Unloved Oxford: The Unicorn clothes shop

Eva started running the Unicorn clothes shop some time ago. She hasn’t stopped since. It’s a place of calm at 5 Ship Street, offering a silent site for rummaging through vintage clothes in the centre of Oxford. The clothes are piled high and it’s hard for more than a couple of customers to squeeze into the shop, situated opposite Jesus College and beside the far more commercial “Heroes” cafe. I went to have a hushed chat with Eva, discovering that the name is unchanged from its time as a gallery, that she escaped communist Slovenia to come over here and that she really knows her clothes.

What was it before?
I think it was a gallery with pottery and art and things.

[At this point a clothing rack collapses after a customer dares to touch it. We struggle to secure it with a coat hanger to a twisted piece of tape that clearly can’t take the weight. After a while all parties give up on the clearly unstable situation.]

How did you end up starting the shop?
I think I started with my friend. But then she moved to the north of England and I took it over.

The ageing sign, retaining the name of the 1970s gallery.

Where are you from originally?
Slovenia, in the former Yugoslavia. [The rack collapses again. Much pushing and moving.] I got married and moved over in the ’70s…so…

Where does your stock come from?
A lot comes from dealers but mostly it’s my own stock.

It’s quite a treasure trove in here…do you know what you’ve got available?
I sort it day by day. Sometimes I do more, sometimes I do less. It depends on how busy I am. I know more or less what is here.

Has it always been the same setup?
I think I started in the early 80s so that was a bit different at the time. So that was more 80s stuff. Now it’s all come around and we’re getting the same clothes.

There’s no standard theme here…
It’s always been a mix.

What do students make of the shop?
Students are very nice, yes. My best customers are students. They come for parties and hire things out.

Do you just choose the prices on the spot?
Yes, according to the brand. Some things are in more demand. Some people just hire it, wear it once. Some things go out for a Friday and come back after a weekend. There often for these things they have at college with different things. They’ve got parties nearly every week it seems…

[A customer wanders in and tries on a dress. Eva knows exactly what size it is and exactly why it’s the wrong size for this lady. Despite the flattering shape it’s for a much bigger woman. The customer is off to a vintage cabaret and complements Eva on “knowing her clothes well”. Eva bemoans the fact that “everyone wants the size 8s and 10s nowadays.”]

Where does the name of the shop come from?
That was the name left on the shop when I took it over. It was the name of the gallery.

The haphazard sorting system is clear from the outside.

How come you have you have managed to survive in the centre of Oxford?
I don’t know…maybe I’ll only do it for a couple more years and then I’ll close down.

Oh dear…so what if I wanted to give you a payday and buy your most expensive item?
Well some of the dresses will go for up to £180. But mostly they’ll sell for under £50 to students, the most popular are for £20-30. The shop is much better for women than men. We stock things from the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s with maybe a few modern things.

It’s always so quiet here.
Yes. But it’s very central but it isn’t because it’s just on a short cut. Lots of people have been here for thirty years but have never come in to see it. It’s no so busy. There’s only Heroes next door.

Do you wear the clothes from here yourself?
Occassionally…I’m getting older and it doesn’t always suit me any more.

The other customer was considering buying something. In a shop with no sorting system, no price tags and few commercial attractions it’s amazing that Eva’s managed to keep going. A later Google search found a photo of the shop tagged “the woman running it does not seem to want to sell anything to anyone”. I think they’re missing the point. Eva only wants to sell to certain people.

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5 Responses to Unloved Oxford: The Unicorn clothes shop

  1. Juliet Heslewood says:

    I have about 9 pieces of clothing of my Mum’s to sell – vintage stuff, some from the 1970’s through to this century! do you buy such things?
    Yours, Juliet Heslewood

  2. Maria says:

    I just went to this shop today, bought a gorgeous bag for £18, and she was lovely! Absolute madness inside though, you can only get at a tiny percentage of what’s in there!

  3. It wasn’t open when I went there and I kept going back during the whole day and it was still shut. I put a card through the door but didn’t hear a response. I guess she doesn’t like customers? A pity, it looks like a lovely shop and I wish I could go there again!

  4. Here’s a slideshow of some clothes I’ve bought from Unicorn: http://www.chromophilia.uk/unicorn.php . In reply to “The Vintage Girlie”, it’s not always open before 12, or 2 on Sundays.

  5. Chrissy says:

    Ten years ago and the shops still there. A dress in the window that was there in 2016. How does she pay the rent??

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