Tamsin Blanchard finds some clothes are better second time around
From Paris to New York, fashion designers are suffering from an outbreak of retro-fever. This spring, we will see clothes with designer labels which, to anyone not in the know, will look second-hand. The fabrics might be new, but the cut and shape of Forties- and Fifties-inspired jackets, skirts and dresses will focus attention on antique and second-hand clothing shops.

The good news is there is no shortage of Fifties ball gowns, pencil skirt suits and twin sets; Forties print dresses or Thirties bias-cut numbers; and no lack of the appropriate handbags, ear-rings, shoes and hats that stem from a time when dressing was formal and structured.

That there have always been devotees of old clothes is proven by Cornucopia, a treasure trove of old clothes near Victoria station. Since the Sixties it has drawn those with a keen eye who can spot clothes that will look as good now as they did first time round. Forget Jean Paul Gaultier. Right now, before the spring collections even filter into the shops, you can buy a Forties day dress or fitted jacket, a Fifties ball gown or, if you are lucky, a Twenties beaded flapper dress. There is al so a good selection of old paste jewellery - the dragonfly brooches worn by models in John Galliano's show were made of real diamonds, but good old diamante has the same effect.

The art of buying second-hand clothes lies in avoiding looking like Second Hand Rose. The whole point of wearing a Fifties suit with a flighty little peplum and a pencil skirt is to make you look elegant, not as though you have just walked out of a jumble sale. And the people who have mastered the art spend any money they might have saved by buying second-hand on careful dry-cleaning and mending. No matter how old they are, the clothes should look good as new.

Amy Hoskin, a 21-year-old fashion student, wears second-hand clothes most of the time. She shops at Portobello Market and her mother's second-hand Salvation Army clothing shop, Mighty to Save. "I couldn't afford clothes of this quality new," she says. Her favourite years are the Twenties and Thirties, but she also has a long fit-and-flare Fifties dress. "If I had a posh do to go to and £50 or £60 to spend, I would get a really nice antique dress," she says. Her mother, who also wears second-hand clothin g, sells a wide selection of clothes, from the Twenties to present day. More elaborate ball gowns can be hired out for the night, at a fifth of the cost price, and profits go to the Salvation Army, which supplies stock to the shop from the main recycling centre in the Midlands.

The Vintage Clothing Company, which has outlets in Liverpool and Manchester, as well as concessions in selected Top Shop stores, imports most of its stock from America and Germany. A fitted jacket and skirt suit sells for between £35 and £45. And while rockers have always created a market for Fifties clothing, the company is gearing up for an increased demand for proper little suits and dresses.

The clothes are there for a snip; all you need now is the perfect chignon, a headscarf and a shiny, open-top 1954 Cadillac.

Cornucopia, 12 Upper Tachbrook Street, London SW1, 0171-828 5752; Mighty to Save, 9 Princes Street, London W1, open Mon-Fri 10.30-5 and Sat 12-5, 0171-495 3958; The Vintage Clothing Company, Affleck's Palace, Church Street, Manchester, 061-832 0548; 7-11Slater Street, Liverpool; Quiggin's Centre, Liverpool, and Top Shop, Oxford Circus, London W1; Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.