Walk through any Brooklyn neighborhood
these days and you’re likely to come across another thriving
In the fall, Care Partners opened a thrift boutique on Atlantic Avenue, and Goodwill Industries opened a "superstore" on Livingston Street at Bond Street. Both are doing well. Beacon’s Closet in Williamsburg, which has already doubled the square footage of its store in the past year, is now looking to open a second location.
While some of the retailers, such as the Salvation Army store on Atlantic Avenue, proudly call themselves thrift shops, others, like Crush on Smith Street, say they sell vintage clothes. Both are used clothes, so what’s the difference?
According to Patricia Mears, assistant curator of costumes and textiles at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, which has 300,000 items in its department, "’Vintage’ is anything more than 20 years old." Dr. Desiree Koslin, a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan says "vintage" is "a changing concept, which used to denote maybe late-19th century clothing and certainly early part of the 20th century, but now it can be clothing from a generation back that’s already considered vintage."
Today, vintage is the term applied to thrift shop clothing that can be considered "cool." For fashion-savvy Brooklynites finding that cool vintage item in the racks is an inexpensive way to look like high fashion for less, because, according to Mears, many famous designers, such as Donna Karan, collect vintage clothing to use "as sources for inspiration" for their designs.
To the trendy Brooklyn consumer, that means wearing a vintage dress or shirt is a way of looking fashionable without paying haute couture prices.
But a fashionista should be careful not to overdo vintage.
"Very few people can do head-to-toe vintage," says Donna Regii, owner of Slang Betty in Park Slope. "My customers tend to mix old with the new and get a personal style thing going. Everything looks fresh and they have their own personal statement. My customers are hip to that."
Achieving that vintage look is easier than ever in Brooklyn these days. While the experts say that the right label or a "sexy provenance" (such as an item formerly worn by Marilyn Monroe) may increase an item’s value in an auction house, when shopping for clothes to wear, the beauty or value of the item is in the eye of the consumer.
Mears believes that vintage and thrift store shopping is increasingly popular in a society where the glamour is gone from everyday dressing.
"There are many theorists," says Mears, "but my feeling, as a person who used to buy vintage, is there’s a lack of glamour in our time. People are searching for something with a more romantic quality in this era of the dress-down day. It’s driven by designers, not copying, but offering a fresh perspective on vintage clothing. It’s a phenomenon of the young."
Where to shop
Where to shop to find this vintage look? GO Brooklyn took to the streets, and spent a lot of shoe leather (and money!) discovering where you should go when you want something new - yet old - to wear.
For ease of shopping, we were thrilled with Care Partners on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill. With clothes that are in pristine condition (almost no spots or tears), brightly lit, roomy aisles between racks and large dressing rooms, this is the place to shop when you’re short on time. Offering men and women’s clothing, the items are sorted by type: dresses, skirts, shirts, etc. While most of the clothing was recent, I did come upon a spectacular find: a 1960s, sleeveless brocaded dress with cowl neck and matching collar-less jacket. While I could take or leave the dress, with its cream flowers on a field of silver, the matching knee-length jacket, with three-quarter-length cuffed sleeves, side-slit pockets and a subdued silver sparkle will be perfect over slim-legged pants for a gala evening at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Pricier than most items at the shop, the dress-jacket combo was $65. While that was more than I wanted to spend - there are many items well below that price tag - the store’s profits benefit the Jacob Perlow Hospice of Beth Israel Medical Center and the New York Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation.
In Bay Ridge, proprietor Yolanta Critelli only hangs two years old or newer women’s clothing on her racks at Consign Connection. "It has to be in season and in style," says Critelli. With most items in pristine condition and ironed, we found a blue shirt with French cuffs, perfect for the office, for just $9. There are lots of tops - such as sleeveless sweaters in a range of colors - and many linen items that recalled 1920s summertime elegance. Also on display were designer leather shoes and belts. Here the bathroom doubles as a fitting room.
Originally from Rome, Critelli says she became interested in thrift and consignment shops when she became a single mother. "I was pushed to find a bargain," said Critelli. "Since then I developed a passion for deals and bargains, because I like to be trendy but I couldn’t afford $1,000 for Armani. I found a middle way to look good, and it’s a lot of fun."
