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Adventures in Resale & Vintage Shopping
Keidra Chaney

Photo: Keidra Chaney
Vintage shopping in Chicago can be summed up into two periods: the Flashy Trash Era and the Post-Flashy Trash Era. When I was in high school in the early ‘90s, the Lakeview storefront shop was the spot for second-hand fashionistas from Chicago (and all over the Midwest) to score high-quality vintage clothing—from funky faux fur coats from the 1970s to whimsical cocktail dresses from the ‘50s. When I returned to Chicago after several years in Wisconsin, a freshly minted journalism school graduate knee deep in student loan debt, I knew that a few more years of penny-pinching were ahead of me. I looked forward to renewing my acquaintance with Flashy Trash, but not soon after my return, the store was no more. Luckily, in the five years since I’ve returned, I’ve discovered new options for resale shopping in Chicagoland—and they seem to get better and better each year. It helps that much of the musty stigma of second-hand shopping has vanished, with resale and vintage shops appearing in some of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods.

Vintage vs. Resale: What’s the difference?
First off, for clarification: what’s the difference between a “resale” shop and a “vintage” shop? Not much. At the end of the day, it’s all just used clothing, though vintage is usually defined as clothing made anywhere from the 1800s to the 1980s, while resale is used to describe used clothing from any era. But it’s all second-hand, it’s just that vintage tends to cost more. (Vintage shops, in general, tend to lean more toward high-quality clothes, usually sold by consignment.) People shop resale/secondhand for various reasons: affordability being at the top of the list. For some, purchasing resale clothing is not so much about creating an entire outfit on the cheap as much as it is about completing an outfit with individual pieces that they can‘t find anywhere else.

Lenny and Me
Photo: Keidra Chaney
Cheap Frills in Lakeview
Located not far from where Flashy Trash once made its home, Beatnix might be considered the store’s heir apparent. Vintage clothing primarily from the ‘60s and ‘70s can be found on both of its floors alongside new clothing—mostly cheeky club wear of the leatherette persuasion. In late October, you can find college students, Lincoln Park Trixies, and Boystown regulars scouring the store for hours, in search of the ideal Halloween costume. Beatnix also has what is arguably one of the best wig selections in the city—along with staff that’s nice enough to help you try them out but catty enough to tell you if it looks stupid on you. I’ve picked up a few keepers at Beatnix over the years, a hot pink, candy-striped clutch purse that I still bust out for parties on occasion, and a floor-length, paisley sleeveless polyester disco gown that helped to score me $50 at a Halloween Costume party. That being said, I have personally never found anything at Beatnix that I would wear any place that opens before 10 pm, but your mileage may vary.

Clothes Optional is a modest storefront vintage shop with decent prices, a diverse selection, and loads of indie charm. If you’re the kind of person that’s bold enough to rock a hot-pink polyester halter jumpsuit, high-waisted plaid slacks, or a plaid cowboy shirt (some people can, and I salute you) then Clothes Optional will be a goldmine for you. For the rest of us, the selection is a bit more hit-or-miss and might require some more time to thumb through the racks. The store occasionally holds art openings too, upping its hipness quotient to intimidatingly high levels. If you’re a guy, you’ll be especially happy with the selection at this store, which is divided about 50/50 between men’s and women’s apparel.

For a while the ‘90s it seemed like Ragstock, the Minneapolis-based resale store chain with two locations in Lakeview and Wicker Park, was the resale store equivalent of a “gateway drug” of teen hipsters-intraining.
It’s known primarily for its less-than discriminate selection of Japanese baseball jerseys, kitschy ‘80s prom dresses, and kimono tops. Similar items can be found at Wrigleyville’s Strange Cargo, but with superior quality and assortment of vintage denim, leather jackets/coats, and tees, along with a pretty gnarly assortment of trading cards and novelty iron-on patches.

