With the pound at an all-time low, it might be time to bid Barneys and Berdorf’s adieu for the time being on your next trip to New York, and embrace wholeheartedly that vintage vibe which beats to a totally different drum than London’s. For the convenience of the sisterhood of the traveling retro queens, Kristin Knox has compiled a guide broken down by price category to the best vintage the Big Apple has to offer.

As Britain’s econonmy continues to slip further and the Sterling tumbles to unprecedented lows to the satisfaction of those whose currencies have, for so long, submitted grumblingly to the dominion of the Pound (my Yankee-self counted among the smug), Britons have, for once, found themselves on the flip side of the transatlantic shopping curve.

No longer will weekend jaunts to NYC to check out Marc Jacobs’ latest or scoop up sale stock at Saks by the giant carrier bag full remain an alluring prospect for many. But for those who still find themselves unable to resist the siren call of stateside shopping, to get as much mileage as possible from your dollar, it may be time to bid Madison Avenue farewell and head downtown to see what the city that never sleeps has to offer by way of vintage and second hand shops.

Though, being the shamefully new country that we are, our vintage shops do not abound like Portobello Road and Spitalfields in Victorian curiosities, fifties fur and delicate Edwardian lace, may I take this moment to remind you that, New York, in the eighties and nineties led the pack of neon spandex body-suit wielding, acid wash ripped denim sporting sartorial revolutionaries whose spirit is just so right now (Stephen Sprouse, ahem).

Very affordable: Flea markets & more

When it comes to flea markets abounding in the bizarre, kitsch and occasionally totally fab one-off item, Chelsea reigns supreme—always has, always will. Every weekend, West 25th Street spanning from 5th to 7th Ave becomes an exploding market chock full of rare antiques and kitschy collectibles ranging from $1 records to 80s electronic bits to kitsch erotic art.

A few blocks down, a parking lot on the corner of West 17th and the Ave of the Americas has reassumed the vintage vending duties of the former Annex Flee Market, which, in 2005, after three decades, was displaced by one of the innumerable swanky real estate developments moving in on Chelsea since the late nineties.

Here, there is one vendor in particular, one of the only selling clothing exclusively, as it were, who has delightful racks jam-packed with vintage dresses ranging from the pretty cotton floral 50’s sundresses to the ruffled taffeta 80s prom confections.  Everything is either $10 or $20—you’ll know him when you see him.

Afterwards, take a stroll up 17th St., which could easily be renamed Retro Row for all the quirky antique and thrift stores that litter its sidewalks. Hit Angel Street Thrift Shop for cool furnishings, thrift store pieces and the occasional one off vintage couture (usually available via online auction). The shop is a New York classic and even has a cameo in upcoming film Confessions of a Shopaholic.

On this street you’ll also find Pippins, the New York fashion crowd’s secret vintage costume jewelry stash. They have an extraordinary range of pieces organized in such a way that is a pleasure to peruse. Endless cabinets and drawers of quirky animal pins, strands of pearls and beads galore provide countless hours of browsing fun and the prices are suspiciously affordable.

Should you be staying up town and not feel like battling battalions of teens from New Jersey and Long Island on your only weekend in the city, head to the Upper West Side’s Greenflea Market on Columbus Ave between 76th and 77th.  A diverse market in the playground of a school which spills inside the institution’s hallways and cafeteria, this market boasts a wide array of funky vintage furnishings, textiles and clothes, jewelry and prints. It earned the charming name “Greenflea” not on account of eco-friendliness, but because unlike most American flea markets, it also accommodates farmers selling fresh produce.

On the thrift store front, no trip to the States for any trained vintage queen would be complete without at least a quick peek in the Salvation Army. The Hell’s Kitchen outpost at 536 W 46TH St is particularly full of goodies. Things to look for: old sweats bearing amusing graphics or traditional American university insignia, 80s denim and silly random tees, the occasional derelict knit or bejeweled $5 denim jacket.

Do remember to stop by the jewelry case, the things you will find in there for 50 cents will bring any avid lover of kitsch accessories to tears. While you’re in the neighborhood, stop off at the granddaddy of all the city’s flea markets, which needs no introduction really, the Hell’s Kitchen market on W. 39th St.

