Not long ago, I got an email from the father of a girl who was an avid reader of my L Mag column, “Fashionville” and who needed some fashion advice. I braced myself for questions like, “Where can I find the ripped jeans that Keira Knightley wore in Us Weekly?” or “Why don’t you do an article about where to find good leggings?” — clearly I was underestimating girls in this city. According to her father, this young girl was planning on attending her prom, but was looking for a great prom dress. More specifically, she was looking for a vintage dress, preferably from the 1940s.
This comment came on the heels of a visit to Lolli on Stanton Street, where I struck up a conversation with one of the salespeople about the red Hermes dress Drew Barrymore wore on the cover of the April Vogue. According to the salesperson, half the dresses in Vogue’s fashion spread were just reincarnations of most of the vintage fashion pieces easily found (for a fraction of the price) by a thorough spelunking expedition around Manhattan. I seemed skeptical, but she threw some names out and I pledged to give it a go. Add on one curious city gal with a prom to plan and I decided to give these vintage hideaways a go.
If You Can Afford it, Go Here...
...for the love of God, for me, since I can’t.
Resurrection217 Mott St, between Prince and Spring Sts
For those with cash to burn (aka kept women, celebrities. and their stylists), Resurrection is, arguably, the first stop when it comes to vintage. The owners of the store stock the crème de la crème of vintage couture — from spring dresses to evening wear — though, boy, are the salespeople snooty. Another vintage connoisseur wonderfully said, “They can smell money.” Well, it’s clear they didn’t smell it on me, or most of the people I’ve spoken to. But suffer these small demons, you must, for the sake of the clothes. Chanel suits, couture gowns; I saw one fabulously 90s stretchy black Alaia dress gracing the racks and thumbed through several Yves St. Laurent wool suits, fairly reasonably priced at $325 (though that could’ve just been the jacket). Naturally, my favorite (and prom choice!) was a white, satin 1920s column from a relatively unknown brand, Odicini, for $850.
What Comes Around Goes Around 351 West Broadway
On the un-snooty side of the “high price tag” spectrum, the folks at Comes Around are a merry band of jokesters who clearly love what they do. A tall, adorable girl wearing a darling fitted dress pointed out some amazing finds in the women’s section, specifically some fantastic Biba dresses (on the higher end, close to $1,000) and a reasonably priced 1940s piece at $300. As you can tell, here — like everywhere else — labels really matter. A fantastic navy Alaia will cost you more than a relative unknown, though it might fit just as well. While Comes Around does offer some menswear, I have to admit it seems limited to denim and T-shirts. That said, they have a killer selection of cowboy boots — and I’m from Texas.
Walking down Houston Street, I almost missed the pale apparition passing me with massive bangs, long hair extensions, skinny jeans, aviator sunglasses and a hoodie. Can we agree that this was Fall and try to do something better with Spring? For God’s sake, I was walking around on the first 65-degrees-and-sunny day we’d had in months and this girl looked like Daria from MTV
Doyle & Doyle189 Orchard St.
Future ball-and-chainers, take note: Get your engagement rings at Doyle & Doyle. Inconspicuously located near Orchard and Houston (this place could easily hop up to 74th and Madison with a minimum of fuss), the tiny store houses some brilliant vintage treasures, alongside more modern items. The diamond rings are truly exceptional — not that I was looking. My favorite item, hands down, was an antique painted portrait on a pin that could also function as a necklace, for $1,200. This was a pricy item, but there are sparklers you can find closer to $200.
Mid-Brow: Suck It Up and Fork It Over
Amarcord 84 E. 8th St. and 223 Bedford Ave. (in Williamsburg)
After five or six of your friends recommend a place, you know it has to be good. That was the halo of good reviews Amarcord claimed by the time I set foot in the store. They didn’t disappoint. The owners are meticulous about each item they put into this East Village nook and I had a hard time leaving. They had one Bessi dress that could easily have passed for Pucci, and with a belt? Perfecto. First I just have to raise $320 — totally worth it. The fantastic cat-eye sunglasses for $145 I saw in the case and I’m set for a late-spring Sunday brunch — throw in a trench for good measure. It rains in the spring.
I’d forgotten about all the friggin’ Vespas in Nolita. Come spring when all these vintage dresses and cat-eyed sunglasses hit the streets, downtown is going to look like a Zeffirelli film…
Cherry, and Cherry Men17-19 Eighth Ave.
Cherry and Cherry Men sit side-by-side like a wacky brother and sister sideshow on Eighth Avenue and play host to some of the most playful vintage you can get. Some of the pieces are decently priced, some — alas — seem a bit north of par. That said, it’s hard to haggle when you see the wares. I found one adorable navy Saks Fifth Avenue fitted wool dress with buttons on the collar for $315 and my favorite piece of the whole trip: a sheer polka-dot 1940s shift for $375. With a white blazer and some round-toe pumps, you’ll really look like an Italian film star. We’ll call that outfit “Saturday.” The staff is extremely helpful and eager to recommend their vintage store picks across town. My friend looked skeptical when I fawned over an ornate black matador jacket in Cherry Men, but Cherry Men expert Lester insisted he’d paired it with skinny black jeans on a recent Saturday with much success.
