The sun is rising earlier, the denim jackets are coming out and the Dutch natives are giving their boats a Spring clean.
Warmer weather is nigh.
After a particularly cold winter (Amsterdam hit -8 and the canals froze) we are finally into positive figures on the thermostat and at last it feels like winter is subsiding and making way for Spring. I am VERY excited to put my jumpers and coats away and bring out my summer pieces. I have pretty much had every inch of skin other than my face masked away against several layers for months and it goes without saying that I will be renewing my yoga class membership after my body has become far too comfortable being concealed and the extra-large portions going unnoticed beneath the additional padding. I have noticed that throughout the winters, I have had a few pieces that have really lasted and become part of my winter capsule wardrobe.
The big daddy jumper: I have two jumpers that are so thick and warm that it feels like it was made for bald sheep in arctic conditions. I only wash them once at the end of winter. One is originally from the menswear section in Toast (when they still had it) and the second is a Barbour jumper that used to belong to my stepdad, and was his pride and joy until my mum shrunk on a hot wash and it was handed down to me. They still don’t mention it to each other.
Thermals: During a particularly cold season at university, I bought myself a thermal top from American Apparel. Thermals are THE BEST, it’s pretty amazing that one thin layer can keep you so warm but if you haven’t already, I really recommend investing in some. Thermal socks work especially well as sneaky means of keeping warm without looking too over-layered. I have now had mine for over six years and still crack them out every winter.
Warm winter boots: After failing to find a good waterproof pair of boots in my size in the second-hand shops, I bought some Aigle boots and have worn them almost every day of winter. They are a short rain boot, but with a warm lining and are handmade in France from natural rubber. They have been great during the rainy seasons and perfect in the snow that just continues to fall this year.
Wool trousers: They’re a bit out-there, but I have some wool plaid trousers and they are SO warm. I usually put them with a pair of loafers (which I take with me and change once I am in the warmth of the office) and they have really been a winter saviour especially on the bike.
The giant cosy cardigan: We’ve all got one, the massively oversized and very forgiving cardigan that is great to balance out high waisted trousers or goes great as an additional layer with a dress, try to get the best quality of wool you can afford and look after it well and it will last you for years!
What are your favourite winter pieces, the ones that you just keep digging out year after year?
- Switch from shower gel to soap; it’s usually cheaper (or you can treat yourself to a fancier bar of soap), there’s usually less chemicals and WAY less packaging and it lasts AGES!
- Buy your groceries at the market using produce/tote bags (thus reducing plastic usage). I was pretty shocked at the amounts of single fruits and vegetables wrapped in plastic in the Netherlands. (Shrink wrapping a single courgette??Madness!). Also it is more likely that your veggies have been sourced locally if they are not wrapped in plastic.
- Switch your single-use razors to reusable ones- or better yet don’t shave! Don’t worry I am not going to get all “free the bush” on you, but if you can get away with not shaving do it (I can’t but personally I refuse to shave in the winter as I am a Northern European mammal and need to keep warm), and if not make sure you invest in a non-disposable razor! I just purchased a bamboo handled razor, I will update you with the progress.
- Switch your normal toothbrush to a bamboo toothbrush. I got a pack of these for Christmas (but FYI they are pretty cheap on Amazon). Over 4 billion plastic toothbrushes are produced worldwide every year. The handle on my toothbrush is completely biodegradable and the bristles are plant-based BUT not biodegradable. At the moment the only biodegradable option is pig hair which was used prior to nylon, but for obvious reasons this is pretty controversial. You could even make your own toothpaste. I tried it, and I have to say that specific recipe wasn’t for me (made of coconut oil, peppermint oil and soda bicarb), but I would be very inclined to try another recipe.
- Throw out the kitchen paper towel! I know it is easy and convenient, but globally it totals 254 million tons of trash each year (source)
- Use a homemade anti-bacterial spray. I nicked the idea from my local yoga studio, and her place smells incredible. If it works on sweaty yoga mats it will work on my kitchen table. I use 1 shot of vodka + 7 drops of lavender oil + 7 drops of tea tree oil in a reused spray bottle with the rest filled up with water.
- Turn your old clothes into rags and use them as dusters. This is an old one that I hope everyone already does, but if your clothes are not worthy of the charity shop don’t let them end up on landfill!
- Turn old jars into containers/ glasses/ candle holders. They look beautiful with a tea light in, especially in summer outside!