Affordable: Downtown Boutiques

Boutiques stocking vintage goods abound in New York, and most offer both traditional vintage pieces alongside reworked clothing/jewelry (think Urban Outfitter’s Renewal range). A must is Zachary’s Smile, which has two outposts, one on Lafayette St. where Noho, Soho and Nolita meet and one in Greenwich Village, the larger of the two. Zachary’s Smile is known for two things: dresses and shoes.
They made their name by reworking vintage fabrics into easy, jersey silhouettes; these were so popular that they were scooped up first by Urban Outfitters and eventually for an exclusive collaborative line with Barneys Coop. In the shops, expect to find hundreds of dresses organized by color, slews of chunky 80’s belts and vintage YSL and Gucci scarves.

Across the street from the Noho outpost of Zachary’s Smile is Eye Candy, a delightful little shop in which every inch of wall/counter/general display space is covered with collages of vintage jewels, hats, watches, sunglasses and bags. No clothing here, just accessories, accessories and more accessories. If you are looking for a quirky vintage quick fix, this is the place.

Next head to West Broadway and Broome to check out What Goes Around Comes Around, a Western-themed vintage store for both men and women. Retro denim galore might better suit as a name, as the shop boasts the US’ biggest collection of old denim includes vintage Levi’s spanning all decades. They also stock some fantastic retro cowboy boots, concert tees and funky leathers.

Definitely pricier than their Noho counterparts, a visit is still recommended if you plan on touring Soho. Alternatively, save a few pennies but plan to invest a considerable chunk of your day and scope out their 7,000 square foot Tribeca by-appointment-only showroom and comb through over 100,000 pieces organized by theme.

But, as far as boutiques go, the East Village’s 7th St. is to mid-ranged vintage boutiques what 17th street in Chelsea is to flea markets: prime vintage hunting grounds. Start at Tompkins Square on Avenue A and simply work yourself up 7th St. to 2nd Ave.

Be sure to pop into Tokio 7, a delightful combination of vintage and designer consignment (one of New York’s other little juicy fashion nuggets which is lacking here in the UK, just Google INA and you’ll see what I mean), AuH20 which boasts affordable handmade clothing from recycled material alongside funky vintage finds and Amarcord (another local favorite due to its reasonably priced designer vintage).

Bank breakers:

If you’ve an Oscar party to attend and seek to rival Julia Roberts’ iconic black and white vintage Valentino from 2001, head to Resurrection in Nolita, the city’s most upscale vintage haven, akin to LA’s legendary Decades. Stocking 70s Halston gowns, Gucci bags, 60s Pucci prints and classic YSL suits, sunglasses and more, its like catching an illicit glimpse of Jackie O’s closet. It may be the closest you ever come to god, that is, a 60s croc Birkin in mint condition.

Even if you’re not looking to invest, for a lover of vintage, a pilgrimage to this Mott St. legend is just as critical to any Manhattan adventure as a stop at the Metropolitan Museum of art.

5 Responses

  1. Fleur

    Ahhhh, if only this had been published two weeks ago! I barely did any vintage shopping in NYC, I’ll just have to make sure I go back again soon. 🙂

  2. Judy

    You haven’t mentioned Brooklyn, Park Slope vintage shops and the Brooklyn Flea, oh and Williamsburg are the best places to shop for affordable vintage. Could we have a part two of the article as I really do think its important to send visitors over to the undiscovered cool parts of Brooklyn, its only $2 on the tube and so worth the journey. Alternatively you can send me over there to report for you.. I’d do it in the name of vintage..

  3. Lena

    Hi Judy,

    Thanks for all the tips! We’ve got a little something in the pipelines about Brooklyn. I LOVE the Flea!

  4. Patrick McKeon

    Angel Street Thrift Shop has a store in Williamsburg/Grenpoint near McCarren Park at 67 Guernsey Street.

    • naboo

      Don’t miss the many vintage costume jewelry vendors on the ground floor of Showplace Antiques Center; 40 w 25 St (between 5th and 6th ave).