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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Antiques Extravaganza

Lately, I've had a lot of success shopping for vintage. Either I have a good eye for this stuff or I am just focusing my shopping adventures on retro/vintage style, because in the last month, I have managed to find about five times as much great vintage clothing/accessories as I ever have before in my adult life. Having a mother who collects vintage aprons and hats (1920s-1960s, she does not discriminate) certainly helps, and a long-standing fascination with interior design, architecture, fashion history, and obviously, independent fashion businesses does not hurt! Great antique stores seem to find me and want to show me their hidden gems.

Since I've traveled back and forth amongst the East Coast, California, and Tokyo, Japan frequently over the last few years, I've got a pretty solid list of great antique/vintage clothing stores I always love to hit up. It's really like a treasure hunt, first finding the shop, then digging through its wares to find what really calls to you. In my mind, when I visit all of these fabulous stores, I make up a eidetic encyclopedia of the types/eras of design I particularly appreciate--a cheap way to educate yourself on design possibilities for fashion and home.

So, to share with all of you lovely readers, I've created an easy Google map featuring my most favorite places in the world.

View Favorite Antique Stores, Periodic Elements of Style in a larger map It may stretch across thousands of miles, but each place is close to my heart!

-Halltree Antiques, Salinas, CA:
When I used to drive from Silicon Valley to get back to school in Monterey almost every weekend, I HAD to stop at Halltree to check out their vendors' furniture, vintage jewelry, and great collection of weird little knick-knacks. If you're into it, they have loads of vintage embroidered linens and tablecloths. I've personally found awesome 1940s-1950s sewing patterns for a pittance, including a 1950s young lady's 4-H dress pattern that I promptly made for my college graduation. Downtown Salinas itself is dying, sadly, but has great historical significance for you fans of Steinbeck, including the National Steinbeck Museum.

-The Garment District, Cambridge, MA

A local favorite, hidden just beyond the edge of MIT's campus and a brisk walk away from the Kendall T-stop on the red line. The basement is their dollar-per-pound extravaganza, freshman year of college I found a huge black velvet vintage overcoat there that I still wear today. According to my sources (aka my cousin who was in Boston recently), the dollar price is now more like $1.25. Upstairs at the Garment District is a veritable cornucopia of 1970s vintage, used denim, and cheap/schlocky clubwear that college girls go crazy for. It's really more of a go-to place for frat party and Halloween costumes, but the odd gem can be found with a sharp eye.

-The Globe Antiques & Cafe, Mishuku, Tokyo, Japan

When I lived in Tokyo, for the first six months I rented a room in an apartment outside of Shibuya, one stop away on the subway and a twenty-minute bus ride from that glorious hub of humanity. Walking around the rather boring but quiet residential neighborhood of Ikejiri-Oohashi, I discovered the fabulous Globe Antiques and Cafe. It quickly became my go-to spot for reading on the weekend (despite being bilingual and spending all my time reading in Japanese for my schoolwork, I desperately missed reading English books) and perusing their stock of antique farm tables, lighting fixtures, and prints. They are inspired by Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, of course, and managed to create a veritable English countryside oasis in one of the world's most hectic cities. If you visit the cafe, get one of their homemade mango and white chocolate muffins for me. All of the furniture in the cafe is rotating inventory in the shop, so it's all on sale.

-Shimokitazawa, Tokyo

If you ever wonder where all of the U.S.'s great vintage clothing has gone, this is where it ends up. Shimokitazawa is a twenty-minute train ride west from Shinjuku and Shibuya, and the absolute mecca for Tokyo's hipster scene. There are underground bars with live music from Japan's up and coming rock bands, jazz and wine bars, indie art galleries, and the best vintage clothing stores you'll ever experience...if you are a size 00-6, max. Tons of polyester, crazy colorblocked 1980s sweaters, and acid-wash jeans to be found here. I spent many evenings pounding the pavement here as a young, spry 19-year-old and shopped my little heart out in the accessories shops. When I went back last year, more foreigners had discovered my little corner of heaven in Tokyo but there was still a very hush-hush, don't-let-the-tourists-in vibe about the place.

