Greenwich Time

Thrifting in the West Village

"Ooh, look! Tom Ford!" says a friend as we walk past the vintage store at 9 Greenwich Avenue late one night. And indeed, the clothes in the window—slinky, lacy, bright red lingerie tops combined with what look like printed sashes over black frothy skirts—do indeed rather resemble Mr. Ford's s/m-ish work for Gucci and YSL. So the next day, we mosey over to the shop, which turns out be called Zachary's Smile (there's no sign) and is just about the tidiest thrift shop we've ever seen.

Gucci suitcases line the upper shelves and Pucci dresses reside behind the counter, but don't worry, closer at hand are less rarefied garments. When we ask Erin, the proprietress, about the stuff in the window, she says, "It's actually our own line, called Zachary's Smile Originals." She shows us the camisole up close, and, as it turns out, the sash has been newly attached to the bottom of a vintage top ($65). This isn't the only Zachary Original made by artfully de- and re-constructing a thrift-shop find: Old souvenir T-shirts have been enlivened with little sleeves made from scarves; other tees have childish flower appliqués. All of them look like you could just make them yourself at home, but then again, maybe you couldn't. (How many T-shirts have we ruined aiming for just the right raggedy hem and proto-Flashdance neckline?)

Because we notice a Christian Dior man's polo shirt hanging on a rack, we ask if the store, like so many other vintage shops these days, has a penchant for designer labels. "Absolutely not!" is the refreshing answer. "I mean, if you can find something like this halter dress—" Erin pulls an $85 mini with a Pucci-esque print (it's quite a year for Pucci) off the rack—"who needs a label? I mean, Donatella would die for this!"

Window dressing at Zachary's Smile
photo: Kate Lacey
Window dressing at Zachary's Smile

Zachary's Smile opened on Greenwich Avenue seven months ago. Star Struck, just up the block at No. 47, has been in business 23 years—and it shows. (Some of Star Struck's merch looks like it's been hanging here since 1980, though when it comes to vintage this may not be a bad thing.) Anyway, the place certainly smells like a vintage clothing store, if you know what we mean, plus it has a creaky wooden floor and is crammed to the literal rafters. There aren't any Puccis behind the counter, but there are authentic 1950s Hawaiian shirts and sparkly mid-century dresses and silver-screen-worthy evening coats and even an orange and white polka dot mod dress that has its original Alexander's tag still affixed, though the price has been snipped off. (Whatever it once cost, it's now $55.)

Star Struck's velvet evening coat may hark back to the old days, when vintage meant feathers and beads, but the store has also changed with the times: Along with those wide '40s ties and '50s cotton housedresses, the owner has stocked '80s track jackets and a wealth of concert tees, which start at $30, though naturally we are attracted to the one hanging high above our heads marked $195. "Oh, but it's Springsteen," says the clerk, who then goes on to explain that this super-desirable item also has New Jersey concert dates on its back. It's pricey, but not an all-time high: Last week the shop sold a Stones tee from the '70s for $350.

If Star Struck is venerable at 23, O Mistress Mine at 143 Seventh Avenue South is the éminence grise of West Village vintage, in business for 33 years. In all that time, the owner has learned a thing or two: For one thing, there is incense burning to cover up that vintage aroma. The day we visit, a feeling of camaraderie has developed among shoppers: When a woman hesitates about trying on a ruffly blue two-piece number, she's convinced by the fact that everything in the shop is now 20 percent off, making the outfit $48 instead of $60. This also makes the saucy cocktail aprons $12 instead of $15; a gray cardigan, heavy with sequined flowers, is now $66 rather than $80. Just as we are deciding whether to try on an exquisite black eyelet dress—it's $110, but then again that's before the 20 percent off—NPR, which has been playing softly in the background (we are, after all, in the Village) begins a documentary about Bellevue. The announcer is cheerfully intoning, "On the ward this day there's a man with neuro-syphilis," but curiously enough, this doesn't kill the mood. We continue to try on the lightly frayed suede car coats and old prom dresses just as people have been doing here for more than three decades.

 
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