Before we talk about what the vintage shopping experience in Florence is, we should talk about what it isn’t. Bargain-savvy shoppers who have trawled for secondhand gold in bigger North American cities — or even European cities with a decent base of low-cost options, like Amsterdam or Barcelona — will likely feel the sweet sting of sticker shock a few times during their treasure-hunting excursions in this northern Italian city.
Prices trend higher across the board at vintage boutiques, even for that seemingly run-of-the-mill poly dress from the ‘70s. In short, if you’re looking to stuff a second suitcase on the cheap, Florence is not the vintage destination for you.
So, why bother? Let me toss out a few names: Gucci, Valentino, Ferragamo and Missoni — all available for well under what you’d pay new at the department store (and, in some cases, available for not that much more than the mundane stuff mentioned above).
Florence is flush with Italian designer vintage, along with a strong streak of British heritage brands (as evidenced by the sheer number of Barbour jackets lining the shelves of seemingly every vintage store in town).
Other towns have their surplus stores and by-the-pounds. But Florence is the place to shop for that one killer piece you’ll collect dozens of compliments on over the years – to which you can respond, ‘Oh, it’s vintage, from Florence,’ ideally while delivering a hair flip and a casual European shrug.
Here are my picks on where to shop for vintage in Florence.
THE BEST OF THE BEST
Start your journey at this absolutely enormous shop in the northern part of the city core. Melrose is made up of a warrenlike series of rooms, each styled with vintage furniture and grouped loosely by theme: Military pieces, wool coats, retro sportswear. There’s a sizeable selection for men and women, with plenty of Levi’s and Barbour options, and a few Valentino and Versace pieces spotted in the mix. Those on a time crunch can hit up their second location close to Santa Maria Novella train station. Via de' Ginori, 18; Via Largo Alinari, 8
Art&Fashion vintage & low cost
Look past the seemingly random mishmash of objects (think: blingy costume jewellery, kitschy figurines) in the front room of this seemingly-tiny shop — the place is a cave of wonders. Art&Fashion is a maze-like shop built in what must have once been an apartment (dig the sink and bunk bed used as display furniture), rammed with tchotchkes, clothing and accessories. It takes a little digging to strike gold, but when you do, it’ll be at one of the cheapest price points in town (think glittery polka-dot ‘80s pumps at 14 euro, or a trendy basket bag for 23 Euro). If you’re lucky, the owner’s dog, Emma, will be around to solicit belly rubs. Via S. Zanobi, 37r
If I were independently wealthy, I’d just hang out in this purple-walled boutique, waiting for new gems to be put out on the floor. Marie Antoinette deals in lightly-loved designer wares; Valentino, Chloe, Margiela and Versace are all frequent guests. But not everything on display is from a boldface name: I had to drag myself away from a brilliant leather bag, by local designer Michele Chioccioli, shaped like a white castle turret. The shop is run by stylists, and it shows: The place is organized just so, allowing bold colours and sumptuous fabrics to leap at your eye from the racks. Via della Spada, 38r
Remember that Brit influence I mentioned earlier? That’s on full display (with much pomp and circumstance) in this all-U.K. boutique, which comes packed with all the tweed jackets, plaid wool scarves, and demure blouses of your Downton Abbey dreams. This being Florence, there’s also a little Loro Piana and Gucci mixed in with the Burberry and Barbour. Bonus: Oasis on the stereo. Via dei Palchetti, 5-5a
Follow the gorgeously-styled display windows down an archway into a wide-open courtyard, and you’ll find this airy, two-floor shop. Both designer and no-name pieces are well-represented, and you might score a deal if your negotiating skills are keen – your humble writer walked away with a pair of patent Charlotte Olympia cat boots for 80 euro. Via dei Fossi, 7r
The cathedral-like ceilings in this two-floor shop are striking enough – never mind the shelves and racks of Gucci and Missoni neckties and silk scarves. Head upstairs (past another whack of Barbour jackets) for racks of vintage U.S. sports jackets and made-in-Italia soccer jerseys. Borgo degli Albizi, 83
Just across the street from Il Corte’s hidden courtyard, Epoca is a well-rounded vintage boutique with a selection of eyewear and bags (both designer and non-designer) on top of the clothing. It’s a sizeable spot that manages to ride the line between being curated and well-stocked, making for a breezy shopping experience. Via dei Fossi, 6
THE BEST OF THE REST
You get what you pay for at this tiny hole-in-the-wall, which boasts some of the most reasonable prices in town – most pieces, which tend toward ‘80s and ‘90s streetwear, are just 10 or 15 euro. The tiny footprint and lower price point means the range and quality drops, but if you stop in on the right day, you just might score yourself a deal. Via S. Gallo, 23
This slightly-dingy shop, located down an alleyway in the Oltrarno district, isn’t much for atmosphere. Men’s and women’s clothing, in a mix of fabrics, styles and overall quality, are crammed onto racks under flourescent lights. The upside is that given enough patience, you’ll likely find a well-fitting staple piece – particularly when it comes to wool coats, which Stondo has in spades. Borgo della Stella, 7
Want to browse Florence's vintage wares? G Adventures can get you there. Check out our small group tours to Italy here.