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Do Look Back

A niche-by-niche breakdown of the city’s most stylishly retrograde retailers.


Urban Jungle Vintage  

Levis 501s
The Clothing Warehouse
8 Prince St., nr. Bowery 212-343-1967
Though some prefer their denim raw, pristine, and scratchy-stiff, others believe that jeans, like wine and William Shatner, improve with age. For the latter crowd, the dresser drawers at this year-and-a-half-old spot are pay dirt, each packed with over 50 neatly rolled pairs of classic Levi’s 501s from the late seventies through the nineties ($46). Every button-fly pair is one-of- a-kind in its degree of wear, wash, and weatheredness.

Scout Vintage TShirts
227 Mulberry St., nr. Prince St.; 212-966-3828
The deservedly popular trove of color-sorted, gently timeworn cotton tees (both iconic and ironic) lets you sift through hundreds of wearable mementos from bar mitzvahs, family reunions, fraternity socials, bachelorette parties, company picnics, sports teams both pro and am, and metal concerts from the seventies through the nineties. (Recent finds: “Poland Humor for Peace”; “Official Beer Drinker: Summer Olympics 1984.”) And though the rarest band tees fetch up to $200, the average short-sleeve here is around $25.

Plaid Shirts
Urban Jungle Vintage
120 Knickerbocker Ave., nr. Flushing Ave., Bushwick 718-381-8510
This aptly named chaparral of a thrift store is one of two separate but equally grimy neighboring Bushwick storefronts. Skip the neon-lit, linoleumed spot on the corner of Thames Avenue in favor of the darker, concrete-lined warehouse between Flushing and Thames. You’ll find hundreds of plaid shirts in every imaginable style and combo, all priced from $7 to $10.

Cheap Dresses
Fox & Fawn
570 Manhattan Ave., nr. Driggs Ave., Greenpoint; 718-349-9510
A customer base equally divided between slouchy twentysomethings and older Polish ladies seems tailor-made to appreciate the quirky coolness of Fox & Fawn’s eighties- and nineties-era stock. Dress prices are mostly under $20, with flimsy cotton prints, jersey tunics, and poly-nylon blends sharing racks with low-priced gems: Recent finds include a Marc Jacobs maxi-dress ($39.95), a camel-colored Cynthia Steffe shift ($24.95), a plaid Trovata number ($22.95), and a navy Nanette Lepore frock ($34.95).

Mid-Priced Dresses
Shareen Vintage
13 W. 17th St., nr. Fifth Ave., second fl.; 212-206-1644
This apartment turned shop has all the hallmarks of a badly kept secret: a hard-to-find entrance (a red chiffon dress flapping from the fire escape marks the spot), unusual hours (Wednesdays and Thursdays 5 to 10 p.m.; Saturday noon to 6 p.m.), and a huge selection of well-priced dresses (most hovering between $30 and $90), bought on both coasts by L.A. collector Shareen Mitchell. There are no fitting rooms and a “no boys allowed” policy, leaving shoppers to unabashedly try on garments in front of clerks and strangers.

High-End Dresses
170 Elizabeth St., nr. Kenmare St.; 212-594-5380
Most of the gowns at this immaculate boutique would look just as comfortable on a contemporary red carpet as in Betty Draper’s closet. Though there’s a row of all-black in the back—from elaborate lace overlays to bustier minidresses—the truly swoon-worthy pieces are the vividly preserved prints: a tea-length charmeuse Oscar de la Renta ($595); a slim, coral-print Thierry Mugler ($825); a floral Emanuel Ungaro with an intricately ruched bodice ($625).

Fille de Joie
197 Grand St., nr. Driggs Ave., Williamsburg; 718-599-3525
French collector C. C. McGurr embraces a very different sort of undergarment from the pushed-up and padded unmentionables of today: sheer European styles from the twenties to the eighties found on regular trips to France. Her wildly adorned shop overflows with satin, lace, and silk bras, panties, negligees, slips, garter belts, and robes, including Victorian-era corsets (from $150), pinup-worthy forties teddies (from $85), and—McGurr’s favorite—barely-there styles from the eighties (from $55).

Collegiate Garb
Stock Vintage
143 E. 13th St., nr. Third Ave. 212-505-2505
This impeccably maintained shop (a source of inspiration for merchandisers at Ralph Lauren and J.Crew) is an under-the-radar haven for scholarly cardigans and letterman jackets. Owner Melissa Howard scours estate sales and auctions across the Midwest and East Coast for school-branded knit hats ($85), patch-adorned coarse-wool sweaters (from $145), and mascot-printed sweatshirts (from $145).

Western Shirts
Physical Graffiti
96 St. Marks Pl., nr. First Ave. 212-477-7334
The St. Marks mainstay is packed with over 100 styles of shirts for the urban cowperson—a mix of sun-faded cotton, polyester, and rare gabardine garments from the sixties and seventies ($30 to $55). Owner Ilana Malka makes weekly trips to secret wholesalers in Brooklyn and elsewhere to replenish her colorful supply of slim-collar button-ups in standard plaid and prints.

Women’s Hats
The Family Jewels
130 W. 23rd St., nr. Sixth Ave. 212-633-6020
For those who share Isabella Blow’s belief in the transformative qualities of a fabulous hat, owner Lillyan Peditto has been curating her store’s collection for the past three decades, unearthing wide-brims, cloches, and pillboxes (from $30) from private collectors throughout the country.

Kill Devil Hill
170 Franklin St., nr. Java St., Greenpoint; 347-534-3088
Best known for its vintage oddities (skulls, antlers, thirties housewares, homemade soap), the Greenpoint store is also a stellar source for workwear from the fifties and sixties. Every few months, owner Mary Brockman goes on road trips to cities like Buffalo and Detroit and collects small batches of durable, functional garb, from heavy-duty canvas mechanics’ overalls ($65) to long-sleeve cotton-jersey undershirts (from $30) to wool-trimmed denim jackets (from $60).

Printed Skirts and Tops
Loveday 31
33-06 31st Ave., nr. 33rd St., Astoria; 718-728-4057
A standout in Astoria’s burgeoning boutique scene, in no small part because of its pieces’ up-to-date fit. Though original to the sixties, seventies, and eighties, most blouses and skirts in stripes, plaids, florals, animal prints, polka dots, and paisleys are slightly tailored in-house before being placed on the racks. And the markup is fair: Rarely does any item command more than $50.

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