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Vintage Shopping in New York

Planning a shopping trip to New York? Vintage shopping fan and Journalist Victoria Briggs shares with us her favourite New York vintage shops during one of her frequent visits to the city….

Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market

Every Saturday and Sunday, behind the Lincoln Tunnel, a small army of vendors take over a block in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, and set up stalls selling vintage clothes, collectables, vinyl records, jewellery and household items that your granny probably owned. How Hell’s Kitchen got its name is open to debate. One theory has it that the once tough, working class neighbourhood was so crime-ridden that the other name it goes by, Clinton, didn’t really do it justice. Another theory is that the area was once the site of several, less than sanitary abattoirs, the smell of which inspired residents to label it anew. Whatever its origins, the modern day Hell’s Kitchen is located close to the city’s theatre district, bounded by 34th Street to the south, 59th Street to the north, and west of Eighth Avenue. While gentrification has transformed the neighbourhood in recent years, the streets around the Lincoln Tunnel are among the grittiest in Midtown Manhattan. The Market occupies a block closed to traffic at the weekends. Admission is free and entry is at 39th Street and 9th Avenue—a little out of the way, but its outlying location is reflected in the prices. Go towards the end of the day (the market closes at 5pm) when vendors are more inclined to give you bargains. I bought an as-new silk shirt, a 60s psychedelic dress and an 80s tea dress, all for $20.

Beacon’s Closet

A regular in ‘top shops in NYC’ listicles, and with good reason. For vintage lovers and style-hunters alike, it’s an Aladdin’s Cave of second-hand designer labels, retro prints, quirky one-offs and perennial classics. Confession time: I’ve got a low-level addiction to Beacon’s Closet stores (and there are four of them, praise be: three in Brooklyn, one in Manhattan). It’s the first place I head for in New York after checking into a hotel, pretty much. When I’m not in Beacon’s, I’m thinking about being back in Beacon’s. When I am in Beacon’s, I have to set myself a spending limit so I don’t blow the bank. Fortunately, stock sells at a reasonable price. Last visit, I bought a vintage, pure wool Bonwit Teller coat (the original Bonwit Teller store on Fifth Avenue was demolished in 1980 to make way for Trump Tower), along with a cute tee and a Paul Smith shirt for my other half: total $55. Because clothes rails are crammed and shoes come stacked high, it helps if you like to rummage. To avoid crowds, as well as the sharp elbows of New Yorkers, shop early (stores open 11am-8pm) and towards the beginning of the week—evenings and weekends are busy. Beacon’s also buys clothes. Take along vintage or seasonal pieces and receive 35% cash or 55% in-store credit on items selected (ID is required—a passport is fine).

Brooklyn Flea

Proud of it’s legendary status, it is the city’s largest flea market, selling vintage and designer wear, antiques and collectibles, with street food stalls to boot. It’s been around for a decade and moved locations as it’s grown. Every Sunday, at the time of writing, the market is held al fresco in Dumbo—a fashionable neighbourhood located between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. It’s a prime spot, with great views of Manhattan just across the East River, and prices that reflect its popularity with tourists. Don’t go to Brooklyn Flea if you’re looking for a bargain. Do go if you want a good day out and don’t mind paying a bit extra for the whole experience. According to Time Out NY, the place also ranks as one of the city’s ‘essential pick-up spots’, so if you don’t score a bargain, there may be other advantages to mingling with the crowd. Best value finds while I was there included vintage sunglasses selling at $15 a pair, and the food stalls, which are cheap, fresh and excellent. While there are some beautiful vintage pieces to be had (selling anywhere between $75-$225), the market also has its fair share of overpriced tat, so be discerning (the worst offender I found was a 70s string bag, worn-out and discoloured, and on sale for $40). Get to Brooklyn Flea from Manhattan by walking over the Brooklyn Bridge—Dumbo is the first neighbourhood you hit over on the Brooklyn side—or else take the Coney Island-bound F train to York Street. Word of warning: if you don’t want to end up on a thousand Instagram feeds, avoid the hoards of snappers as you come out of the subway. For nervous types, there are trains thundering across the Manhattan Bridge, directly over head, all the time you’re browsing, so it gets pretty loud.

Victoria will be bringing along some of her New York vintage finds to the next Olive Road vintage stall at Pop Up Vintage Fairs in East London’s Wilton’s Music Hall on 12th July 2018.