Used but not abused

Are you afflicted with mall madness? Escape the suburban mobs at these 11 incredible vintage stores
By SHARON STEEL  |  November 20, 2007


The Maginot Line of vintage clothing is most assuredly underwear. Most shoppers, in fact, will draw the line at, say, bathing suits and wedding dresses. But the consummate vintage shopper has no qualms about wearing someone else’s pants, and hardcore devotees won’t bat an eyelash at the idea of donning a pair of shoes broken in by an anonymous, toe-jammy interloper, or a Run-D.M.C. tour jersey handed down by God Knows Who. When digging for vintage gold, the denial of such unglamorous realities is just a part of the process.

And if you thought holiday shopping at chain stores was a contact sport, just imagine the bruising punishment meted out by competitive consumers in vintage stores, diving for the only Missoni jacket on the rack, with no future orders possible. Still, as this weekend kicks off with Black Friday (as the Friday after Thanksgiving — the most lucrative day of the year for retailers — is known), the Phoenix realizes how stressful the crowds can be at more established outlets, with their fancy new duds. That’s why we’ve compiled the following handy guide to our beloved 11 favorite neighborhood used-clothing venues: from Allston Rock City to the pseudo-’burbs of Somerville, we’ve got your bare ass covered. Because you haven’t truly lived until you’ve paid good money for fabric that once shrouded a stranger’s crotch.

STORE Urban Renewals
STAPLES Ironic T-shirts (99 cents–$2.99), retro belts ($1.99 and up), and mystery bags of stuff
LOOK FOR Rotating half-off sales
AVOID Visiting on — or anywhere near — Halloween

URBAN RENEWALS (122 Brighton Avenue) used to have to compete with now-closed Amvets for the title of Allston’s thrifting mecca. Even then, we never thought there was much of a contest. The first rule-of-thumb when planning a trip here is to always go on a weeknight (it’s open late on Thursdays), never on a weekend. Unless, of course, you enjoy watching hordes of emaciated emo kids claw over kiddie softball shirts and tight jeans — although even that’s less of a brain-fart than, say, a Macy’s weekend doorbuster. (We shudder at the thought.) On a peaceful afternoon or evening, the UR is large and in charge: a thrifty warehouse where clothing is organized by rainbow colors and gender, and changing rooms are deemed unnecessary. Girls, if you plan on buying garments for your lower half, we recommend you wear a roomy skirt of some kind so you can maneuver in and out of things without flashing your special lady parts. (We have no clue what the boys do when they want to try on pants.) Either way, should you pick something up in the wrong size or make a purchase you immediately regret, you can re-donate the items (tax deductible!). It’s the perfect place to do your Halloween shopping, rummage for an Annie Hall pea coat, and ponder the sheer number of unwanted pleated Dockers and cozy Fred Rogers cardigans.

STORE Café Society
STAPLES Black party dresses of all sizes
LOOK FOR Leather purses and quirky jewelry
AVOID The multitude of boxy blazers

A quiet vintage haven, CAFÉ SOCIETY (131 Cypress Street) immediately won us over with its organized mess of hatboxes, cool necklaces, shirt dresses, and a lone pair of crazy corduroy scrapbook pants ($35). There are a lot of boxy blazers and some awkward skirts, though we enjoyed gawking at the stockpile of fun hats (pink fur cap, $22). Do pay close attention to the numerous shelves of bags. Success is guaranteed in that department — if you’re willing to splurge a bit. We covet the amazing carved leather purse for $50, and frankly, we’d take any one of Café Society’s totes over the new fall “it” bag in a second.

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