they
like. There is something for everyone, really good prices and a really good range. Plus, everything is a one-off.’
83 The Grassmarket, Edinburgh, 0131 220 5557, Mon-Thu 10am-5pm, Fri-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun12am-6pm.
Armstrongs Clerk Street
64-66 Clerk Street, Edinburgh, 0131 667 3056, Mon-Wed 10am- 5pm, Thu 10am-7pm, Fri-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun12am-6pm.