Whether you’re in the market for colorful cowboy boots, original Jean Paul Gaultier tattooed mesh pieces, 1930s bias cut slips with lace ruffles, delicate chiffon Victoriana with hand beading, or even an 80s batwing mohair sweater adorned with feathers befitting Golden Girl Blanche Devereaux, you’re sure to find it at the Manhattan Vintage Show.Dance floor classics from the 70s, 80s, and 90s create a party vibe. One style connoisseur in a head-turning look shouts across the heads of thrifters, “Do you have any Mugler?” I snag a vintage Cacharel sweater for 60 dollars, a Liz Claiborne shoulder-padded knit for 70 dollars, and a contemporary Marni summer dress for 80 dollars. But hidden gems are to be found from labels completely unknown to today’s shopper and catering to a variety of price points from close to 100 vendors. One assistant to a Brooklyn vendor who also studies at FIT reports that fur, both vintage and real, is proving popular. “People feel that if it’s vintage it’s not harmful,” she says. A stall of distinctive hats made one Gen X group bemoan the disappearance of hat wearing in society but that doesn’t stop a gaggle of Gen Z from diving in and claiming the most striking styles. Guests often in gloriously eccentric attire enter the pavilion with a mixture of anticipation and camaraderie as the vintage community of vendors, consumers, fashion students, and quite a few designers’ assistants on the lookout for styles to bring back to the studio and “rework,” is inclusive, supportive and treasured by all who belong to it. Repair start-up Alternew is on-site and has set up right next to the fitting rooms to tailor customers' beloved finds to their needs. FashionUnited catches up with co-owner of the triannual event Amy Abrams who is floating about greeting friends in a 1970s Missoni caftan to ask her about the state of the vintage market today. “The state of vintage fashion is that it’s on fire,” she says. “It’s been embraced by people like never before. I think it’s so exciting to see so many generations loving vintage.” While she relates to those who have been buying vintage for years, she is most excited to see the youngest generation’s response to it based on their twin commitments to sustainability and personal self-expression.
Vintage market sees uptick due to sustainability conversation
While Alessandro Michele, former designer of Gucci, undoubtedly sent interest in vintage soaring, Amy identifies its influence on innumerable runways but, more importantly, beyond. “A lot of people in the past thought that vintage was more for designers or insiders, but now if they are in the market for something, they look to see if they can buy it vintage first," she says. "It’s just more a part of the consumer’s decision because people care so much about the environment and there are so many incredible things out there that already exist that makes people question if they need something new.”
Abrams and her co-owner Ronen Gilmer acquired the long-running show only one year ago although they have both been in the vintage market for 20 years having founded retail showcase Artists & Fleas in 2003 and marketplace Regeneration in 2021.
Hot trends in vintage market
Uniqueness is the overarching trend. “People can really express themselves by finding something nobody else will have because it’s one-of-a-kind and from a different era,” says Abrams. But there are a couple more specific trends that are growing in exciting ways, one of which is menswear. “A lot of men didn’t realize there’s a whole world here waiting for them," says Abrams, "but I think also a lot of women like menswear as well so people are really unearthing this whole other category.”
Another in-demand category is workwear which appeals for its versatility. “You can wear a jumpsuit in the morning but you can dress it up that evening with heels, and it fits a variety of shapes” she says.
Finally, vintage accessories are getting snapped up but fortunately many vendors have a trove of statement necklaces, quirky sunglasses and novelty purses. Says Abrams, “People are excited about having something in their rotation that has a history and story whether it's costume, fine jewelry, or a really one-of-a-kind purse.”
The merchandise is sourced from all over the world. “The dealers are incredible, so knowledgeable, and refined in their taste, curation and selection,” says Abrams, “whether dating from the 20s to the 60s, from the US or Europe."
One such dealer is Zabrina Estrada, owner of Etéreo Vintage, who has just returned from a sourcing trip to Paris and indeed her rails boast some of Europe's top luxury names, Valentino, Chanel, Armani. But of particular note is a stenciled evening jacket in impeccable condition by Mariano Fortuny, the Spanish designer who closed his couture house in 1946. Other standouts include pieces from Italian romantic Romeo Gigli who favored velvet and shantung and whose runways were a Milan Fashion Week must-see during the 80s and 90s. But undoubtedly the pièce de résistance which Estrada admits had her floating back across the Atlantic was the acquisition of an Yves Saint Laurent Saharienne safari tunic from the late 60s which looks as crisp and perfect half a century later as it did the day it was conceived in the Rive Gauche atelier.
The next Manhattan Vintage Show is scheduled for April 14 - 15 at NYC's Metropolitan Pavilion.