A style conundrum: what’s big in Britain but until now, not really big fashion news in most of Europe? Answer: vintage. The surprise is not only has the concept come to Italy but in Florence, it’s positively flourishing. To trace its popularity to its roots, we have to back- track to Britain. Known for its quirkier sense of fashion allied to a fondness for nostalgia (think design doyenne Vivienne Westwood), vintage – or cast-off clothes from a bygone age technically anywhere between 1920s-1980s – has enjoyed a core sub-culture following for some time.

Last decade, it went mainstream with certain UK names becoming ‘second-hand rose’ poster girls. Model Kate Moss to singer Lily Allen – now London vintage shop owner herself - both donned a Notting Hill version of boho vintage. (As opposed to purist head to toe imagery preferred on certain alternative scenes, like 1950s rockabilly). Then a curious clash between commerce and culture elevated the notion of vintage. Its novelty, to some quite taboo, second-hand connotations came to represent a bright and cost-effective, sartorial solution in the dark credit crunch days. Not to mention its recycled credentials making it a virtuous ‘eco- choice’ in the rising green consciousness worldwide.

Style-wise, period specific clothing – particularly structured mid-century men’s and women’s wear - received rapturous acclaim recently thanks to the US smash hit series, Mad Men. A slick show about sharp-suited Madison Avenue executives and their beautifully dressed voluptuous, real women, set in the early ‘60s, the global high street went mad for it. Designers from Dolce and Gabbana to Marc Jacobs and Prada declared it to die for. ‘Retro’ cocktail dresses ruled. Even for the guys it spelled a change of clothes: traditional Brooks Brothers suits over Brioni.

When Hollywood got hold of the idea it also breathed new life back into the vogue for re - wearing luxurious authentic – but not tacky or care-worn – garments. For this, we credit the union of an Italian design maestro and the then world’s highest paid actress. At the 2001 Academy Awards Julia Roberts rocked up wearing a classy black velvet, white trimmed gown from the retro archives of – who else? – Valentino. In one winning glance, it put the ‘va-voom’ back into vintage. It channelled the sexy sophistication of past glamour queens Sophia Loren, Claudia Cardinale, La Lollobrigida.

The gesture also celebrated a time when the artisanal approach to clothes was key with craftsmanship supreme. It symbolised quality and emotional association over disposable, inferior goods. The film-star, high fashion take on vintage was born. This gives the average, well-dressed Italian, accustomed to the finest threads available in today’s boutiques, more reason to regard distinguished vintage as an aesthetic wardrobe alternative. But actually something, dare we say a little quirky, has crept into the classically presented psyche. The Italian version of vintage is all over town – from the cream of collectable couture to would you believe, fun and flea market French style finds. Finally, it seems, in Florence, at least, it’s La Dolce Vita all over again for vintage…

TOP TEN VINTAGE SHOPS IN FLORENCE

ELIO FERRARO – Via del Parione
This vintage veteran is top of the tree for sourcing high-end, haute couture past treasures. Mould-breaking and friendly Ferraro first brought the vintage concept to fashion conservative Florence ten years ago – and also has a branch in Milan. His trademark spacious, atelier style setting showcases eclectic, international stock that is label rich: French classics of Chanel and Dior galore with a big nod to the Brits – his past concessions include London’s trendy Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. With accessories of every designer description to match, the fabulous fashion extends into home furnishings the likes of Ponti to Fornasetti. Unbeatable!

A RITROSA – Via Ghibellina
Camilla Baracchi’s enterprise is a crammed jewel-box of a salon, her specialist signature, Florentine tailoring, 1920s-1960s. An experienced vintage purveyor since the ‘80s, Camilla has a stylish eye and sells at a fair price: ‘If I find it cheap, I sell it cheap!’ Stock changes weekly and is a particular hit it seems, with a Milanese, Parisian and English crowd. Stand-out buys seen at the time: YSL Rive Gauche…Emilio Pucci…Gucci…Lanvin…Hermes…Giovanna Ferragamo…Yohji Yamamoto…a timeless, Christian Dior little black dress, white collar and cuffs for euros 120 just one elegant example. Has something for everyone.

VERABIS – Via Maggio
Altogether different, Verabis is a vintage vocation on behalf of French owner Vera. ‘Au naturel’ in presentation – piled high, every space filled – more charity shop rummage in feel than showroom. No dressing room, so it’s a case of quick change in the loo but the American and Chinese student tourists don’t seem to mind. Charming, great priced finds for those with patience. Bargains spotted: chi-chi little cocktail dresses in black and emerald, euros 50 each…Kenzo and Westwood pieces…leather jackets to luggage and bags from every era such as signature Celine, euros 50.

CERI VINTAGE – Via de’Serragli
Tucked away from direct view, this tunnel of a shop is distinctive in its precise military and menswear content. Founder Danilo Ceri has a selection spanning military work-wear – eg.US khaki shirt, 1970, euros 30 – to an archive of men’s jackets from Westwood junior, Joseph Corre. Away from uniform and factory overalls, Ceri occasionally ventures from vintage into antique – such as kimonos from 1880. A pristine, mini selection of ladies accessories shares the window display. For the purists, all pieces are ‘as was’ ie not restored but with original repairs.

VINTAGE – Piazzetta Piero Calamendrei
A bijoux corner shop tastefully inviting with chandeliered interior. Glass cabinets are packed with ladylike artefacts: mock-croc and Gucci bags, ‘Queen Elizabeth’ handbags…1920 cloche hats and wide-brimmed straws and fascinators on stands…beads and brooches, gloves and compacts to designer sunglasses. Everything is well preserved and presented for the lady with well-groomed needs.

MAISON DUMITRU – Borgo Pinti
Full of dressing up appeal, the frock is the focus. Rails are laden with designs from different decades: demure wartime tea dresses through to ‘70s ballroom glitz.

STREET DOING – Via dei Servi
‘New kid in town’ store sized space. The owner sources a lot from London’s Covent Garden and it imports that capital’s witty feel – including the British trend of pin-up ‘burlesque’ wear. Mid-market price, much colour and variety, well laid-out. The ‘luxury corner’ offers fabulous, formal designer gowns for euros 120. Also find rhinestone jewellery, handbags and hats through to a smart gentleman’s range.

VINTAGE DI CELESTE COMPOSTELLA – Via Maggio
A small, sweet shop that’s easy to navigate. Interesting mix and match capsule pieces at ‘wow’ prices. Examples: Gucci pencil skirt or in Krizia animal print, euros 35 each…Moschino two-piece for euros 15, yes 15…classic handbags to designer shoes and jewellery.

PITTI VINTAGE – Sdrucciolo de Pitti
Known also for ‘pre’ and ‘post’ vintage – that’s turn of the last century and late 1980s to the non-aficionado. Plus there’s an interesting, high-end assortment of vintage in-between - of fine Florentine extraction, apparently.

FLORENCE VINTAGE FAIR – Stazione Leopolda
For the city known for its citizen’s quality contemporary, understated mode of dressing, it’s amusing that Florence now has the most extensive vintage fairs in Italy! Held twice yearly in February and July. See www.firenze.net for upcoming events.