-Junkees Antiques & Clothing Exchange, Reno, NV

A more recent discovery from my roadtrip to Reno from California (Grandma loves playing those slot machines!), Junkees is turning into a real Reno institution since business at the casinos is way down. Its owner Jessica just published the inaugural issue of Reno Style Magazine, which does a great job of styling outfits with affordable options and vintage/thrifted items. Junkees itself is half antiques mall, half used clothing store, and they only accept good quality, non-stinky clothes! Can you imagine a fashionable thrift store with clothes that don't smell of BO and death? I found a great 1940s black dress, a funky vintage sexy-secretary blouse with a very Pop Art flower pattern, and a nearly new 1950s beaded wool cardigan that is going to get a lot of use this winter.

-Vintage Playclothes, Studio City, CA

We've linked to the glorious fashion paradise that is Vintage Playclothes before, and as you may know, it is the go-to store for Hollywood TV and movie wardrobe departments, including the costume designers of Mad Men and The Closer. They even had a party for the Mad Men third season premiere, could you die? Being a modern-sized woman, I've always had trouble finding the lovely vintage clothes my daintier friends could, but Vintage Playclothes has up to size 16 for women. Everything is well curated and very organized. I saw a black and white oversize houndstooth coat from Playclothes in the second to last episode of Mad Men!

-Addison Antiques, Palo Alto, CA

A bit pricier than your average warehouse-sized antiques mall, Addison Antiques caters to the quirky tastes of suburbia. A lot of their vendors' stalls don't change much, while others are continuously turning over and bringing in new, fascinating little items. I've seen a Napoleonic Maltese military hat with medals and huge feathers, Civil War compasses, and bought a sequined bow pin with pearl accent and a freaky little broken babydoll head with a hole in it.

-Reincarnation Vintage Clothing, Pacific Grove, CA
There was a time in my life when sleepy little Victorian fishing town Pacific Grove, California, was the most exciting place to visit. Reincarnation is just a half a block away from Lighthouse Avenue in what is Pacific Grove's historic, residential downtown district, hidden in a row of small restaurants. The owner is a chain-smoking lady who will hand you armfuls of things to try on and accessories to match. Reincarnation has a great selection of truly unique vintage bags and dresses in particular, I still wear two cotton day dresses that are tres Peggy from Mad Men (are we sensing a theme here?), and picked up a crazy straw bag with an owl made entirely of sequins on it. FABULOUS.

-Fabulous Fanny's, New York City, NY

Which brings us across the country to the East Village's notoriously funky vintage glasses destination, Fabulous Fanny's. It's basically the world's greatest closet of amazing vintage glasses from the 1920s through the 1980s, if you want fly sunglasses like all the hip kids are wearing or pearl-inlaid cats-eye frames. It's wall to wall, floor to ceiling glasses, HEAVENLY. Miss C. and I visited one afternoon and while crowded, it's definitely worth it. I must have tried on every pair of frames in the store, and I walked out with a pair of robin's-egg blue cat's-eyes with gold and pearl inlay, and sides that look like birds' wings. They'll even direct you to their preferred optometrist to get your new glasses set with prescription lenses within the same day.

-Housing Works Thrift Shop, New York City, NY
These local non-profit thrift shops are all over the city and are known for celebrities and socialites donating their gently used high fashion goods to benefit low-income housing in NYC. The Upper East Side location on E. 77th Street is particularly fetching, the interior design of the store is pretty much like an Anthropologie, with window displays to match. They always have the greatest furniture and vintage luggage, plus your standard fancy business clothes on the racks!

-Lee Alex Decor, Denver, CO
One of my recent discoveries in Denver on my trip there this past August, Lee Alex Decor is a quiet little treasure trove of midcentury interior design greatness. Immediately upon walking into this shop in an up and coming Williamsburg-esque Baker neighborhood, you face a wall full of every kind of bar and martini-related item your little heart could desire. (Friend of the blog Miss C. was over the moon since they had highball glasses with both medieval knights and card suits on them.) They have a steady Flickr stream (link above) and Twitter feed with all new merchandise and nifty furniture finds you can check out if you don't make it to Denver very often!

