Secondhand City

Thrift stores reshape the retail scene

By Haley Houseman

Secondhand City: Prague Growing Vintage and Thrift Selections

Prague is known for its fairy tale spires and streets steeped in history, but within the city as a tourist attraction, there is another city full of students, funky bars, and a new modern Prague.  Tucked into and around old town, as well as in Prague’s hip neighborhoods such as Holesovice, Zizkov and Vinohrady, there are a wealth of those hallmarks of hipster-dom: thrift shops.

Prague Wandering Summer 2013 Issue Number 3 Thrift Shop

The Prague Fashion Museum offers a monthly rotating display by decade, auctioned off at the end of the month. http://www.laly.cz/ (photographer Jan Přerovský)

Before Mackelmore dropped his eponymous single, thrift shops have been a hallmark of cool, allowing those with smaller bank accounts to remix gentle used and forgotten fashions.  There’s a hierarchy within secondhand shops- thrift shops run on donations and tend to have bottom of the barrel prices and a selection that requires work to rummage through.  The next level up are secondhand and consignment shops, who buy their stock (often from returning clientele or abroad) and sort out the ripped or stained pieces, with a greater range of prices.  Above these are vintage and high-end consignment, which focus on curated selections of good quality and high-end designer pieces.  In these stores there is far less hunting through piles, but the prices reflect how desirable the unique pieces are.  If you’re looking for a parachute silk blouse or a giant fur hat, or maybe just the perfect pair of leather shorts, the best place to look is in the forgotten corners.

Prague has a selection of great second hand from across the spectrum, visited frequently for their prices and variety.  In Czech, the secondhand store run for profit is called a sekáč, to distinguish it from its charity based counterparts.  Vintage clothing, to be truly vintage, must be at least twenty years old. The city appears to have secondhand shops on every corner, but it takes some legwork to find the treasure troves that would be long since picked over in vintage and thrifting capitals like New York and Paris.  Some sekáče offer great finds if you are willing to dig around and spend some time.  The rewards, in the form of a black silk dress or the perfect summer outfit, will make the pursuit worthwhile.  The thrift stores have even more selection; though often retain mostly high street labels and nondescript tee-shirts.  There are secondhand stores dealing in housewares and furniture, kids clothing, knick-knacks and the bizarre.  If you’re looking for a particular special item, or even nothing in particular except a bit of inspiration, Prague’s more curated secondhand can show you a whole new side of a city that is often characterized as less than contemporarily fashionable.

The city has a few of the traditional nonprofit thrift stores common particularly in the United States.  One is the chain of stores run by Domov Sue Ryder, which has various locations around the city.  Another newer store is the Prague Thrift Store, which was founded in 2010 by Barbara Szende and her husband Thomas, after they moved to Prague in 2005 from Florida, though both are native Hungarians.“We decided that we really enjoyed our new home and wanted to do something to give back to the community, and a thrift shop idea came to us having seen how effective they are in the US,” Szende said in an email interview. Proceeds from Prague Thrift Shop support a shelter for single and abused mothers in Kladno, with donations of goods, funds and labor. Additionally, the store supports various other charitable causes such as IWAP (International Woman’s Association of Prague) on fundraising projects. The store accepts donations of clothes, furniture and other housewares; those familiar with such institutions will be glad to make space in their closets for the items they will pick up exploring the racks of clothes and walls of accessories across Prague.

Aside from the charitable storefronts, other secondhand chains dot the city streets, most notably Textile House, which boast huge sales in which merchandise is reduce to as low as 20kc (about $1) a piece.  While primarily featuring clothing second hand from more recent seasons, gems can be found.  From simple vintage slips and understated Pendleton skirts to broken down professors blazers and brown leather dress shoes, Textile House can offer a wide selection for low prices.

Says Thomas Szende of the secondhand scene, “we noticed [secondhand stores] expanded their offerings, things they didn’t carry before like accessories, bags, shoes.”   The secondhand stores of Prague are gradually changing to reflect their growing base of customers, offering more and increasing their hours, bridging the gap between high-end consignment and charitable donations. In Szende’s opinion, “before, second hand goods had a very low perception in the local market.”  He notes that changes have come in the clientele attracted as well, saying, “Many of our customers are middle and upper middle class.”

For a bit more money, you can hunt with a guarantee to find something special. Prague has selection of immaculately stocked shops that specialize in vintage finds, both clothing and accessories.  The Prague Fashion Museum, formerly known as Laly, houses a decade-by-decade display of classic vintage that is auctioned off on a monthly basis.  Aside from the exhibit, the storefront houses selected vintage clothing and a great selection of accessories and jewelry to check out.  It’s hard to walk away from the beautiful 1920’s hats and sunglasses featured.  You may fall in love with a turban or a silk scarf, especially when the colorful displays of dresses are more expensive.

Maybe the best-curated vintage in the city is Bohemian Retro, in Zizkov, which has just shifted to a larger space.  The clothes are mostly sourced locally with a few imported and recycled pieces.  Most notable is the selection of pins, jewelry and other accessories, unrivaled in Prague.  It is impossible to leave the jam-packed space without a perfect piece or three.  The store has a wide selection of vintage lingerie and dresses, in styles from peasant blouses to gold lame dresses.  Men may find a better fit at  nearby store Fifty-Fifty, with a solid selection of both men and women’s clothing, squeezed into a small but deceptive storefront.  Featuring fifty percent off sales on Fridays and a mustached shopping bag, the store is carving out a niche for itself in the vintage market.  Keep your eye out for amazing leather pieces, male and female, along with great bags.

There are also a few places in Prague that combine the old with the new.  House of Ela/ Black Fox is shoebox sized but would feel right at home in Brooklyn or Monmarte, where vintage and indie designers often find themselves cohabitating.  High waisted and studded, wildly patterned, colored or laser cut, the items in the store stand out from the usual in Czech fashion.  This combination of emerging design and old world style is an interesting offshoot of the community, which appears to be going in a number of different directions.

While secondhand shopping already has a strong hold on Prague, the selection of stores is only growing.  From the stores that mix the new with the old, to ones that only stock clothes your grandmother would be proud of, the city is carving out a place as a secondhand destination.  Expats and travelers familiar to the charitable thrift store institution that have become so popular elsewhere can be glad for the recent appearance of new types of stores such as the Prague Thrift Store or Sue Ryder.  Make space in your closet for charity, and indulge the desire to rummage through mysterious piles of fabric.  The secondhand city is waiting for you with the perfect piece to pull together your wardrobe.

Prague Thrift Store                                 Fifty-Fifty
Šumavská 1050/29                                 Slezska 28

Domov Sue Ryder                                  Bohemian Retro
Various locations                                   Chvalova 8

Textile House                                          Prague Fashion Museum
Various locations                                   Štupartská 641/3

Senior Bazaar                                          House of Ela/ Black Fox
Betlémská 5 110 00                               Školská 7

Haley Houseman is in the NYU Gallatin Class of 2013. Her hometown is Beverley, Massachusetts.

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Categories: Culture, Summer 2013 Issue Number 3

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

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One Comment on “Secondhand City”

  1. Michel Brierley
    September 18, 2013 at 7:12 am #

    You missed a super second hand shop in Mala Strana- Circle Trading (Vlašská 13). Run by the delightful Renata Retrova, they carry a great range of second hand and new designer labels. Well worth a look. She also has a cool little art gallery on Prokopská 3.

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