Winter is coming. That means one thing: white walkers new clothes. But where do you go if you want to avoid the usual high street garb and don’t want to run into a hearty overdraft? Manchester’s Northern Quarter — known for its lively bars and music venues that have housed world renowned DJ’s, a la mode cafes and restaurants, and of course its sea of vintage shops — is your best bet.
It hasn’t always been a mecca of the young and edgy though. At the beginning of the 18th century, Oldham Street was described as a ‘muddy lane’ surrounded by ‘wild hedgerows’ (not much has changed on a Friday night). At the dawn of the industrial revolution, however, the site slowly became urbanised and by the Victorian era the area was known for its markets and, most predominantly, its pet shops.
By my grandmother’s time, evening dances in jazz clubs (her favourite, Band on the Wall is still going) as well as shopping became the norm. It was after the regeneration of Manchester however in the 1990’s that the Northern Quarter as a distinct area came about, with low rents attracting alternative, independent shops. It has drawn in all categories of edgy young things: your northern ‘we have an indie band, it’s a bit like the arctic monkeys’ lads, buzz-cut techno enthusiasts, parker wearing Oasis wannabes, and of course students with that hoarse 30-a-day home counties rasp.
There is something for everybody as you shall learn as I run through the best shops that Manchester’s Northern Quarter has to offer.
This is the best place to go for those who want to get their hands on designer labels at a second-hand price (wear and tear expected). Find Ralph Lauren, Burberry and Dickies to name a few. What I most like about the shop is that items are hand-picked from across the country with a focus on current trends. This therefore offers an alternative to the high street that often in its bid to keep up with fast fashion produces low quality goods as well as the fact you run the risk of matching everyone else; with Cow you know the items are unique. The focus on trends also gets away from the usual mass of wavy shirts, windbreakers, and Levi 501’s you find in every other vintage shop, creating that generic ‘thrift shop’ look.
Not technically one shop, but rather a multi-storey market selling vintage and alternative clothing. It also boasts a fancy-dress shop, piercing parlour, tattoo studio, café, Barbour’s, poster shop, and many other stalls. I can particularly recommend Kustom Korner, a printing stall that will print anything you want (within reason) for a cheap price, on a wide range of t-shirts, tote bags etc. Affleck’s is ideal for fresher’s who after the first month of uni want to ‘fallow-up’ their look, a re-invention if you will, so that come Christmas break friends from home can gasp at the new and alternative you. Walk in wearing skinny-jeans and Stan Smiths and strut out to ‘Smells like teen spirit’ in loose fit cords and 80’s Docs.
Vintage Kilo sale
Recently, there has been an emergence of pop-up shops selling vintage garments for £15 a kilo of clothing. It is a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. Some of it is cr*p let’s be honest, but you can find some real gems and most of the fun is to be had in rummaging through the heaps. Keep your eyes peeled on Facebook as there are always postings of new kilo events going on around the city, particularly in the Northern Quarter.
Okay. I’m going to hedge a bet. You only go on ticketed nights out, if it hasn’t got a bar code it’s not worth it. Your tinder bio reads ‘London/Manchester. Techno and chill?’. 95 per cent chance you own a skateboard, struggle to ride it, but looks damn good tucked under an arm around campus. Your Instagram only features film camera images. You dabbled in DJ’ing second year. Caps or nothing. If you fit the description, you will definitely splash out on a Carhartt anorak for £220. I don’t blame you, they sell some good quality stuff. Where else would you get that bum bag from you will wear cross body ‘ironically’?
Alfred E Mutter Ltd
I have to give this a cheeky mention. In the nineteenth century, my grandfather x2 came over from Germany following the Franco-Prussian war to make a new start in England. Arriving in Manchester, he established a jewellers shop on Thomas Street along with his son Alfred. It is one of the oldest shops to survive in the Northern Quarter and is still run by a branch of the family today. This is what makes the Northern Quarter so unique, the variation of businesses, from the old to the new, all sharing the same space.