Store B
Photo: Keidra Chaney
Sometimes, resale shopping is less about personal style and more about financial necessity. These days, picking up everyday clothing staples at resale stores is not the repellent concept it used to be. I once had a co-worker that swore by Uptown resale chain Unique for some of her essential outfits, suede skirts, denim jackets, leather blazers, and such. Located two blocks west of the Belmont Red Line stop, Something Old/Something New harkens back to Lakeview’s past as the hangout of choice for burnout punk kids and starving artists among the vast gentrification of the area. The style is less “vintage” and more “secondhand,” located in a massive showroom area, similar to the usual Goodwill/Salvation Army shops, with aisle after aisle of overstock items and estate sale cast-offs for sale. A friend of mine swears by it for American Apparel overstock items for layering. It’s not the place to go to score, say, vintage Dior from the 1980s, but more of the kind of place where one may nearly come to blows with a drag performer for a pair of Steve Madden chunky heeled Mary Janes. “One” meaning me.

Disgraceland has been another one of my tried-and-true resale destinations for several years. It’s the place where I bought my very first suit for a college internship (which I only used once). It’s been in business at the same location for the past 10 years. It appears to be somewhat of a well-guarded secret for resale shoppers in the city, because of its impressive selection of last-season’s fashions from Gap, Banana Republic, American Eagle, etc, sold primarily on consignment, as well as new items including jewelry, hats, trendy tights, and other accessories. The décor at Lincoln Square’s Vintage a la Mode has a bit of a grandma’s attic feel, but don’t be fooled, there’s some great contemporary resale clothing available here: sweaters, purses, coats, and cute evening dresses. There’s a dressing area in the basement for shoppers to try on clothing before they buy—don’t get squicked, all of the clothes are immaculate and there’s not a trace of the stale resale shop musk here.

The Brown Elephant Resale Shop
Photo: Keidra Chaney
Milwaukee Ave: The Gold Coast of Resale
Over in Wicker Park, a four-block stretch on Milwaukee Avenue has seen a crop of chic vintage boutiques open up in the past five years. In keeping with the neighborhood’s fashion-forward residents, buyers at these stores have an eye toward style rather than frugality, such as Lenny and Me, a small and stylish space that specializes in designer vintage. There’s no hunting and pecking for the good stuff here—the entire store’s selection consists of high-quality and distinctive items, but it doesn’t come cheap. This is the kind of place where one could easily spend about $150 on a Dior mini-dress from the ‘80s. Most of the clothes are sold
on consignment, Michelle, the store’s manager told me—Lenny and Me’s buyers specifically look for styles that are not “overly prevalent” at most vintage stores.

Store B is an elegant vintage store/boutique hybrid that’s easy for economical types to pass up as a high-end specialty boutique. In fact, I’ve done just that for the past four years, until finally venturing in after spying a gorgeous candy-colored taffeta prom dress from the window one afternoon. The store specializes in ‘40s to ‘60s-era vintage which is apparent even down to the store’s décor, which is classic and decidedly feminine. The store gets 10-15% of its items by consignment; the rest is picked up from flea markets and estate sales. The store’s buyers are pretty choosy about their selection, “We carry some stuff from the ‘70s and ‘80s, but we generally avoid clothes from the 90’s,” says store manager Mike. The store also does restorations for selected vintage items, or by request—Mike showed me a genuine alligator bag recently refurbished by the store that was gorgeous. Like Lenny and Me, the items are not cheap: many of the dresses and coats run from about $80 to $160.

The Brown Elephant Resale Shop is another great bread-and-butter shop for lightly used vintage and contemporary items—good stuff, if you can get past the lingering vestiges of resale shop smell in some areas. The store’s proceeds go toward the Howard Brown Health Center, the largest LGBT health care organization in the Midwest. The Wicker Park location, the store’s most recent branch, has been open for 3 ½
years. While in other locations, the store’s resale furniture is the star of the show, the real find at
this location is the vintage clothing area. There are very few designer finds, but there are tons of
appealing, unique finds that would cost three or four times more at some of the more boutiquestyle
vintage shops in town. During my last visit, I found a $10 pair of awesome vintage denim
gaucho pants that were, sadly, a size too small for me.

And that’s life for a dedicated resale/vintage shopper. If you don’t find something you like, just head for the next store, keep exploring, and see what you can find. No matter what you end up discovering, it will definitely be an adventure. And who knows? Maybe next time those denim gaucho pants will fit perfectly.

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