The Second Time's a Charm
Second hand fashion in Prague

second hand clothingWalking into a second-hand store is like going on a treasure hunt. Hidden in there somewhere, waiting for you, is the great deal that will vindicate your long and arduous search. Like other major capitals, Prague has a wide variety of second-hand outlets. You can find almost everything from a retro wedding dress, a nineteenth-century bingo board, to a set of optical lenses from the 1920s or a gigantic wooden airplane. It all depends on your purse and your interests.

Before 1989 pickings were poor because, under communism, clothes were functional objects and had to last as long as possible, if necessary with the help of staples or strings. This made the concept of second-hand clothing more or less non-existent. Since then the scene has been changing and now there are several interesting shops to visit, like the recently opened Kudy Tudy (Saská 10), which specializes in Retro/Vintage fashion. Its former name, Mýrnyx Týrnyx, may sound familiar to Prague veterans, because it was the first second-hand clothing store to open in 1996. Its founder, Maya Kvetny, recently sold the store to Krystina Laubeová, who wants to keep alive the same spirit that made this shop so popular among fashion victims, fetishists and show business people. Laubeová will feature vintage clothing from France, Berlin and the U.S as well as domestic items. In addition to the second-hand clothing, the store showcases young cutting-edge Czech designers, also selling accessories such as jewelry and shoes.

A year after Mýrnyx Týrnyx opened, ex-bartender Líba Kultová decided to start her own business, Smoking Woman (Italská 16). Her shop has a charming "atmosféra", with select pieces of antique furniture and black and white photos covering the walls. Besides an extensive collection of dresses and accessories, her leather jackets at around 500 CZK a piece, are definitely not to be missed. The great location, close to the Vinohradská theater and the Czech National Radio station, attracts many famous faces such as actresses Vilma Cibulková and Daniela Kolárová.

Five minutes away, at Moravská 6, you can find Toalette (which also has an outlet at Karolíny Svetlé 9), founded in 1999. "I like people with style, who want to create their own image. Our clients don't come here just because of the prices, but to look for original details that they can't find in big clothing chains like Zara or Mango", says owner Monika Bordová. Her selection includes beautiful silk skirts, woolen shawls and a considerable array of high heels (as well as clothes for men). Actresses Ana Geislerová, Petra Špalskova and Barbora Hrzánová are some of her regulars. As with Smoking Woman, the fact that its stores are located so close to the theaters makes Toalette a very pleasurable visit between rehearsals.

K-Oukey is the largest second-hand clothing chain in Prague. Founded by Lenka Jachinivá, also five years ago, K-Oukey has seven stores, four of them under the company name (Karolíny Svetlé 9, U Radnice 6, Krakovská 19 and Od Simona Krakov). Jachinivá believes that the market is experiencing one of its least prosperous periods since 1999 because, "There is more competition, and people are starting to buy brand-name clothing." Her clients include TV presenter and radio personality, Bára Štepánová and actor and producer, Martin Dejdar.

Larry Roe Mackler, an American expat, opened the first Šatnik (Konvitská 13) four years ago. Since moving from Michalská ulice two years ago, Mackler has had to adapt his showcase to a street that is still central, but hidden from the tourists. "Czechs are still very conservative with respect to clothing, so it's hard now to sell the funky stuff we used to have," a shop assistant told us. However, the selection of men's second-hand clothing is still one of the widest in Prague.

You can now find that unusual clothing in Retro (Uhelný trh 9), one of the latest entries on Prague's second-hand circuit. Its owner, Russian Natalia Yosupoba, arrived a year ago, after quitting her job managing a second-hand clothing wholesaler in her native country. Her first incursion into the business was with Second hand Ráj (Václaské námestí 27), which sells vintage costumes as well as normal second-hand clothes (among the firms represented are Emporio Armani). "The majority of our vintage buyers are foreigners, especially Scandinavians, and they go crazy when they see our prices. But I sometimes I have to explain to our Czech clients that the clothes are not as cheap as in a regular second-hand because they are harder to find and more expensive to buy", says Yosupoba. Fabulous cocktail dresses, embroidery tops, velvet jackets or Tartar coats are some of the vintage clothes she has on offer and magazines such as the Italian Vogue and the Czech Elle have already borrowed some of these unique pieces for their models.