Another place that makes shopping - and spending money - easier is 5-year-old Beacon’s Closet in Williamsburg. This store has men and women’s clothing, as well as hats, a large assortment of pocketbooks and shoes. There’s such a range of ladies tops, they’re arranged by color on the racks which makes assembling a new outfit, from flip-flops to pants to shirt to hat to handbag easy - and cheap. We put a complete ensemble together for just $35!
Partner Cindy says the key to their success is volume. With clothes that are priced to sell, they take in a high volume of clothes from their fashion-conscious neighbors and sell a high volume of them.
Beacon’s Closet will buy clothes from the public if they are in-season and right for their racks. Choose cash or credit in return. With this buy, sell and trade model, their racks are stocked with fabulous, affordable finds and routinely replenished.
While the clothes may not all be in pristine condition - popping seams and spots were seen - at these prices it’s worth the risk to take it home and Shout it out. Beacon’s Closet also has fitting rooms, which eliminates the risk of taking something home that may look great on the rack but not on you. Beacon’s Closet has a lot of material - literally - to go through, and it’s a pleasant way to while away the afternoon.
For those who really love the thrill of the hunt there is the tiny St. Jude Thrift Shop in Bay Ridge and the gigantic Salvation Army Thriftshop on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill.
While St. Jude offers lots of jeans and some vintage accessories with super low prices ($3 for a golden chenille sweater), it’s cramped and the racks are jammed. The Atlantic Avenue Salvation Army store is dauntingly huge in comparison. Racks upon racks upon racks of clothes are sorted by type (pants, shirts, dresses, sweaters, etc.) and not at all sorted for "coolness," which means that the customer could be searching for hours to find that right item.
But the prices are extraordinarily low. I found a contemporary pinstripe skirt suit for $15, vintage ’60s navy blue-and-white striped dress for $4.99 and a white satin Betsey Johnson dress for $5.99, as well as a light blue dress with a V-neck of ruffles - vintage disco - for just a few dollars. Neither store has a fitting room, but the clothes are priced to move, and both stores benefit charities.
For the woman who’s serious about her vintage clothing, check out 3-year-old Crush in Boerum Hill - which may be moving in August. The store sells new clothes as well as vintage dresses (from the 1950s through the 1980s) and purses (mostly 1950s and 1960s) in "mint condition" according to owner Tara Sylvane. Stocking mostly "what I like that’s not damaged," Sylvane says her dresses are priced from $40 to $250 for an all-silk, beaded full-length dress.
The higher price tag means customers must request to see the items; pawing through the selections - wrapped in caution tape - is not allowed. Crush sells new and vintage clothes along with lots of kitschy, retro memorabilia. Though popular, its lease is up and Sylvane looking for new space. For updates on the move, and June sale, check with Sylvane and visit the Web site, www.crushstore.com.
Another store blending the old and new is 5-year-old Slang Betty in Park Slope. Proprietor Donna Regii sells clothes from the 1980s and earlier including slips and dresses priced $75 and under (with most dresses at $35). Regii keeps her vintage stock limited so she’s "pretty picky. They’re in excellent condition."
The vintage items share the small space with new clothes - all sharing Regii’s "classic funky style" that falls under the heading "urban contemporary fashion." This boutique also sells a lot of fishnet hose, silver jewelry and more. Regii calls her stock, "fashion for the financially impaired, so you can walk out with a great bag full of goodies for $150, not just one item."
Now, with this research and advice, go forth Brooklynites and shop for bargain clothing with lots of style. Create a new you just in time for summer.
Beacon’s Closet, 110 Bedford Ave. at
North 11th Street in Williamsburg, (718) 486-0816
Care Partners Charity Thrift Shop, 475 Atlantic Ave. at Nevins Street in Boerum Hill, (718) 852-2437
Consign Connection, 8715 Third Ave. at 87th Street in Bay Ridge, (718) 491-6083
Crush, 244 Smith St. at Douglass Street in Boerum Hill, (718) 852-7626
Goodwill Superstore and Donation Center, 258 Livingston St. at Bond Street in Downtown Brooklyn, (718) 923-9037
Saint Jude Thrift Shop, 8706 Third Ave. in Bay Ridge, (718) 745-9159
Salvation Army Thrift Shop, 436 Atlantic Ave. at Bond Street* in Boerum Hill, (718) 834-1562
Slang Betty,180 Lincoln Place at Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, (718) 638-1725