By Katie Lannan
If you want to achieve a vintage look, you have a few options: You can drop hundreds of dollars at a Newbury Street boutique offering pieces “inspired by authentic vintage,” spend a little bit less to pick a carefully curated “pre-loved” item from another overpriced chain, or roll up your sleeves and do some digging through the racks of one of Boston’s many thrift, vintage, and consignment shops.
I happen to prefer the latter. Whether you’ve never set foot in a Goodwill before or are a seasoned thrift aficionado, here are five of Boston’s best thrift stores to hit up on your next shopping trip.
Best Selection: Boomerangs (716 Centre St., Jamaica Plain). Sure, thrift stores are inexpensive, but so is H&M. When shopping secondhand, the real perk isn’t the prices, but the uniqueness of the items. You can find deals at mass-market retailers, but you can’t find ladybug-print pants, a lace wedding dress, a selection of sombreros in different shapes and sizes, children’s cowboy boots, or a denim jacket with a beaded mermaid on the back. Boomerangs is probably the only place where you actually could find all that at once -- and then buy a couch or some earrings, too. But no matter what you choose to buy, whether it’s a copper tea kettle or golf shoes, the proceeds go to the AIDS Action Committee, so there’s no need to feel guilty about a shopping spree because you’re giving to charity (even if you are perhaps needlessly expanding your wardrobe)! If the Jamaica Plain store is too out of your way, there are also branches in West Roxbury and Central Square.
Best Bargains: Urban Renewals (122 Brighton Ave., Allston). Warehouse-like in both size and atmosphere, this thrift store is Spartan in terms of interior design but packed with massive amounts of merchandise. Urban Renewals offers men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing, as well as books, shoes, housewares, and the occasional oddity (like a 99-cent United Nations flag). In the clothing section, everything is neatly sorted by style and color, with individual pieces rarely costing over $5. Ultimate bargain-hunters should pay close attention to the price tags: They’re color-coded, and certain tags signal half-off sale items each day.
Best High-End: Second Time Around (176 Newbury St.). As a college student, I’m not exactly overwhelmed by countless opportunities to purchase an Armani gown or a Chanel blazer. Realistically, I don’t have that many chances to even look at fashion that high-end, unless I happen to be in STA. Even lightly used, that blazer’s still not quite in my price range -- while I recognize that $600 is a phenomenal price for Chanel, it’s also a pretty great price for, you know, rent -- but just a cursory glance around the store will reveal classy clothes at unbelievable markdowns ($129 for a men’s Burberry trenchcoat, anyone?). This store is a great spot for shoppers who aren’t quite comfortable with full-blown thrifting, since you can often find pieces from mall stores like J. Crew and Banana Republic still bearing their original tags. The newest Newbury Street location tends to cater to a younger crowd, but there are two more stores just a few blocks away, as well as additional branches in Coolidge Corner and Harvard Square and on Charles Street.
Best Accessories: Buffalo Exchange (238 Elm St., Davis Square). Buffalo Exchange could be Second Time Around’s younger, edgier sibling -- the one with brightly dyed hair and multiple piercings, who eschewed the family’s posh Back Bay brownstone to move into a happening Somerville neighborhood. The selection here is much trendier and more affordable, often originating from stores like American Apparel and Urban Outfitters. Everything is on-trend and from the current season, making this shop the perfect place to snag cheap accessories to spice up your standard outfits. For girls, there’s everything from long beaded necklaces to multiple pairs of Wayfarer-style sunglasses, while guys can find an array of suspenders and bow ties. There’s a newer location on Harvard Avenue in Allston, too, with very much the same feel.
Best Test of Dedication: Garment District (200 Broadway, Cambridge). With Boston Costume downstairs and an extensive vintage selection upstairs, Garment District is perhaps most well-known as the ideal one-stop shop for Halloween festivities. Just pick up your self-adhesive goatee or giant eggplant suit from the costume section, complete the look with an old military jacket or platform boots as you see fit, and you’re ready to head out the door and straight to a party. When you’re not pressed to find a last-minute costume, though, Garment District’s real rewards are often found in their by-the-pound department. But you’d better bring your patience (and possibly your mountain-climbing gear) because each morning, store employees open up an 850-pound bale of clothing for shoppers to sift through. There are almost as many strategies for digging through the heap as there are items of clothing in it: You can hop from pile to pile, standing on whatever feels the most like floor (a backpack, perhaps? Or a wool coat?). You can sit down in the middle and inspect whatever is within arm’s reach. You can tunnel downward. Whatever method you choose, you’re bound to find something worthwhile if you stick with it long enough. When you’ve collected your bounty, it’s weighed at the register and rung up at a price of $1.50 per pound ($1 on Fridays). At those rates, one shirt typically averages about 40 cents, whether it’s a like-new Gap sweater or a t-shirt bearing a rhinestone mixtape and the slogan “Fresh 2 Death” (hypothetically, of course; it’s not like I’ve ever purchased such a thing).
What’s your favorite Boston-area thrift store?
Photos by Lucie Wicker, courtesy of Boomerangs (top); courtesy of Second Time Around (middle); and courtesy of Garment District (bottom)
About Katie -- Currently a Brookline resident and BU senior, I grew up in New Hampshire, meaning I get confused when charged sales tax and can discuss at length the differences between multiple varieties of apples. At any given moment, I likely have my iPhone in my hand and at least one newspaper in my purse. I'm a political junkie, as well as an iced coffee addict. My interests include journalism, canvas sneakers, and pretending I'm in Ireland.
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