I have now been living in Amsterdam for almost three months and I think I have scoped out a good proportion of vintage shops. Just incase any of you are in the area, I thought I would devise a list of my favourite places to pick up some secondhand to help you quench your sartorial thirst…
1. Kilo Shop, Eerste van der Helststraat 11C, 1073 AA. I stumbled on this place recently whilst for hunting for some good coffee (FYI Scandinavian Embassy round the corner does a pretty banging espresso). It is the first “weigh your own” shop vintage I have come across in Amsterdam, and I think it is definitely worth a visit. Strangely, prices can vary- the lowest price is €25 for a kilo and and the kilo price goes up from there. Each item has a coloured tag on attached that indicates which price category it belongs to so it is not quite so cheap as other shops I have come across, but they have some pretty great pieces.
2. Marbles Vintage Haarlemmerdijk 64, 1013 JE Amsterdam. This is a small shop with a good collection of secondhand garments in good condition. Prices are reasonable and Haarlemmedrijk is a a beautiful little street. Pop into Little Collins or Bakers and Roasters for brunch if you’re in the area!
3. Bis! Sint Antoniesbreestraat 25-A, 1011 HB. A super cute little shop situated in the Old Town of Amsterdam. This area is very close to The Rembrandt Museum, The Jewish History Museum and another Kilo Shop that I have not visited so you can combine a visit to this shop with a cultural afternoon.
4. Emporium of Wonders ,Tweede Helmersstraat 19-21, 1054 CB Amsterdam. A HUGE vintage emporium- 350 square metres to be precise. This place is adorned with all kind of vintage beauties from furniture to baubles. You can also get a coffee here and even take a yoga lesson. There are frequent events happening so be sure to check out their Facebook page. If in the area take a trip to the wonderful FoodHallen for a beer (try Mannenliefde, it’s delicious AND local) and some pretty tasty Banh Mi.
5. Episode, Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 37H/ Berenstraat 1, 1016 GG / Berenstraat 1, 1016 GG . I don’t think it would be fair to talk about vintage shopping in Amsterdam without mentioning Episode. There are three branches in Amsterdam and more dotted around Europe. Everything is very well organised, and whilst a little more on the commercial side, it is hard to walk out of this shop empty handed. I think the prices are reasonable and the things I have bought have been of great quality.
- If you are staying for longer than a month get a bike. The City is small, but big enough to get tired easily if you start walking everywhere. The whole place is bike-friendly and cycling in Amsterdam is the best and usually faster than public transport. You don’t need to go fast and you do get used to the pedal-brake.
- The bureaucracy sucks. It took me three interviews to get a BSN number (Dutch equivalent of a social security number which you need to anything including getting paid for work/ registering with a doctors). It’s not impossible though and every immigrant goes through a similar process (I hear it’s even harder if you’re not from the EU). Just be prepared for a lot of “it’s just our policy” responses to your questions. And bring your birth certificate with you to Holland. I am not joking.
- Coffee shops are not the best thing about Amsterdam. This city has so much more to offer; from quirky cafes, and restaurants, excellent beers and incredible exhibitions and festivals.
- The Dutch are not that rude. Seriously, I am the most overly sensitive person and I was warned that the Dutch can be pretty brash in comparison to our overly polite and fawning manner, but so far (fingers crossed) no one has told me I am an idiot and everyone has been pretty supportive – my new landlord even invited me to his leaving party!
- Charity shops are not a thing here. If you are a slow fashion advocate like me there are vintage shops (which are pretty pricey considering the clothes are secondhand) and great flea markets which are super cheap!
- Invest in a great raincoat – if you are cycling a lot the winter months can be pretty wet. Or you can have four seasons in one day. Rain-chic is a thing here. At the time of writing this the must-have raincoat is from the Danish company called Rains which favours the rubber-feel material as opposed to that awful nylon, and of course cut beautifully for the practical hipster cyclist. They are lightweight, overpriced and I am itching to get my hands on one.
- Find a flat as soon as possible, and don’t be put off by living outside the city. There is a huge demand for housing , so be very aware of scams and try to find somewhere as soon as you can and don’t be disheartened if it takes a little while. I found my flat on Facebook and it is beautiful – definitely worth living in an AirBnb room for a month with no proper kitchen or living room.
- Buy local! Holland has a thriving agricultural industry and is second to the US for its exports per value, despite being 277 times smaller. I have found that buying my fruits and veg in local markets and corner shops is a lot cheaper than buying in the supermarkets, plus you get to support a little guys. Also make sure you check out the flea markets, but leave enough time to do some serious perusing.
- Bring mosquito spray. It is October and I have been eaten alive by mosquitos and apparently it is a common problem which I assume is because of the water, but I have never known mosquitos to thrive in these cold temperatures.
- Go Dutch! Despite the whole of Amsterdam speaking incredible English, it will be greatly appreciated if you can order your beer in Dutch like a local.