Diane Cooke undercovers Blackburn fashion gem, Decades, one of the country’s top 50 vintage stores favoured by top designers and movie makers where every item has a story to tell

VINTAGE fashion gem, Decades, one of the country’s top 50 vintage stores favoured by top designers and movie makers where every item has a story to tell in Blackburn, recommended by top designer Wayne Hemingway, is one of the top 50 in the country, according to the October issue of Homes and Antiques magazine.

The Blackburn-born Red or Dead designer regularly shops at Decades, at Lord Street West, where vintage lovers can pick up a pair of his glitter-soled platforms along with other sartorial gems dating back to Victorian and Edwardian times.

In fact, Decades, having also featured in the Sunday Telegraph’s Top 50 vintage stores, is better known in London than in Blackburn, according to its owner Jan Conroy, 52, who founded the store almost 25 years ago after selling second-hand outfits from a rail in her bedroom.

It is also number five in the top vintage shops in the industry bible Miller’s Antiques Guide.

Jan is often called to provide costumes for films and TV productions. She once had the dubious task of sourcing an Eighties outfit for an actress playing Sonia Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper’s wife.

Decades also sourced the costumes for a BBC film about the early years of Morecambe and Wise in 2010 and soon-to-be released film by Elaine Constantine, Northern Soul, filmed at King George’s Hall, Blackburn, to commemorate 40 years since Wigan Casino.

The store was also featured on Twiggy’s Frock Exchange.

The biggest issue for Jan is finding vintage clothes to fit the cast. She says: “People are bigger than they were 25 years ago. Seventies flares in a size 16 have a 28-inch waist that’s the equivalent of today’s size 10, so it’s sometimes difficult getting clothes to fit the actors.”

The emporium is home to thousands of pre-loved items each with a different story to tell. There’s a 1961 ballgown, worth 200 guineas at the time, which was won by a lady in a competition in Woman magazine.

There’s also a 1920s silk velvet coat by Liberty owned by Wanda Radford, a child star in Australia who became a fashion illustrator in the 1930s.

There are children’s pre-war leather boots – “although I wouldn’t be so cruel as to put a child in them as the leather is so stiff. They are more museum items,” says Jan.

She also has a stunning lingerie collection with silk nightdresses and dressing gowns, Madonna-style satin bras and even silk girdles.

Vintage weddings are in vogue and Jan has a beautiful collection of gowns from 100-year-old Edwardian lace to a shorter Sixties-style.

Brides-to-be are also insisting that their guests dress in vintage, so there’s always a demand in wedding season. “One lady came in complaining that she’d spent £2,000 on a vintage wedding dress and was really upset when she saw mine at £200.

“I feel like the custodian of some of these items and I can get quite protective," says Jan. “I will go to great lengths to find the right person for the right outfit.”

Jan buys direct from the seller and at specialist auctions. She also attends fashion fairs including Hammersmith Vintage Fashion and The Clothes Show Live. “It’s hugely competitive these days. But it’s my passion,” she says.