In the realm of vintage shopping, the flapper dress is an elusive item. We found just three in our weeklong hunt, our favorite being this beauty from Screaming Mimi’s ($110), worn by Courtney. The faux-pearls were pulled from dozens of similar strands at Pippin Vintage Jewelry ($35), a tiny, well-priced spot for costume baubles. And the hat—a beaded Family Jewels find from the twenties—is a conversation piece in itself ($99).
This tried-and-true costume harkens back to Tom Cruise’s pre-TomKat “Maverick” days. Star Struck has a widespread supply of uniforms, but we were swayed by the affordability and gory authenticity of this coat from Love Saves the Day, on Zachary: The front has what appears to be dried bloodstains on it, and the tag matter-of-factly reads, “$20, as is.” Aviator sunglasses with gold wings spanning the bridge from Screaming Mimi’s lighten up the look ($32).
We wanted to create a refined, Victorian-style costume (à la Keira Knightly in The Duchess), mostly because it provides an excuse to wear a traffic-stopping hat. We browsed an array of high-collared, ruffled shirts at Physical Graffiti before settling on this delicate silk number ($88) and added a pair of gussied-up opera gloves from Pippin Vintage Jewelry ($18). Take the look a step further at the Family Jewels, where you’ll find rows of nineteenth-century cotton underskirts and bloomers— plus a covetable stash of feathered, veiled, and bejeweled hats, like this wide-brimmed style on Carey ($69).
The shirt is an official-looking find from Star Struck ($26), where the owners have been vintage collectors for 28 years. Dress up as a generic city cop, like Mike, or muster a Fu Manchu and go as Seth Rogan from Superbad. We appreciated the dated look of this Screaming Mimi’s hat ($28), though we also spotted a more modern version at Love Saves the Day. And no police ensemble would be complete without some no-nonsense, slightly ironic shades, like this pair from Fille de Joie ($60).
Sure, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull may have been a disappointing sequel, but come Halloween, classic action heroes die hard. This safari shirt from David Owens Vintage Clothing ($55) achieves the rugged Harrison Ford look, and the many pockets also offer space to stuff excess candy. The Screaming Mimi’s hat lured us with its styled-out leather band ($125). Unfortunately, we failed in our quest to find a vintage whip, but the latex-and-leather lovers down the street at DeMask may be able to help you out.
Japanese print robes and kimonos were surprisingly prevalent in vintage stores we visited, with most shops stocking at least one or two. Since it can be worn over just about anything, the kimono is an easy throw-on option in unpredictable autumn weather. This colorful robe ($85) and one-of-a-kind coolie hat from Physical Graffiti stood out from more traditional styles. (A similar effect can be achieved with a high bun, some faux-flowers, and a pair of chopsticks.)
Fille de Joie is the place to go for frilly, feminine frocks and vampy vintage looks, including an array of tutus and skimpy slip dresses. The store’s Scarlett O’Hara gown ($200) is a surefire hit for those willing to go all out, hoop skirt and all. In the same vein, we came across a full-skirted lacy pink dress at David Owens that could conjure up a passable Glinda from The Wizard of Oz.
The Mad Men look provides a sharp, swanky getup for the guy who would rather collect a few phone numbers on Halloween than win a costume contest. And though it’s a fairly easy outfit to replicate, vintage shopping ensures that you do it right. At Fabulous Fanny’s, suspenders are available by the dozens ($20), rows of feathered fedoras emanate old-school style ($45), and the ties are true sixties relics ($15).
Most unisex vintage stores have at least one rack of rugged button-downs, making the cowboy ensemble the ultimate last-minute costume. This shirt from Physical Graffiti caught our eye for its bright color and galloping stallion motif, on top of the requisite snap buttons ($48). Cowboy hats can be more difficult to find, but Star Struck has dozens ($45) as well as generous bins of bandannas and belts for accessorizing. Of course, exhibitionists can always opt for the classic Naked Cowboy costume: Just swap the jeans and oversize belt buckle for … boots.
The Girl Scout costume delivers the same cutesy punch as a Catholic-schoolgirl jumper, without having long since passed its saturation point. The tan shirtdress is a fairly common vintage find—we particularly liked the belt and red trim on this Screaming Mimi’s version ($78)—and has potential to be worn in a non-costume capacity later. The sash was fished out of a $5 bin at Love Saves the Day, and crafty DIYers can pick out their own patches from piles at Archangel Antiques for $2 to $8 apiece. Those hunting for real relics should check out the racks at Star Struck, where we found half a dozen Boy Scout and Girl Scout uniforms.
Assuming you already own a polo shirt, the preppy golfer look is all about outrageous plaid. Screaming Mimi’s has a gloriously clashing rack of the checked prints, so we were able to grab these and go without pawing through stacks of trousers ($65). We also came across a covetable pair of Payne Stewart–esque knickers at Marmalade, for those willing to rock a pair of kneesocks. We snagged this houndstooth newsboy cap at Fabulous Fanny’s ($41.25), but the ample hat racks at Eye Candy are another good bet.
Sock Hop Girl
Poodle skirts are top sellers at Halloween costume stores, so we were skeptical about our chances of tracking down the vintage variety. But Love Saves the Day delivered with several sweet versions in shades of pink, black, red, and baby blue ($39). Pick out a colorful scarf at Narnia and your costume is made.
Lucha Libre Wrestler
The Lucha Libre mask, like this one from Fille de Joie, is really a costume in itself ($35). Sure, you could take the ensemble a step further and spring for some spandex, or you can just pair the mask with some menacing Spanish phrases to round out the effect. Be prepared to commit, though, because this costume presents a serious downside: During the post-parade revelry, you’ll be reduced to sipping your beer through a straw. If you’re still unmasked after scouring vintage shops, you can cheat and choose from an assortment of colors at Fuego 718 in Williamsburg.
It’s a given that every other trick-or-treater this year will be dressing up as Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, or, of course, the Joker. But stand out with these super-skinny comic-strip-print jeans from Poppet ($165), which yield some high-wattage superhero style. The shades are from Screaming Mimi’s ($36), and the T-shirt is a Tim Burton throwback, circa 1992, found after circling the densely packed T-shirt racks at Metropolis for half an hour ($25). Consider yourself warned, last-minute shoppers: Vintage superhero tees are a scarce commodity this year.
In one of our favorite cobbled-together vintage costumes, we found a yellow-jacket tank ($55) and this pair of gold-rimmed glasses ($36) at Screaming Mimi’s, then topped them off with a bee-bedecked hat from Love Saves the Day ($25). If you’re hunting for the perfect pair of bug-eyed glasses, Fabulous Fanny’s stocks hundreds in every size, shape, and color.
Though Fille de Joie has an impressive collection of sailor suits to spare, this heavy-duty nautical-inspired coat from Star Struck won us over with its regal gold buttons and emblems ($85). The authentic U.S. Navy cap from Fabulous Fanny’s was one of the week’s best finds ($25), but the store also has a German version in stock, if you’re so inclined.
Find a Costume Shop
Items were returned after this shoot, so all costumes pictured are available for purchase—if you’re quick.
Modeling services provided by our admirably agreeable nymag.com interns: Courtney Willis, Zachary Wilson, Mike Vilensky, and Carey Jones.