Love of Vintage Dressing
It’s safe to assume that our style as a whole is disaggregating. I blame the epidemic, changing bodies, and deteriorating social skills, though these are simply working hypotheses that raise new problems.
Is a red satin Versace sheath dress “too much” for sipping a Negroni on a Wednesday afternoon at a sidewalk cafe?
“The rebirth in vintage is partly due to our collective desire to be noticed by other people after feeling invisible for so long,” said Kat Henning, 34, a freelance shoe and home products designer in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighbourhood.
And as we try to reestablish some form of routine and figure out what fits (physically and metaphorically), vintage clothing can be a fun opportunity to experiment without spending too much money (not to mention being conscious of sustainability).
“There were a lot of people combing through their closets during the pandemic,” said Liana Satenstein, the Schmatta Shrink, a senior fashion news editor at Vogue. She also offers an Instagram series called Neverworns, in which she teaches people on how to find forgotten clothes in their wardrobes and then encourages them to donate or sell what no longer fits. “They wanted to get rid of goods, so vintage dealers got a rush,” she explained.
Ms. Satenstein, 32, is a huge fan of well-chosen antiques, and she recently splurged at James Veloria, a fashionable store in Manhattan’s Chinatown. “I’m wearing Plein Sud cheetah print super-high shoes,” she explained. “I want to be a hot oligarch’s wife.” “Anything with an animal print or a psychedelically beautiful neon colour.”
To put it another way, “people are ready to quit wearing sleep dresses and start partying,” said Blythe Marks, 26, a Los Angeles vintage trader and hostess for online vintage trade events.
The Eccentric’s Pleasure
After several years of all things anodyne and aggressively basic being the height of fashion, there is a delight to be found in the chaotic oddities of idiosyncratic, pre-owned items: flamboyant costume jewellery, wool trousers from obscure Italian designers, or broken-in Hermès scarves.
Vintage buying online has never been easier, thanks to sites like eBay, Poshmark, and Depop, which was just purchased by Etsy for an estimated $1.62 billion. People born in the 2000s can wear the low-rise jeans and jersey dresses that were popular decades ago, regardless of where they live.
However, buying vintage lends itself particularly nicely to physical stores. “There’s a boomerang effect from vintage buying moving completely online and swinging straight back around to customers desiring in-person experiences,” Ms. Marks explained. “My friend Jeanna of Swanee Grace runs a vintage workshop out of her Staten Island house.” You can take a glass of wine and spend the entire evening talking about clothes.”
In recent years, New York has seen a surge in the number of new establishments. “We are an in-person experience first and foremost, and people are yearning that,” said Kathleen Sorbara, owner of Chickee’s Vintage in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighbourhood.
She was dressed for a recent interview in a vintage Rodier sundress and grey New Balance 990 sneakers. “We work best in real life, and vintage does as well,” she explained.
Ms. Sorbara was alluding to a shopping setting heightened by the enthusiasm of a friend, stranger, or stylish salesman who may persuade you to purchase your first pair of Maud Frizon heels.
Leisure Centre, a modest vintage boutique on Hester Street in the Lower East Side, launched as a temporary pop-up store in March. “We were supposed to stay here for three months,” Bijan Shahvali, who co-owns the shop with Frank Carson, explained. According to the founders, business was brisk, and the highly particular memorabilia it sells — Chemical Brothers ringer T-shirts, Dean & DeLuca mugs, APC denim shirts from the 1990s — was in high demand. They made the decision to make Leisure Centre permanent.
Smaller and more specialised stores with a distinct point of view, such as Leisure Centre, Chickee’s Vintage, and James Veloria, are doing well, as are stores that have become known as destinations for a specific type of goods. Thank You Have a Good Day, located in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighbourhood, provides a small but careful assortment of vintage Levi’s and antique work clothing. Jean Prounis, a West Village jewellery designer, swears by the jeans and painter trousers from Front General Store in Brooklyn. Karyn Starr, a Bed-Stuy personal stylist, frequents 9th St. Vintage in the East Village.
“They have the nicest vintage denim variety, which I believe is from the 1930s to the 1970s,” Ms. Starr added. “They will also go out of their way to find you if you’re looking for something unique, and they do excellent denim and Edwardian blouse restoration.”
Shoppers are also flocking to larger and more diversified (and often less expensive) stalwarts like Housing Works, L Train Vintage, Buffalo Exchange, and Beacon’s Closet, where a queue of two dozen people waited on a recent Sunday to enter the Guernsey Street shop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
When hunting for inspiration for her shoe designs, Ms. Henning visits the Long Island City Goodwill Outlet, which charges $1 per pound. “I discovered a fantastic pair of burnt-caramel-colored Italian loafers,” she explained. “They don’t suit me, which is a minor tragedy, but I can resuscitate those lovely big tassels through my work.”
If you walk through the Lower East Side and Chinatown, or Greenpoint and Williamsburg in Brooklyn — two areas with a dense population of vintage stores — you’ll find plenty of vintage dealers without storefronts who simply display their wares on a rack on the street, making them the vintage boom’s food carts.
Desert Vintage, a Tucson-based designer shop with a strong online following, just signed a lease to build a New York outlet on Orchard and Hester Streets on the Lower East Side.
What attracts like attracts like. “It seemed like we were becoming a destination,” said Mr. Shahvali of Leisure Centre on Hester. “There are other antique stores in the neighbourhood, which is fine. It’s not a saturated market, but rather a case of “rising tide elevates all ships.”