The fashionable in Gotham, New York don't troop into large department stores; they go for vintage fashion and try to snap a good deal at consignment stores. -The Star
Vintage fashion is always in vogue. Its style is enduring and its quality exquisite, so say the followers.
"Look at the details, the bustline - they don't do it like this anymore now," observed language tutor Helen Calthorpe as she scrutinised a red floral strapless dress on display outside a store in Manhattan called New York Vintage.
Calthorpe, an Irish who has lived in New York City for two decades, appreciates vintage clothes for the quality.
"They have a lot of details which you don't see anymore these days because tailors don't want to go into that much trouble. The style is lasting. In those days, people would wear clothes for a long time, as fashion did not change every six months. When my mother bought a coat, she could wear it for six or seven years. The quality was excellent," said Calthorpe, in her 50s.
She pooh-poohed the many shops in Manhattan's East Village neighbourhood that touted themselves as a source of vintage fashion.
"Those are mostly T-shirts with 1970s slogans on them. I do not consider them vintage," she said.
New York Vintage, though, is a different story altogether. Its website explains that the store has a variety of clothes and accessories dating from the 1880s all the way to the 1980s.
"We have been collectors for at least a decade (and have items) from all over the world before we opened the shop six years ago," said owner John, who started the business with his wife. The couple introduce themselves only as John and Shannon.
Prices in New York Vintage is anywhere from US$100 (RM315) to 'many thousands'. It all depends on the rarity and condition of the merchandise.
"We are very careful about our collection. We would only acquire what is good. Some of our things are more than 100 years old. We have bags that come from 1920s," John said.
Vintage, to him, is something that is at least 30 years of age. Hence, his shop is something of a magnet for fashion designers looking for inspiration. Even celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Selma Blair, Scarlett Johansson, Mary-Kate Olsen and Sarah Jessica Parker come here to shop.
People from film and theatre productions, who are looking to rent costumes for their projects, also drop in at John's place.
"There are many vintage shops here in New York but not many are like us. We have a large selection, coming from different times. Their date is written on a label on the item," he said.
Asked how many bags the store has, he replied, "Oh, we have several hundreds of them. We are kind of old-fashioned. Our inventory is not computerised."
Indeed, the store is crammed with merchandise in every nook and corner.
New York Vintage is located in Chelsea, a neighbourhood John described as a fashion epicentre. John, whose passion is in antiques and fine arts, said vintage clothing is very much like art appreciation.
"It has intrinsic value. How can you say a Picasso work is better than someone else's?" he asked.
Another shopping option in New York City is the consignment stores that sell what is often termed as 'gently-used' designer clothes (in other words, second-hand items).
INA, for instance, gained fame in 2004 when its SoHo branch became the location for the sale of clothes worn by The Sex and the City cast after the hit TV series ended its run.
Its website proclaims it 'New York's Best Designer Resale store'. INA has five stores in Manhattan, selling branded clothes and accessories 'at a fraction of the original cost'. A visit to its SoHo outlet saw several fashionistas going through the racks at the brightly lit, smallish place. There, a buckle clutch bag by Michael Kors was available for US$200 (RM631).
One crowded place is Tokio 7, also a consignment store, open seven days a week in East Village. Owner Makoto Watanabe began the business 14 years ago when he lost his job as an executive at a beer company in Japan when it closed down due to poor sales.
"I didn't have money to start a business. So, I came here, opened this consignment store, relying on customers to bring in stuff."
A sign outside Tokio 7 invites anyone to place merchandise for sale here, with 50% of the sale price (fixed by the customer himself) going to the store if the item is sold.
Interested in a Valentino beaded tote? You can get one at Watanabe's store for US$200. A red Gucci handbag is available at US$100; a pair of Manolo Blahnik open-toe stilettoes costs US$100.
Not everything in the shop is high-end, though. Its price range varies as Tokio 7 caters to a broad spectrum of customers. Today Tokio 7 has become a well-known place for those in the know.
"I don't advertise. Everything is through word of mouth," said Watanabe, who has been living in the US for 22 years. He estimated that there were at least 30 consignment stores in Manhattan.
One weekend afternoon, I saw photographer Al Souza from Brooklyn browsing for sunglasses inside Tokio 7.
"I like coming here. The prices are good and the items are mostly vintage. You can't find them elsewhere," he said.
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