Last week my husband and I went on a ‘mini break’ to Birmingham. Well he had to work but I used it as an excuse to take a trip down memory lane and try to reacquaint myself with the city I knew twenty years ago. A lot has changed since I studied in Birmingham in the early nineties and there were quite a few times on my trip when I completely lost my bearings. I guess Brum isn’t any different to any city centre that has undergone a massive transformation over the past 15 years. From having lived in the area for a long time I know both Bath and Bristol have altered dramatically. It’s just that having not been to Birmingham for so long I felt like a time traveller stepping out of my nineties cocoon. For example the new library is an amazing space. Opening in September it has been built by Bath-based Buro Happold and, for anyone stepping out of their Wellsian time machine, it is an awesome sight:
But aside from the 21st century architectural wonders and shiny new high street stores I actually wanted to explore the more outdated side of Brum. With this in mind I headed towards the Oasis store on Corporation Street. This is definitely not the chain store but a more underground (literally) and alternative fashion store. Having frequented this shop on many an occasion as a student I felt rather awkward as a 40-something woman browsing the independent clothing boutiques selling both first-hand and second-hand clothing, as well as music, posters and a smattering of New Age clothing and incense (that bit hasn’t changed).
Next door used to be the huge Virgin Records store where I would often hang out. How times have changed as it’s now a British Heart Foundation furniture and electrical shop:
I was pleased to see, though, that other places hadn’t changed. Beyond the stunning exterior of Selfridges and the new-look Bull Ring there is the Birmingham Rag Market. Oh happy days! I really don’t think this indoor market has changed since 1990 except that I remember there were more second-hand stalls then. I still have the beautiful white lace blouse I bought in my first year at Uni, which I then went onto wear for my graduation. It is very delicate but still wearable (although not for me as my body has changed from the 18 year old it once was. Just another outfit to save for my girls…)
There are some great haberdashery stalls both inside and and outside the market and I did pick up some festive ribbon for Christmas presents for a very cheap rate.
Beyond the Bull Ring is an area of central Birmingham that has not changed or, it appears, been given the beauty treatment. Digbeth, however, is home to some great vintage stores which I wish had been around in my student days. First off is Cow. Inside the warehouse-style building are rails of second-hand clothing and accessories. The Birmingham branch is just one of four stores and I enjoyed browsing the rails. At the moment I am searching for some denim dungarees to wear to our annual 80’s themed party at New Year. While I couldn’t find any there was enough denim and plaid in the store to remind me of my Grunge days (!)
Just beyond Cow is the Custard Factory, an arts and shopping complex located in the old Bird’s factory. There are a couple of vintage stores here (one was closed) plus a vintage hairdressers which (frustratingly) I couldn’t find an entrance to. I did, however, stumble across Urban Village, a shop specialising in 60s and 70s clothing. From what I could see on the rails some items were original and others were copies. There was a definited Mod vibe to this shop and I wish I had had the guts to ask to take the photo of two young women dressed in 40s/50s clothing who looked so at home in the setting.
While this is only a smattering of second-hand shopping in Birmingham it was enough to satisfy my feeling of nostalgia. It also made me realise that what I look for in second-hand shops nowadays is rather different to what I sought out twenty years ago. Although I think as many of my clothes are from charity shops now as they were in the 90s (some I’m still wearing), the hemlines are definitely longer.