-Janakos & Company, Burlingame, CA
A perennial favorite of my boss', Janakos is more of a museum-type store for those of us of more modest means. Excellently curated, with items on display ranging from Art Deco vases to full rows of antique movie theatre seats (oh, be still my heart!!) and Bauhaus-inspired bent wood furniture from midcentury European designers. On weekends, they hold estate and junk sales in an old storefront next door with some interesting, if overpriced, pieces--check out the pins and antique necklace pieces if you stop by. I've picked up cuckoo costume jewelry for a song there. It's dusty, but if you dig with an eye for DIY remakes and design value, you'll find something you love.

-Antiques Unlimited, San Carlos, CA
This is one of those neighborhood places that's been around forever, yet I only just stopped by last week after an afternoon of outdoor skate practice with Jeanne in Belmont. Don't be deterred by the freaky mannequins modeling the vintage clothes in the crazy front window, I nearly jumped out of my skin when I walked straight into the giant African mask section myself. Antiques Unlimited has a condition that all sellers must only have items that are pre-1950s, so my search for tiki items for Miss C. was futile--I did find a couple of fabulous vendors chock full of luxurious furs, vintage skirt-suits, and HATS GALORE. Etsy's Booty Vintage (a.k.a. Anna Newman) had some cards there, although I didn't see any patterns. I found an incredible navy and cream polka-dot skirt suit from the 1950s in perfect condition, it fits like a glove if anything, double-breasted lapel with self-covered buttons...you'd better believe I took one look at the beauty and said, COME TO MOMMA!

Speaking of suits, I love incorporating vintage pieces into my daily wardrobe for work in particular--it breaks up the monotony of black pants, solid top, heels that is so easy to fall into. I came close to pairing the navy and cream polka-dot suit jacket with a pair of wide leg navy/grey herringbone slacks for work the other day, but one look in the mirror had me hearing Tim Gunn say it was "too much look." I say unless you are going full-on retro/vintage in your hair, makeup, eyewear, shoes, whole hog femme fatale, keep your vintage pieces as the highlight to your wardrobe basics.

Jeanne's advice is to shop for accessories, as the old solid real leather handbags, hats, bracelets, and rings, which always a great deal for the quality and style. For years, I watched other girls buying armfuls at Haight Ashbury thrift shops in smoking jealousy, and it's taken me this long to find the few styles, fashion trends, and shops that will suit my taste and fit/size. I know for a fact that you just can't find the quality in beading on a pure wool, made in the U.S.A. cardigan at Macy's like the one I found at Junkee's in Reno. It's a hunt to find the best and brightest of previous generations, but if we don't preserve and celebrate vintage fashion, who will?

(I promise to do a couple of outfit shots with my various vintage scores soon! Keep your eyes peeled, darlings.) Where do you go for a truly unique, fabulous vintage treasure? What do you keep an eye out for at random estate sales in your neighborhood? I am a sucker for ornate Victorian keys and straw/Bakelite handled bags...oh, sweetness! There is a big Art Deco show coming up at the Concourse Exhibition Center in San Francisco, December 5-6th, maybe we'll see you all there!


Bridget said...

Sigh...Garment District is more like $1.50 these days. And the really dedicated vintage shopper doesn't really even try anymore...frankly, you are more likely to find something amazing hidden in the racks of the Goodwill on Mass Ave just half a mile away than you are at Garment District. Then there's Poor Little Rich Girl in Somerville, Second Time Around on Newbury Street, Boomerangs in JP, Dame in JP - out of all these choices, I never really make it to the Garment District, even though I live on MIT's campus. Oh well...

Karen said...

Bridget, so I've heard! What a travesty--I only dug through the $1 pile once in four years and had to give up because it was basically a pile of dust and polyester stink. (I did find that coat, which makes up for the one Herculean effort!)

Thanks for the tip on the Mass Ave Goodwill, that area always has great finds. Second Time Around, what a blast from the past! Even living here in Silicon Valley and shopping in SF, I still miss Newbury Street and its crazy/fabulous/chain shops. The Garment District has its place and time, and that is when you are drunk and going to a BU frat costume party dressed as a slutty policewoman. You know it's true!

Bridget said...

...oh do I ever. The week or so before Halloween, MIT was practically swarmed with their obnoxiously bright pink bags.

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