Standing out in Malasaña

By Jenny Rosenthal

Engrained into society, staples in fashion: vintage stores surround the city of Madrid. More specifically, the barrio (district) of Malasaña, a trendy area featuring a mix of old and new stores as well as a popular nightlife destination for locals, is packed with vintage consignments. ‘We cherish our history in Madrid – that makes vintage important.’

Many of the shops in Malasaña have been opened from as early as the 1930’s and seem to personify Spain’s value of tradition and history. Their popularity represents the Spanish culture of relishing the past and gives an insight into family customs of keeping close contact. Nowadays, vintage clothing dominates fashion, especially with the younger generation. But there appears to be a deeper meaning than just looking ‘cool.’ Wearing and buying vintage clothes represents a respect for the past but also a fashion-forward thinking in which locals want to dress differently and feel individualistic.

Vintage shopping started to arise mainly after the First World War; it was a way to recycle old clothes in a time when the country needed to ration materials. Many parts of Europe needed to survive on the few resources left and vintage shopping was an excellent way to combat that. In the Thirties, Spain had to face a civil war in which leadership would switch from loyalists to the Spanish Republic and the Rebels under Francisco Franco. During Franco’s dictatorship, Madrid started to become much more industrialized and saw a massive influx of migration into the city from rural environments. This meant that much of the south part of the city became a slum, but an active cultural life developed here. The city had become a hub for artists, rebels and alternative thinking. These artistic areas were in theory the birth of vintage shopping. Whether it was a cost saving venture or paying respect to the leadership and war, vintage shopping extensively implanted itself into Madrid’s lifestyle.

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A symbol of the past and a suggestion for the future: Malasaña, a famous and also infamous neighborhood, is a look into Spain’s rebellious history. It was the center for revolution, a location for the transformation of a way of thinking. Beginning in the late 1880s, civilians protested French occupation in the plaza Dos de Mayo of Masalaña and up until today, the district still continues to represent change, and more importantly democracy. Bohemians, freedom of expression in thought and appearance, and “wearing what you want” characterizes this revolutionary movement.

“For us, this is a vital piece of our history and freedom,” Maria, a native Madrilenian, commented when asked about the importance of Malasaña. Nowadays, the area is seen as a nightlife hub of bar and clubs for millennials, however, the older generation remembers the area as the birthplace of freedom. “We could say what we wanted, dress how we wanted and be ourselves again,” she continues as she admiringly stares out onto the streets packed with people of all sorts. “Many things happened here that will always remind us of our repressed past and how we escaped it,” Maria explains that Malasaña symbolizes the change of the city and the country as whole; it portrays the demise of a long-run dictatorship and the birth of a new, individualistic culture. It was the heart of revolution and standing up for one’s beliefs.

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A mark of liberation and a history of fighting for freedom, the Malasaña neighborhood is filled with the majority of vintage and alternative stores in the city. “People travelled from all over the country to Malasaña,” José, another Madrid resident, appreciates this district as he points to his favorite vintage shop, ‘Magpie,’ located on Calle Velarde, the main vintage shopping street of the city.

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Jose describes the oppression and leadership that Spain suffered through for many years and that the Spanish people are very proud of their newfound freedom of expression. “We are a country of people that respect their past and but are looking forward to the future,” this is a major base for the popularity of vintage shopping.

Madrid has always been avant-garde in its thinking and this is also visible in their sense of fashion. Being edgy, being different is the foundation of this capital city and that is part of the reason why vintage shopping is so popular.

“As Spanish people, we love our past and cherish our history. That is why vintage clothing is so important”, says Manuel Carmona, a sales representative at Alphaville, a popular vintage shop located in the heart of Malasaña. Seen in the photo below, the shop is covered in posters and boasts a large speaker system to make shopping all the more enjoyable. Manuel continues, as he changes the song to the classic David Bowie hit Starman: “it is much more than a fashion statement, vintage clothing means you stand out and really love how you look.”

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Manuel, as with many other Spaniards and Madrid locals, is an enthusiast of the vintage clothing trend. “They just don’t make clothes like this,” he explains as he shows me Levi jacket from the 60’s that is lined with a white fury? inside. The store has clothes from all over the world and is a peak into cultures past, present and future. They have clothes to fit any season and it is clear as to why vintage shopping is so popular: the clothes are unique. Madrid is special, it is distinctive and individualistic; the local’s fashion sense is no different.