Go Back in Time with San Francisco's Vintage Shops
As any proprietor will tell you, there is a world of difference between a vintage shop and a thrift store. The former is curated and choosy, a representation of a tastemaker’s vision. The latter is frequently a junkatorium that accepts whatever people happen to drop off. Certainly many a brilliant find has its origins on the miscellaneous shelf, but San Francisco’s best vintage shops are a rare breed, each worthy of attention for its unique wares.
Be it vintage Levi’s or hard-to-source Burberry, Painted Bird in the Mission is the first choice for a statement garment that hits the nail of good taste square on the head. There are some fun wacky finds, but this label-heavy, unisex boutique’s ethos of keeping San Franciscans looking effortlessly cool is just about perfect.
The return of Victoriana and 1920s Flapper dresses to the scene has been a boon for Decades of Fashion, home to professional stylists whose in-depth knowledge spans a full century, from the 1880s to the 1980s. The space is so full of period finds that it’s almost more costume shop than vintage store, with heavy museum tendencies. In a high-ceilinged former bank in the Haight, Decades of Fashion is a marvel to browse, from stunning beaded gowns that your grandmother would have received as a birthday present to immaculate cases of Art Deco jewelry.
Another option for opening a vintage store is to simply accumulate a lifetime’s worth of ephemera, and then find a retail space to house it all in. That’s the idea behind the Tenderloin’s Handsome Oxford, a small men’s shop that’s heavy on U.S.-made retro wear. Women can still find pieces to fit any nationalistic outfit, and many of the wares are priced competitively enough to almost count as a thrift store, but with an attention to detail that stands alone.
Then there are consignment stores like Carousel Consignment SF, which trades in the gently used goods from estate sales and beyond. This often-overlooked species of vintage store stocks all manner of furnishings, housewares and miscellany, and is often a fine place to pick up accessories, many of them handmade locally. You might swing through Carousel one day to find the perfect felt hat, then emerge another with a fully-intact set of vintage curlers. That’s the greatness of vintage shopping: there’s always something fantastic to discover.
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