If fifties dresses are just too recent for you, and you're after very old items, Paris offers various shops where to indulge your taste for 1870 ball gowns and historic textiles.
Francine Dentelles : the different addresses (one in Paris, two in Saint-Ouen) of this specialist offer a good if pricey selection of lace, linen and historic clothing. You'll never get to see her owner, always in search for new items, but the sellers are nice and knowledgeable.
2 rue de l'Avé-Maria, 75 004 (call for an appointment at 06 07 41 99 01 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org). M° Saint-Paul.
Stand 121-123 and 140 bis, allée n°7, Marché Vernaison, St-Ouen (01 40 10 93 36). M° Porte-de-Cligancourt.
Fuschia Dentelles : this serious outsider of Francine Dentelles in the nice area of Village Saint-Paul sells valuables like a 1925 cloche hat (150 euros), old cottons and a short selection of retro dresses.
2 rue de l'Avé-Maria, 75 004 (01 48 04 75 61). M° Saint-Paul.
Brigitte Campagne - Ancienne Mode : Brigitte Campagne is a true specialist of antique clothing from 1800 to 1940. A haunt for wardrobe masters, her tiny shop is packed with turn-of-the-century jackets, luscious coats and ball gowns. Most of the stock is for collectors only, as the fabrics tend to be fragile. Prices are average, with a 1910 embroidered coat at 300 euros.
Maison Brigitte Campagne, 17, rue Moret, 75 011. (01 43 55 11 98) M° Ménilmontant.
Irma : Irma is only one example of the numerous shops of Vernaison Market who offer vintage linen and lace. On a recent visit she had on offer a 1920 velvet dress in good condition (300 euros) and a magnificently embroidered 1913 coat. On a rack outside the shop you may find the occasional Sixties dress for a bargain.
Stand 200, allée n°9, Marché Vernaison, St-Ouen (01 40 10 08 57). M° Porte-de-Clignancourt.
Chez Sarah : not for the faint-hearted, Sarah Rozenbaum offers historic clothing and textile at a price, for serious collectors and museums. Well worth a visit for inspiration, if not shopping.
Marché Jules Vallès, 27 rue Lécuyer, St-Ouen. M° Porte-de-Clignancourt.