Foley + Corinna, Foley + Corinna Men108 Stanton St; 143 Ludlow St.
On the other side of town, on the LES, Foley + Corinna offers their signature brand’s take on flouncy frocks and feminine tailoring, along with a remarkable selection of vintage dresses, all reasonably priced. I found a deliciously flamboyant beaded sparkling dress for a mere $95 and ended up walking home with a gold Sinbad-the-sailor scabbard on a chain for $125. I bought a blue and green chiffon mini-dress there a few weeks ago that could easily mock any one of those fancy Vogue shots with the right belt and some bronze heels. Miami, ho!
A couple blocks away, Foley + Corinna MEN is what Ralph Lauren wishes it could still be — a tucked away, sexy menswear store that isn’t on Madison Avenue with a motorcycle. That isn’t on Madison Avenue. It’s clean-cut, masculine and slightly rugged, combing vintage and new in effortless fashion.
Passed a blond girl and her boyfriend in matching LaCoste shirts and jeans and couldn’t help squealing under my breath, “oooh they match!”
INA Various locations I’ve said a lot in these pages about INA and I can’t really say enough. The fact that this little chain has spread to so many locations in Manhattan probably says it all. Any store where you can buy Marc Jacobs pumps for $150 is all right in my book. I found a slinky gray Christian Dior dress in the Prince Street store for about $300 that’s served me well. It’s not quite as “vintage” as you might like — more like a few seasons or years ago (with a few exceptions), but the prices are definitely right. Plus, some would argue that, in the fashion business, anything over two seasons old is “vintage.”
There are still some characters in the Nolita area, high rents and Rebecca Taylor notwithstanding. I saw one guy chatting it up with a local on the corner, in between trying to sell his bright and graphic paintings, though I’ll give that one caveat: Just because he wears a top hat and painting pants doesn’t make him an artist.
Bargain Bins with Prizes: Drive In
Housing WorksVarious locations
Though Housing Works is decidedly a cut above the Salvation Army, it functions on a similar principle by selling clothes and household items to fuel charitable works. Only, instead of fueling God’s Army, they’re fueling victims of AIDS through housing and meals. The visible difference between Housing Works and its competition is the selection: Each article of clothing and piece of furniture endures a more vigorous screening process than any of the goods you’ve probably dropped off in a baggie or two at the Salvation Army. While that does mean that most of the clothes are priced above other thrift stores, it also means you’re getting what you pay for: clean, often designer goods, with the occasional vintage gem thrown in. Many posh New Yorkers are committed to Housing Works for obvious reasons, so when that Park Avenue princess stops in with her vintage Yves St. Laurent capelet, try not to foam at the mouth.
Screaming Mimi’s382 Lafayette St.
Everyone knows Screaming Mimi’s. It’s become an East Village mainstay, arguably on par with places like CBGB’s and the Second Avenue Deli (here’s hoping it comes back!), if not quite as old. This is definitely a step above straight bargain diving — and prepare yourself for some steeper prices on some of those T-shirts than you may have expected — with rocking blazers and shirts, and an unending array of accessories in a long glass case, from plastic necklaces to clunky pins and earrings. Those unafraid of a little tulle and sparkle can head to the back of the store for more formal surprises.
Get Yourself an Education
Laurel’s Tips for Increased Vintage-Shopping Success
Make friends with your salespeople. They, unlike you, do this for a living and often even spend their spare time finding new places to shop. Find out where they go — be it flea markets or posh vintage parlors — and shop like a pro.
Find out when your favorite vintage shops regularly refresh their wares — or make such good friends that they keep you posted. That way your eyes get first glimpse of the diamonds in the rough.
Bigger isn’t always better: Amarcord is tiny, but had one of the best selections I saw on our little adventure. Some vintage stores might boast that their stock is eight times the size of others, but that might just mean you have to spend longer looking for the good stuff.
Be thorough. Don’t abandon hope altogether if you rifle through one bin or flip through the racks at one store and don’t find the perfect fitted 1940s prom dress you were looking for. Vintage shopping is a game of passion and persistence — those who keep at it are always rewarded.
Lolli By Reincarnation, 85 Stanton St. Circa Now, 238 E. 6th St. City Opera Thrift Store, 222 E. 23rd St. Fish for the Hip, 153 W. 18th St. Rags a Go Go, 218 W. 14th St. Eva’s Vintage Fashions, 97 E. 7th St. Sodafine, 246 Dekalb Ave, Brooklyn Zukkies, 279 Bushwick Ave, Brooklyn