Each store also claims among its clients some of the best costume designers for Czech theater and film companies, who often borrow their clothes for a new film or play wardrobe.

With the exception of Kudy Tudy, the vintage section of Second Hand Ráj and Retro (where the prices are higher), in the rest of the shops the prices are fairly comparable (with an oscillation of perhaps 10%, or more if you are good at bargaining). So, how much will it cost you to dress yourself from head to toe for the approaching summer season? 1,100 CZK would buy you a complete second-hand outfit: 200 -270 for skirt/pants, 150-200 top/blouse/shirt/sweater, 200-250 purse and 150-200 shoes. Not bad when you consider that a new pair of trousers, for example, may cost you 600 CZK in an ordinary boutique.

Other options
Prague's selection includes many more shops that are less stylish but slightly cheaper: Exclusive Second Hand (Revolucní 18 and Belehradská 73); Second Hand Market: (selling clothes by weight: for example, 1 kg of coats costs 500 CZK, Klimentská 1); Second Hand (Plaská, 2, Mánesova 50, Milady Horákové 32 and Rumunská 30); and Start Shop Genesis (Belehradská 12).

Prague's selection of second-hand clothing stores may not be as wide as in other capitals like London or Paris, but there are some inspiring places to visit. The customers are not only thrifty and fashion-conscious types, but also some of the best-known costume designers for theater and film companies, as well as magazine fashion stylists.

The main customers of the funky showcases are foreigners (tourists or expats), who find better bargains than in their native countries, but, in general, Prague's second-hand shops present clothes at interesting prices and in good condition. So, good luck with your treasure hunt!

Other second-hand items in Prague:
If you've just moved to Prague, you may want to take a walk around the Liben area (one tram stop from Palmovka). There are several shops, among them KNY (besides wooden wardrobes, mattresses, tables and chairs, they have an impressive collection of old Singer and Lada sewing machines) and Antik Bazar (check out their Czech baroque furniture or Renaissance-style tea tables).

For household items, you may want to stop at Antik v Dlouhé (Dlouhá 37), where you can discover the latest trend in Prague's antiques market: art deco items (lamps, cups, glasses and vases), or even an extraordinary Nativity Scene dating back to the beginning of the last century. You can also visit Antik Bazar (Anglická 15) for phones, radios, siphons, toys, etc., or Bazar Antik (Saská 3), which has a great display of oil lamps, grandfather clocks and coffee grinders. Two tips for old books: Knihy-pohledy-grafika (Valentinská 8), with splendid photography books featuring some of the best Czech photographers such as František Dritkol or Josef Sudek, and an extensive foreign-language section, and, around the corner, Art on paper (Veleslavínova 3), specializes in art books. For musical instruments, you can go to Antonius (Dlouhá 37) at the end of a surprisingly gorgeous interior courtyard. If you're looking for something more contemporary, Bazar (Krakovská 4) offers over 16,000 second hand LPs, music CDs and DVDs at quite reasonable prices. And to put the last touch on your house, you may want to buy a reproduction of an original poster from the old communist era or of one of the first Czech movies from Provas (Rybná 21), where the prices range from 200 to 9,000 CZK.

A final suggestion, which you should not miss, is the Buštehrad market, 20 minutes away from Prague (you can take a bus straight to Buštehrad at Dejvická). This is the Czech version of Paris's Marché aux Puces or Madrid's Rastro, with a wide range of items. Market days are every other Friday afternoon and Saturday morning (you can check the calendar at www.bustehrad.cz).